Changing the Conversation
As a dietitian and a motivational interviewer, I would consider myself a positive person. After-all, you must be if you are going to motivate others. Daily, I see people beat themselves up for not hitting their goals. They fail to see that they ARE hitting goals, and they ARE moving forward, it just might not be the goal or results they thought they were going to get.
It is my job to help people see the situation for what it is and be nice to themselves.
About a month ago I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, a personal trainer/modern-day yogi. We were discussing habit and the parts of the brain that adapt to it. I was complaining how I feel like I am good at motivating myself to literally do anything, but I can’t seem to wake up a little earlier in the morning to create a good routine. That’s when he pointed out that I kept saying “I can’t.”
At first I disagreed with him. Being a motivator, I didn’t want to accept the fact that I was negative to myself or in general. I can be a little stubborn and need to figure things out on my own.
One week later, while rock-climbing with a friend, I was struggling to complete several climbs. After about 20 minutes in, he yelled at me, “Stop saying ‘I can’t.’” Once again in denial, I explained to him, “It’s not that I’m giving up or being negative, it’s that I physically cannot do the climbs.”
As we continued though, I realized just how much I was saying “I can’t.” I was starting to bother myself with it.
As the rest of the week went on, I was more in-tune with my internal and external dialogue. I found myself complaining to friends and even my own children: “I’m such a bad mom” when I found myself struggling to give them all the quality time they wanted from me. At work, I would complain to coworkers: “I’m a horrible multi-tasker,” when I felt behind in my work. When running with people I felt were better than me, I’d shockingly repeat “I’m so slow.”
The more I paid attention, the more I noticed it. I was going against what I believed in. I was failing to “enjoy the journey” and only interested in the result.
I couldn’t believe this was me. I considered myself a positive, glass-half-full kinda girl. After all, it took me years to get there. I used to be even meaner to myself. Always comparing myself to other people, thinking they were smarter, prettier, funnier than I. Positive affirmations and self-help books got me to the person I am now, but it seemed there was still some underlining negative self-talk there.
I decided, without judgement, I was going to pay attention to the way I talked to myself. I wanted to pay attention to when I said it, in what situations I said it, and how I felt in the situations when I said it.
I noticed that I was meanest to myself when I was feeling pressed-for-time. I wondered if this meant in times of stress, I resorted back to old habits. I also found I did it when I felt as though I mentally or physically couldn’t achieve a task.
The most interesting thing I noticed though, was how my negative affirmations to myself, kept me from learning and listening.
As if I was unsuccessful BECAUSE of the way I spoke to myself. After all, doesn’t our brain do what we tell it? If I keep telling myself I can’t reach for the next hand piece to climb up a wall, then I can’t!
Once I noticed these things about myself, I tried to not only change it into something more positive, but something more reasonable for that situation. For instance, when I caught myself saying, “I’m a bad mom,” I would assess the scenario and correct it with something like, “I wish I was able to go on the school trip, but I need to work today, plus I took them to the water park two days ago anyway.” Or if I was struggling with climbing I would catch myself if I said, “I can’t,” and would change it to, “I am struggling with this climb because it’s a difficult one and my arms are sore from yesterday’s workout.”
I found that this way of talking helped me enjoy each moment—good or bad as they came—because I stopped putting myself in a category of good or bad. I started enjoying the journey again.
We can’t be good at everything. We CANNOT be good at everything! And that is ok! The negative way we talk to ourselves, however, is not. It’s unfair to be mean to ourselves repeatedly especially if it’s undeserved and hindering us from enjoyment of life and success. So, I challenge you to assess your self-talk and take the small steps towards changing into self-love.