How can thinking about Eliza Doolittle help you lose weight?
Many of us are familiar with the musical and film “My Fair Lady” – an adaptation of the play “Pygmalion” written by George Bernard Shaw. The story centres round a phonetics professor betting with a friend that he can transform a simple flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, into a sophisticated young woman. With intensive elocution lessons, Eliza’s Cockney accent fades and she learns to speak so eloquently that she fools people into believing that she’s a member of the upper classes.
Now this film is not simply about the underdog winning. Eliza symbolises much more than this. Throughout the film, the arrogant professor treats her as merely a flower girl, whereas his friend treats her like a lady. Similarly, Eliza behaves like a flower girl with the professor but like a lady with his friend. This phenomenon is known as the Pygmalion effect, where a greater expectation of a person leads to their better performance. More commonly, this is known as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There has been a lot of research into the Pygmalion effect in the education sector. It’s well-known that a teacher’s actions and attitudes towards a pupil influences that child’s attainment. Greater expectations result in greater achievements. Similarly, lower expectations lead to poorer performances. This phenomenon is also a self-fulfilling prophecy and known scientifically as the Golem effect.
So how can we apply these psychological concepts to helping you lose weight or reach your other health goals?
It’s clear that people’s perceptions of us affects the way we behave. So for example, if you’re very overweight and there’s a person who treats you as if you are constantly at the biscuit tin, whether that may consist of certain comments they make or actions they take, such as enthusiastically offering you a pack of biscuits, then you will act in line with their expectations of you. This may be you eating those very biscuits offered to you at that time. Or it could be that you are self-conscious of doing this so publicly and want to “prove them wrong”. However often the outcome is that you do end up eating those biscuits, or something similar, but behind closed doors. So either way, you’ve ended up behaving how others have treated you.
If you recognise the above example as one of your behaviours, the first step is acknowledging this and then realising that you shouldn’t let other people’s attitudes and actions towards you influence how you behave – you should try and learn to detach yourself from their expectations.
Now we are all to some degree affected by how others treat us. However more importantly is the matter of how do you treat yourself? After all, we are with ourselves 24 hours each day, seven days each week, 52 weeks each year. We are essentially with ourselves all the time. So it’s absolutely crucial that we learn to treat ourselves better, to have greater expectations of ourselves and to fulfil that prophecy.
Using the above example again, if you could resist eating the biscuits because you believed that you are a person capable of exercising great willpower, that you have a renewed commitment to losing weight (irrespective of previous failed attempts), that you deserve to be healthy, that you are now starting your journey into a better way of living, that it doesn’t matter about the misconceptions people have of you (as they have not led your life), this mindset will see you through that temptation. With one successful defeat of those biscuits will follow more defeats of other similar foods and from this new behaviour a “new you” will emerge – it’s basic psychology.
I hope this article makes you feel inspired and motivated to make your life a healthier one, whether that’s with better nutrition, more activity or an optimistic outlook of life – basically to have great expectations for yourself.
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