THE BLOG

Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life

06/01/2012 03:15 pm ET | Updated Aug 01, 2012

Okay, back to sit-ups.

My last entry about my mom muscles was a big hit but if I am honest, doesn't everything look better in hindsight? As Nora Ephron says, "Think of one of your body parts that you don't like and in ten years you will be nostalgic for it," or something like that.

But I truly was not a natural mom. That doesn't mean that I loved my kids any less than June Cleaver loved hers, but those of you that know me know that this is true and the better you know me, the worse of a mom you know me to be.

For example, in the privacy of my brain, it never occurred to me to hold a baby until one popped out of me in the delivery room. Even then I was slightly nervous about how to do it.

I did not know that everyone was not like this until my daughter, Tori, at 4 years old, started wanting to hold every baby she ever laid eyes on -- even if they were passing by in a car at 55 miles per hour or bigger than her or screaming their head off on the floor of the grocery store. "Oh, Mommy, look!" she would say, "Ohhhh I wish I could hold that baby!"

Huh?

She is going to be a fantastic mom, despite the damage I have done in that department. Unlike me, she has a natural mothering instinct.

Furthermore, no kid want a fit mom. No one wants a fun mom, either, for that matter. Fun moms are really just fun for the other moms to watch, not for the kids. My kids were usually sulking in the backseat by the time I got out of my Halloween mask and costume so I could drive them home without crashing.

As they got older, their humiliation turned into begrudging tolerance. Although they still did not think of me as a fun mom, they accepted me as a mom trying to be fun/funny. I was a cross they had to bear.

As they aged, they knew better than to try to get me to put away my Dr Bukk fake teeth, my large martini glass the size of a vase or my dummy head named Viola.

Asking me to suppress my antics was like asking Charlie Sheen to behave. It just wasn't gonna happen.

Beyond my kid's opinions, I did not appear fun to most other kids, either. With the exception of a few who grew up next to us, most kids would just look at me with their "Mom, there's a stranger coming closer to me," look as they nervously reached for their parent's coat sleeves.

And as far as being a fit mom, rarely do kids want a mom with biceps like cantaloupes. It's annoying. Also, no kid wants a mom that likes to arm wrestle, especially if she won't let him win.
But in the fitness world, things have come more naturally to me. In spite of having terrible hand/eye coordination -- meaning I can't catch a ball to save my life -- in spite of that, I still love to exercise.

But if you throw me the keys (like my sons enjoy doing) I will scream, "Don't throw them! I'll come get them!" then I will hold my hands up to block them from hitting me in the face, which they would do, because I can't catch.

In 1984, this combination of talent and lack of skills aligned perfectly with my becoming an Elaine Powers high-impact aerobics teacher -- a role I filled upon graduating from college and realizing I was also a terrible school teacher.

From there, I have intuitively jumped from one fitness craze to another and suddenly thirty years passed.

In conversations, if the topic of how to raise children or even worse, the sacred topic of college choices comes up, I am pretty much a mute observer.

I got no advice.

But if the conversation turns to exercise (from kids to childbirth to the postnatal pot...) I come alive.

Did you know that everyone has a six-pack? It's a scientific fact. Muscle tone is exactly the same except adding and subtracting fat on top. Who knew?

Of course, nothing is ever as simple as it sounds and there is an exception to every rule. Every now and again I meet a woman who does not have a FUPA (Fat Upper Pelvic Area) and who is gifted with a super-natural flat abdomen. But this is like spotting a white fox -- it doesn't occur in nature on a regular basis. Flat abs in women is a rare genetic deviation.

Women's natural belly shape is not flat nor concave, at least not after the age of 20. Our bellies are convex and yet we are constantly barraged with air-brushed bodies in Shape magazine that lead us to believe that if we just try hard enough -- if we eat like a bird as well as avoid all carbs, do 1,000 crunches, stand up tall and work out to absolute muscle failure on a twice daily basis -- we, too, can look Kate Hudson. Then our jeans will fit and we will be Happy.

Then we will be free to concentrate on other more important, less natural things, like being a devoted mom or a nice person.

But many beliefs propelling our lives are false and self-limiting, especially if they are cultural beliefs like "I need to have a flat belly in order to be happy." That's about as easy to do as getting Mitt Romney to vote for Obama.

But one thing that you can change is your own personal relationship between your thoughts and your belly. Beliefs are just thoughts we keep thinking over and over again. Change your thoughts and change your life.

Many folks at the gym allow weight and body image issues to take control of the mental majority of their day. And it's not always that they are actively thinking negative thoughts. It is usually that they are focusing on what they do NOT like about their life or their body. And wanting what others have.

It makes sense that people who jump to the most negative conclusions are often unhappy. I call them Awfulizers.

Awfulizers drive themselves and others crazy with negative thoughts. And even more of us are shadow awfulizers, meaning we don't say these thoughts out loud but they are just as damaging.

But it is possible to learn how to reframe your thoughts in more positive ways by replacing unhealthy mental patterns with healthy thoughts, thereby improving your mood and life?

The medical term for this is cognitive restructuring, and this entails changing our distorted, inaccurate thoughts to less negative, more accurate beliefs.

I call it tweaking your thoughts.

Do you ever have thoughts like, "This is terrible and it feels like it will never change." Or, "I should be better, more efficient and more competent at what I do."

All of these thoughts are common, but tweaking your thoughts can help you think less dogmatically (want vs. must), can help you be less dramatic about problems and can increase your tolerance for frustration. It can also help you accept that all of us deserve a break.

Start by paying attention to what you are saying to yourself. For example, you may say you want to lose weight but then pig out every night.

So identify the problem, then ask yourself:

-Is this thought helping me?

-Is it really true?

-Am I overemphasizing the negative?

-What's the worse that will happen?

-Am I jumping to conclusions?

Then see if there's another way to look at the solution. There is always another way to see the situation.

Here are some Stress-Reducing Thoughts:

-I am a worthy human being. I'm going to try to be compassionate with myself as I continue to learn.

-I'm appreciative for many things and there are many things about my life and myself that I wish were different, but I'm going to keep all this in perspective so I can change what I can."

-I can't please everyone all the time. There is no way to go through life without subjecting yourself to some disappointment and disapproval. I can handle it. I'll listen to my heart and do what's right for me.

We cannot always control our thoughts, especially when life comes unhinged. But that makes it all the more important to control the thoughts that are manageable. Choosing kindness, especially towards ourselves, can go a long way towards relieving our own stress.

Change your thoughts, Change your world.