A Self-Talk Tune Up
The differences are too many to count among the people who occupy this planet. But one thing we all share is the presence of an inner voice. An inner dialogue. Silent but consistent that goes on in our head when we go about our daily lives. Sometimes it is louder, like when we try on a new outfit. Sometimes we can barely hear it, like when we are extremely occupied with a particularly enjoyable activity. But it is always with us, and always will be. This self-talk is not simply a response to what is going on in our worlds - it is also a catalyst for it. This self-talk affects how we feel and ultimately, what we end up doing, maybe not in that moment but in future ones. Sometimes self-talk is positive. Other times, not so much. And that not-so-positive self-talk is why every once in a while we should commit to having our talk tuned up. Self-talk, when done right, can make our lives and our experiences more fulfilling, and offer us a daily opportunity to feel exactly the way we want to feel each day.
Self-talk is powerful stuff. Research, while still largely anecdotal, indicates that people who engage in the positive variety of self-talk are less likely to report feeling depressed, are less stressed overall, report higher levels of confidence and satisfaction in their lives, and even enjoy better physical health. It seems hard to believe that just the words we use when talking to ourselves could matter so much, doesn’t it? And there are simple ways to engage in more positive self-talk that you can try starting right now. They are free. They are super-easy. And they work.
Be consistent about saying something positive about yourself or about what you have done, or what you can look forward to. Every morning when you start your day. Every evening when you close your eyes before bed. Stack it to an activity you are already going to be doing so you can’t possibly forget to actively engage in making your self-talk an opportunity to say something nice about yourself. Consistency really matters here. We all know that doing something once in a while is fine but the real results show when we commit to doing something, even something small, every single day. If you find that you can’t think of anything nice to say about yourself, what does that tell you about how you have been talking all this time?
Be sincere with what you have to say. Don’t say things that aren’t true or are so far-fetched that you can only laugh when you hear them. I don’t stand in the mirror and say “I have a better voice than Beyonce.” First of all, I don’t. Second of all, I am very clear that my community musical theater voice is decent, but not worthy of being recorded. I can still compliment it - Lory, you have a really lovely voice - without dipping into the realm of the ridiculous. And if I don’t think my voice is terribly decent I can still say I am blessed to have a voice that compliments others in a chorus, or my children love to sing show tunes with me because I smile when I sing. With sincerity comes a stronger commitment to what has been said. Real things grounded in facts will mean more and stick more. And again, if you can’t really think of things to say about yourself that are sincere, what does that tell you about how you regard yourself and how you treat yourself?
Be a really good listener, not just to your own words but the words of others. The people in our lives are often a source of compliments and accolades. We may brush them off or say “whatever” out of embarrassment when they mention it but we should really be secretly jotting them all down and using them when we need them. When we are feeling down about ourselves these kinder words can change our momentum when we need it most. But we have to be willing to listen to them, and we have to be willing to accept them. We also need to listen to how we speak to ourselves in certain situations. How often are you reacting negatively to your appearance, or allowing yourself to feel less than in the presence of others, or engaging in a race to the bottom after something doesn’t go well by saying you deserved it, you aren’t capable, you aren’t worthy or worse? Listen to yourself. Listen to how you speak to yourself. If you find that you say things to yourself that you would never say to your child or your best friend, just stop.
Write down your self-talk. Anyone who knows me knows how much I endorse writing things down as a way to work through what goes on in our head. We can write down the positive things we hear. We could even write down the negative things we are feeling in the moment just so that we can start confronting them one by one in a methodical and organized way. I call it “writing down your crazy”. Spend 2 minutes jotting down the negative things spinning about in your head. Then take each statement and pick it apart. If you wrote “I am so stupid” you can remind yourself that you A. aren’t, B. are human and make mistakes, C. have a history of not being stupid at all so this statement is false. Sometimes just writing it down and reading it makes us realize how ridiculous those thoughts are. That’s the point.
Keep your internal dialogue truly independent of external people and events. In other words, don’t allow things going on outside of you to affect what you say to yourself or how you feel. Remember, people and things don’t make us happy or mad or sad. We do that to ourselves when we react and feel a certain way in response to what is happening. So keep the control where it belongs and maintain healthy self-talk at all times and in all places, regardless of the weather, the argument with a spouse, or the truly awful news event.
Finally, never lose sight of the simple truth that life is full of ups and downs. There is not a single person out there who has not struggled. There is not a single person out there who has not experienced a disappointment or a loss or a problem. And that is precisely why it is so vitally important to be able to engage in healthy, positive self-talk to support your ability to move forward and learn from these experiences, and ultimately move on to the next challenge that lies ahead. When it comes to our own thoughts, offer yourself a loving curiosity for how you are feeling, a gentle acceptance for natural struggles and obstacles, and perpetual forgiveness for what you have done. Speak kindly to yourself and the rest will fall into place.
We have a choice to be anything we want to be. Why not be someone who engages in positive self-talk? It's tune up time....start your engines.
This post is a summary of a presentation that was created for Peninsula Women's Business Connections, a networking group in the San Francisco Bay Area.