We all talk to ourselves. Maybe not out loud, but we have a constant stream of self-talk going on in our heads. Sometimes the talk is positive (“That would be fun! You can do that!”) but sometimes the “talk” is negative (“You idiot! What were you thinking?”).
Research shows that negative self-talk does more than just create a noisy mind. It also makes you sick. Negative self-talk creates stress in our bodies and allows a variety of stress-related diseases to be expressed. Currently 80% of doctor visits in the United States are because of stress-related or so-called “lifestyle” diseases. Negative self-talk and worry (along with poor nutrition and lack of exercise) are the main causes.
The Mayo Clinic has been analyzing the research about self-talk and have a prescription for us. They’ve found that positive thinking, especially about ourselves, can reduce stress and improve our health. Specifically they’ve seen:
- Increased life span
- Lower rates of depression
- Lower levels of distress
- Greater resistance to the common cold
- Better psychological and physical well-being
- Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
- Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
How do we start improving our self-talk? The Mayo Clinic article makes a few suggestions.
Give yourself some compassion. Many of us personalize our errors. It’s great to take ownership of failure as well as success—but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up for it. We especially shouldn’t label ourselves as “stupid” or “worthless” because we made a mistake or something bad happened. Bad things do happen, but they’re a learning experience. Some people also tend to take blame for everything that happens. Let’s omit the blame and picture things going well next time. Let’s have an optimistic idea about the future and our place in it.
Leave drama at the opera. Self-talk can tend towards catastrophizing. When we do something silly, our self-talk can tell us, “You’re always horrible. You’ll never recover from this. Everyone knows you’re useless.” Don’t overplay the negative in your mind. Question the doom and gloom that floats through your head. Drama = Stress. Drop the drama and switch your self-talk to seeing a positive future, “That will go just fine next time.”
Notice how good you are. Our brains are wired to highlight the negative. It’s easier for us to recall negative events and we tend to have a bias for noticing negative outcomes. On purpose, let’s notice when we do things right. Let’s start some self-talk around how clever we are, how well we accomplish things, how loving our exchanges have been and so on. Our days are filled with success—if we only remember and notice.
Re-evaluate perfection. It’s easy to find fault in even the best. It’s always possible for things to be made better. The perfectionist will generally fall short in his or her own eyes and find it hard to measure up to expectations. The fault is not in the person—but in the expectations. Learn to praise for a job “well done.” Understand that “good enough” needs no improvement. When a task is complete, notice the quality, the skill and the workmanship that is there—not the small flaws that may still exist.
Self-talk can be a key to improving your health. It certainly can improve your ability to accept and enjoy life. For more tips and examples on improving self-talk, the article from the Mayo Clinic is a good one! As we know in the Science of Mind, “Change Your Thinking and Change Your Life.”