Self-Talk: Does it Matter What You Say?
I certainly didn’t believe in positive self-talk until recently. Furthermore, I don’t lie and so trying to look in the mirror and say “I love you” or “You’re beautiful” just wasn’t going to happen. However, being a curious person, I decided to see what research literature had to say. Guess what, I was wrong. There is some valid evidence that positive self-talk does have benefits.
I started working on positive self-talk a few years ago when my health was at its lowest point, and I wasn’t sure I was going to survive. I had an autoimmune disease and cancer. But I wasn’t ready to give up, so I needed to smarten up. It wasn’t easy to start, so small things that I believed about myself were where I started. First, I was strong, and I was stubborn. I think being stubborn is positive, though there are synonyms that some people prefer. So, what have I gained from positive self-talk? Lots! I feel better about myself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Because I see myself as a positive person and a leader, positive self-talk has helped me be more open in sharing what I have learned during my life without being afraid that I didn’t know enough or wasn’t good enough.
The literature supports the benefits of self-talk. According to Health Direct, positive self-talk can:
- improve self-esteem, stress management and wellbeing
- reduce any symptoms of depression, anxiety and personality disorders
- improve your body image and can help treat people with eating disorders
- reduce your risk of self-harm and suicide
- make you feel more in control of your life
- help with chronic pain
- motivate you to overcome obstacles
- help to calm you
What You Tell Yourself Is What You Get
These all sound good to me. However, positive self-talk takes practice. My autoimmune disorders cause me to be crazy fatigued (I never experienced anything like this in all the years of working shifts and going on 3-4 hours of sleep per night). Now, 12-hours of sleep sometimes doesn’t relieve the fatigue, it is just there no matter what I do. Recently, someone commented when I said I was ‘tired, as usual’. “Well, if you keep telling yourself you are tired, you are going to be tired” was the comment. She was right. I hadn’t thought about what I was telling myself. Our brains can be fooled. If I tell my brain I have the energy I need, I will have the energy I need. Does that mean my fatigue is all in my head? Sort of, maybe. When fatigue hits, and sometimes it hits without warning, I now say to myself, my body needs a rest right now. A positive statement. I have noticed a difference in myself. Though I might still be fatigued more than I would like, I know that I cope better and that I really do have enough energy. Afterall, I decide what is enough.
Our Brains Believe What They Are Told
According to Health Direct, “Negative self-talk can make it more difficult to deal with chronic pain. It can also affect a person’s sexual confidence and body image.” Negative self-talk brings you down, can cause stress, and suggests you can be perfect. We are human, perfection is something we might strive to attain, but not something that is realistic in most cases.
One way I like to think about what I say to myself is to ask if I would say that to a friend, my kids, my grandkids, husband, or anyone I love. In most cases there is no way I would be that mean or rude to someone else. So, why do we think it is ok to talk to ourselves that way? When you say negative things to yourself, start by asking if what you are saying is true. Often what we say is a generalization. When I hurry, I am sometimes clumsy. If I pay attention to what I am doing, and don’t rush, I’m not clumsy. Therefore, stating I am a ‘clumsy oaf’ is not true.
Choose Your Words Carefully
Something that I recently learned relates to our choice of words. We tend to make statements such as “I’m sick”, “I’m tired”, “I’m fat” we aren’t any of these. We feel sick, or unwell, or tired, or we have more body fat than is good; but we are not those things. We are not our symptoms. When I keep that in mind, I find it easier to incorporate positive self-talk into my conversations with myself; or at least I find it easier to stop the negative self-talk.
The Journal of Sports and Exercise Psychology published the following article Effects of Self-Talk: A Systematic Review. If positive self-talk works for athletes, it can work for others. Regardless of your current thoughts I suggest you give positive self-talk a try. What can it hurt? I’d be happy to work with you to find the right words and times to build yourself up to be the person you truly are. Uncover the best you!!