How to talk yourself up
Say this vs that...
Did you know the things you say can affect your mood as well as how successful you are on your health journey? While some words will bring you down, others 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.
The words we draw on day to day also reveal a lot about our level of self-compassion, our attitudes and general disposition and outlook. For instance, if a child asked you if they could cook dinner, you could say, “But you don’t know how to cook” or you could say, “That’s a great idea. Let me teach you how to cook.” The words you choose have power and, over time, the use of these words can really impact you and the people around you. Here are four common words you might want to think about using less often.
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 ‘over-generalisation’. 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.
How to think more positively
If you tend to be a cup-half-empty sort of person, it may be time to change your thinking style. Being pessimistic can stop you from taking action towards a positive outcome. Here’s how to try and nip it in the bud:
1. Keep multi-coloured notebook handy!
Try keeping a notebook and two pens – one red and one black – in your bag. Every time you have a negative thought, write it down in black ink, and next to it, in red, list a number of possible outcomes. For example, when you think, “I ate too much over the weekend – that’s this week ruined, I’m never going to reach my Goal!” Instead, stop and consider other possible outcomes, like, “I ate too much – but I tracked it, and I know I can make better choices in the week to come. One weekend won’t affect my Goal unless I let it.”
2. Believe you can succeed
In a study conducted in the Netherlands, researchers monitored people on a weight-loss plan for eight weeks, examining their beliefs about whether they would be successful at losing weight. Those who believed it was possible, if they changed their behaviour, lost more than those who thought their weight problems stemmed from reasons they couldn't control. Approach your weight loss with hope, rather than disbelief, and regularly say to yourself, “I can do this!”
3. Be wary of ‘don’t worry, be happy’
Doing what you can to stress less about unnecessary things is healthy, but it’s also important not to solely rely on your optimism to help you succeed. You won’t set yourself up for success without putting a plan in place to help you get there. For example saying to yourself, “I was a bit late for work today – tomorrow I’ll be on time,” without setting your alarm a bit earlier, or doing something to help you get out the door faster the next morning, isn't likely to get a different result.