If you’re like most people, you created a few New Year’s resolutions. And if you’re like most people, despite your good intentions those resolutions have fallen by the wayside. But I’ll bet you aren’t aware that self-talk, your inner dialogue, influences whether or not you achieve your goals. It’s true. Your words have power, even if they aren’t spoken out loud.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the most popular New Year’s resolutions, which include eating healthier, exercising more, and losing weight. Personally, I am not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions — but that’s just me. The thing is, I think people tend to create goals that are incredibly unrealistic:
I’m going to cut out all sugar and flour, hit the gym five times a week, save $500 a month, and donate at least $100 a month to charity!
Then we feel horrible when we can’t stick to them. Indeed, I just read in an article from last year that 60% of Americans make resolutions but only 8% achieve them. These are not great odds!
So I strongly recommend narrowing down your goals list. Further, I strongly recommend that “talk nicer to myself” be at the top of your list.
Assuming you’re on board with that, let’s learn how to develop your habit of positive self-talk and break your habit of negative-self talk!
Thoughts Shape Our Reality
Why does self-talk matter? Actually, I’ve found that self-talk matters A LOT. One of the first things that I like to work on with clients is their relationship with themselves. Meaning, how do they treat themselves or take care of themselves. And a big piece of that is how they speak to themselves. What I’ve found is that for the most part, people speak horribly to themselves. Their self-talk is insulting, hurtful, and just downright mean. This is called “negative self-talk” and it’s been proven to be damaging.
In my experience most people don’t realize it. They aren’t aware they engage in negative self-talk. Nor are they aware how pretty frequently they do it. So how do you know if you do it? Just listen to yourself. We all talk to ourselves pretty much all day every day. Stop and notice what you say yourself. Especially at times when you’re upset, frustrated, angry, or depressed. Those are the times when we can be the most critical of ourselves. Hopefully you’ll notice that you’re pretty nice to yourself. But, if you’re like most people, at least sometimes you’re pretty mean.
Positive Self-Talk Techniques
So take the time to listen to yourself. If you realize that you’re pretty hard on yourself, ask yourself two questions:
- Would I EVER say these things to someone else? My child, my best friend, my significant other — anyone I love? Would I EVER call them the things I call myself?
- If I’m telling myself these horrible things every day, why in the world would I actually take care of myself? If I’m telling myself I’m a stupid loser, why would I take the time and energy to go to school? Go up for that promotion? If I’m telling myself all day every day that I’m overweight and ugly, why would I take the time to prepare some healthy meals? Make it to the gym? Get a massage?
Negative Self-Talk is Harmful
Now, some people would say that they’re just giving themselves some “tough love.” We tend to believe that tough love is really motivating. But is it though? Maybe initially, but I’ve never really seen it work in the long-term. When you think back to past teachers or coaches or bosses, who did you enjoy working for the most? And who got your best effort? The insulting one who constantly made you feel not good enough? Or the supportive one who encouraged you to do your best?
I truly believe that what you say to yourself really matters. It can help you to reach your goals. Because let’s face it: The goals on everyone’s New Year’s resolutions list are all about self-care. Eating healthy and moving in any way are both self-care. Saving money is self-care. Even giving to charity is self-care. And talking kindly to yourself is self-care. And the more you show yourself that you love and care about yourself, the more likely you are to continue to practice self-care.
Stop Negative Self-Talk
So what do you do if you notice yourself talking down to yourself?
- Gently remind yourself that you don’t do that anymore. That’s an old habit that you’re working to change.
- Make sure to tell yourself something positive in that moment. For example, if you notice yourself saying “I’m such an idiot!” Tell yourself “no I’m not—I’m human and I made a mistake.” Again—tell yourself the same kind, forgiving things that you would tell someone else.
- Give yourself some compliments. When you’re happy with yourself, tell yourself! You’re allowed!
You don’t need to wait until next New Year’s Eve to resolve to have more positive self-talk. Start talking more kindly to yourself today. It will make all goals you want to achieve that much easier to reach!
Wishing you freedom from food,
Kim Daniels, PsyD
“Ask the Psychologist” is a monthly column by Kim Daniels, PsyD. Content is the opinion of the author and does not constitute or is a replacement for medical advice.