Have you ever heard the expression “Be careful of the stories you tell, because eventually you will live them?” It references the fact that we all have a personal story, but over time that story can become rigid and limiting. If you, like many people who struggle with obesity, have a weight-saturated personal narrative, your story may be trapping you in a very negative place. The topic of today’s article is how we go about changing that story using unique outcomes, which is Stage Four of our Eight-Stage journey through the process of drastic weight loss.
What is a unique outcome?
The term “unique outcome” comes from narrative therapy, and it references an event that occurs in a person’s life that contradicts a dominant belief they hold about themselves. In other words, it’s a departure or shift from the dominant storyline.
In the case of drastic weight loss, a few common storylines are: we are not capable of sticking to a diet and exercise plan, can’t lose weight, or are destined to be overweight, etc. When a “unique outcome” occurs that event creates a moment that contradicts this idea, it creates what is known as cognitive dissonance. It creates a fork in the road where we either have to choose to accept that development and what it might mean for our future, or we have to reject the development and almost pretend that it never happened. When you accept the development, you give birth to a transitional personal narrative–a new story about yourself.
Some examples of events that might qualify as a unique outcome during drastic weight loss include running further on the treadmill than what you thought possible, seeing your weight actually start to drop, or declining invitations for comfort food.
These are of course basic examples of the stories we tell about ourselves. Many of us cary around much heavier storylines and beliefs about ourselves that get put to the test during weight loss. So many clients of mine talk about how weight loss challenged their story of thinking they were destined to be a failure or a quitter. Not good enough. Or incapable. The unique outcomes they experienced in their weight loss journey effectively challenged those beliefs, and for many put those old stories to rest for good.
Recognizing unique outcomes in drastic weight loss
You may think that since unique outcomes are forks in the road that they would be easy to recognize and appreciate, but this is often not the case. We tend to be so focused on what we haven’t been able to accomplish yet that we often overlook our successes. This is a big problem if we are trying to write a new story for ourselves, so it’s important to be very intentional about looking for and recognizing unique outcomes.
Changing your weight-saturated narrative
As I’ve mentioned many times before in this blog, creating a new identity and changing your personal narrative is critical to success when it comes to drastic weight loss. The vast majority of people who lose a large amount of weight will end up gaining that weight back, and a big part of the reason for this is that they are heavily reliant on weight loss to be the magic cure to all the stuff they want to change with their self-esteem and their self-worth.
On the other hand, people who are successful in keeping the weight off long-term know that our obesity is a symptom of deeper problems, such as low self-esteem, low self-worth, low self-confidence, a history of anxiety and depression or being highly prone to intense feelings of shame, and emotionally stuffing our feelings for comfort. We know that we must address those problems head-on rather than simply treating their symptoms, and using unique outcomes to change our weight-saturated personal narrative is one way we do that.
Using a journal to record unique outcomes
I’ve mentioned before on this blog how helpful journaling can be during the process of drastic weight loss, and in stage four it becomes even more important. Keeping a written record of your unique outcomes is extremely helpful when you’re struggling or having a tough day. At those times, you can pick up your journal and look at all the things you’ve accomplished. Reminding yourself of your new story is important, because it’s easy to fall back into the old story.
It doesn’t matter how you keep your journal—you can record voice memos, jot down notes in a notebook, or use whatever format is easiest for you. If you have trouble getting started, use these questions as a guide.
- What are three developments that have unfolded in your journey so far with your weight loss that you would not have predicted before starting this?
- What do these developments say about you? How do they challenge your story that you used to tell about yourself, the weight saturated personal narrative?
- What do these developments say about where you’re headed in the future? What’s on the horizon for you?
- Is there anything you can see or imagine now for yourself based on these three events that you would never have predicted in the past?
When you do this exercise you’ll see how far you’ve come, you’ll see this new direction that you’re on, and you’ll begin to really capture these unique outcomes.
Another thing that can be a big help in this area is participating in some type of community that supports what you are doing. That way, you can share your unique outcomes with that community and get positive feedback and reinforcement from them. They help support the new identity that you’re creating for yourself by doing this.
By using these tools and suggestions, you can begin to first re-write your personal story and then begin to live that story as you continue on your weight loss journey. If you need help, be sure to check out the online programs available on my website, as well as all the other articles on my blog.