“To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.” s— Oscar Wilde
The words we use have a profound impact on us.
The way you talk to yourself is the way you love yourself — your self-talk can be kind or cruel.
Language influences our view of the world — it shapes the relationships with people and things. Your words define how you see yourself.
This is not a motivational post — positive words alone won’t make everything fine. You need more than that. A growing body of research indicates that self-talk can improve your memory, confidence, focus and more. But you need the right strategy.
Start by talking to yourself the same way you’d like someone else to speak to you.
The best person you can speak to
“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.” — Johann Wolfgang Goethe
It’s okay to struggle with self-confidence — it happens to everyone around you.
We suffer when we stop taking care of ourselves. So, why do we do it? Maybe because we (wrongly) confuse self-esteem with being selfish. Or perhaps we believe we are not worth it. Self-love is the foundation of self-confidence. You have to accept yourself — nurture compassionate inner-dialogue.
Talking to oneself is one the most natural, yet undervalued, skills we have.
Humans develop our inner-voice at the same time we learn how to speak. Both feed off each other. However, we dedicate much more time and effort to improve our conversations with other people than with ourselves.
How do you usually talk to yourself?
The quality of your inner speech is critical to understanding who you are.
Professor Charle Fernyhough says: “This dialogue has some very special qualities that involve representing the point of view or the perspective of another person. It’s very powerful… You can take a perspective on what you are doing.”
Self-talk is the best feedback you can get — it gives you a fresh perspective.
Having a conversation with yourself is like talking to someone else. You don’t know everything you’re going to say — your words can surprise you.
Practicing self-talk has many benefits.
Research by Canadian professor Alain Morin shows there’s a high correlation between talking to oneself more frequently and a higher self-awareness and self-evaluation.
A meta-analysis of 32 sport psychological studies that self-talk improves sports performance. Tennis players talk out loud to regain confidence after losing a point.
Talking to yourself helps to connect with your emotions. When you feel stressed out, naming your feelings can help you slow down. It’s the first step towards understanding what’s causes your anxiety.
Helps you reflect on the past
Revisiting the past — without too much rehashing — is how we learn and become wiser. Talking to ourselves is a very effective way to reflect on the past.
Prepares you for the future
Mental preparation — not anticipation — determines our chances of success. We can start familiarizing with a new activity. Or getting ready to deal with the unknown.
Helps discriminate right from wrong
Inner-talk is very useful to analyze a decision or behavior — we can evaluate actions against our moral standards.
Most importantly, self-talk can make us feel better about ourselves and instill confidence to get through tough challenges, as research by the University of Michigan demonstrated.
By improving your inner-dialogue, you become the best person you can speak to. However, you have to choose the right words for this to work.
Mind your words
“Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” — Rumi
The power of words come from the beliefs we have in them — we believe and embody our words.
Our brain is ‘hard-wired’ to be negative.
Neuroscience shows that the majority of our self-talk is negative — it’s working against us. These negative thoughts make us feel angry, irritated, frustrated, hopelessness.
According to neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones. This negativity bias causes the brain to overreact to ‘bad words,’ compared to how it responds to ‘good words.’ But we can overcome this bias by becoming more mindful of the words we choose.
Our words affect our emotions, motivation and potential accomplishments.
Based on my experience facilitating change leadership workshops, these are the most common (and damaging) ‘negative words.’
It’s the belief that you cannot do something, even before you tried. It’s not just about low self-confidence. Sometimes, people get caught by a perfectionist mindset — they confuse not being an expert with not being capable of. The ‘can’ts’ reflect lack of resilience — we need to learn to fail and try again and again.
“I have to.”
This approach turns regular activities into a burden. We approach everyday chores with the wrong mentality. When you can’t do what you love, you have to learn to love what you do. The ‘don’t wants’ address a broken relationship with simple things in life.
This mindset addresses external pressure — other people’s expectations make us feel guilty and unhappy. It’s the result of other people trying to impose their will over ours — our parents, teachers, friends, bosses, and so on. The ‘shoulds’ represent what others want us to do.
A strategy to develop kinder conversations
“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” — Plato
Positive self-talk has stress management, productivity, and health benefits that have been proven by research.
Here’s a five-step strategy towards kinder inner-conversations.
To create change, you need to be aware that something needs to be modified. Pay attention to how you talk to yourself and the impact of your words.
Some might feel harmless but, in the long run, those words can harm you. Your thoughts and emotions are interconnected — the way we think impacts how we feel (Hannell, 2004).
You can ask a friend to call you out every time you use negatives words to describe your life or yourself. Another approach is to reflect on the words you think when you feel down. Capture those on a notebook and review on a weekly basis. What trends do you observe? What’s the story?
2. Positive Affirmations
Affirmations originated with French psychologist Émile Coué, who advocated repeating this sentence throughout the day: “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”
Affirmations are very polarizing — people either love or hate them. I believe that they work if we use them with a balanced approach. Buddhism has been using affirmation as part of the meditation and yoga practice for ages.
Negative preprogramming (from when we were a child) replays in our minds. Positive affirmations have many benefits, such as improved reduced stress and improved health — what we repeatedly focus on, expands.
Here are a couple of affirmations for you to practice with. As you can see, there are meant to promote a positive view of life, not to convince you that everything is perfect.
“I know who I am and I am enough.”
“It’s okay to be broken. And it’s okay to let the broken parts mend.”
“I choose to be present and mindful right now.”
“I am in control of the way I respond to the behavior of others.”
“I’m grateful for the life I have.”
3. Replace words
The easiest way to erase certain words from your inner-dialogue is to replace them with others.
Moving forward try replacing:
“I’ can’t” by “I will.”
“I have to” by “I want to.”
“I should” by “I choose to” (this opens the door to say ‘no’ to external expectations).
Try this exercise with a friend or colleague. List all the things you ‘have to do’ — one-at-a-time — and let the person reframe it by replacing “have to” by “want to.”
For example, you say: “I have to do the laundry;” the other person replies “You want to do the laundry.” Keep doing this with every activity on your list. Listening to other people’s voice reframing your words is a powerful experience!
4. Pause, Reflect & Talk
As you become more aware of the words you use, practice reflection.
Pause for a couple of seconds. Evaluate your thoughts.
Is that hurtful or helpful?
Reflect on the words you were using. If they hurt you, go back and see how you can ‘erase-and-replace’ those words.
5. Increase positive self-talk
Building a habit takes times — you want to turn the process into something natural. The same happens with self-talk. You’ll see improvements early on. But, once it becomes intuitive, you’ll experience the transforming effect.
As Glen Bassett stated, “If you keep doing what you always have done, you will remain the same person who you always have been.”
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Words are powerful but don’t expect miracles. New habits form when new strategies are learned and applied. Change takes time and practice.
You need to develop awareness before you can implement positive self-talk into your daily routines.
The words you tell yourself can be compassionate or cruel. Treat yourself kindly.
This article first appeared on Medium.