How to talk yourself up
Say this vs that...
Did you know the words you use can affect your mood, and how successful you are? While some words will bring you down, others can give you a boost. “Words shape our thoughts, thoughts shape our behaviour and the results we get, so the language we use is important,” says Miriam Akhtar, a leading expert in positive psychology. Here are four words that are worth reconsidering using.
You say: “I should have said ‘no’ when my workmate offered me that piece of cake.”
Why stop? 'Should' is a word that can end up ruling your life. “If you use it a lot, you're likely to be stuck in a negative-thinking loop, which will lead you to be really hard on yourself,” says Akhtar. “But focusing on what you did wrong only makes you miserable.”
Say this instead: “I could have gone for a walk after eating that cake, but I chose not to and that's okay. I'm only human. Next time the cakes come out, I'll make sure I have a plan in place so I can stay in control.”
Why it’s better: The word ‘could' makes you realise you have a choice, and choices encourage you to think in a way that's more likely to result in coming up with a productive plan.
You say: “I must lose 5kg in time for my holiday.”
Why stop? 'Must' is a harsh, unforgiving word that makes no allowances for the uncertainties of life or things we can’t control. It simply places pressure on us.
Say this instead: “I might lose 5kg by the summer, but if I don't, I'm still doing really well and I will get to Goal.”
Why it’s better: It's more realistic, and kinder, too. “You will feel more inspired to continue losing weight if you talk kindly to yourself and remind yourself how far you've come,” says Akhtar.
You say: “I tried so hard this week but I only lost 300g.”
Why stop? 'Only' drains your energy, saps your motivation and minimises your achievement.
Say this instead: “I tried so hard this week and it really paid off because I lost another 300g!”
Why it’s better: “Celebrate all progress, no matter how small,” says Akhtar. “That way, you are encouraged to keep going. Set too big a goal and you are likely to disregard the progress you've made and give up.”
You say: “I've been going to the gym for ages now, but I know I will never enjoy exercise.”
Why stop? 'Never' is an example of a thinking style called ‘overgeneralisation’. Besides, where is the evidence that this is true? Gyms aren't the only place you can exercise, are they?
Say this instead: “I might find a way to exercise that suits me better. I might try dancing or swimming next week. Or just make a conscious effort to move around a bit more.”
Why it’s better: It's far more optimistic. “If you expect something to turn out well, you're more motivated to put in the effort to ensure it happens. And because you put in the effort, it is more likely to happen,” says Akhtar.