January reeks of should’s and ought’s when making traditional New Year’s resolutions. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a more fulfilling and healthy life — and the beginning of the year is certainly when most of the country feels motivated to go for it. Perhaps this year, however, you could go about it in a kinder and gentler way by paying attention to your self-talk.
What is self-talk? Self-talk is the mental chatter or dialogue going on in your mind; it’s how you talk to yourself. The way we talk to ourselves is a pretty big indication of what we think about ourselves, which in turn, shapes our feelings.
When you constantly put yourself down, you will feel defeated and likely will engage in self-destructive behaviors. This is an example of negative self-talk and how it may impact your personal goals. On the opposite end of the spectrum, positive self-talk is when we say things to ourselves that are encouraging and loving. This form of self-talk is what we want more of.
Research shows that positive self-talk is beneficial to health as well as changing behavior. In schools, Positive Behavioral Support is a widely used system to change problematic behavior. This concept is rooted in targeting the behavior you want more of and rewarding the student when this behavior occurs – for example, positive reinforcement. In the gym or while exercising, the music we listen to clearly affects our mood and helps motivate our behavior, not to mention helps us pick up the pace. Positive and upbeat messages boost our energy and self-esteem. When’s the last time you picked a sad or downtempo song to get you pumped up about working out? Don’t do that to yourself in your everyday thoughts, either.
You may be wondering why positive self-talk helps us eat less, work out more, stop a bad habit, or be more financially responsible. First of all, positive self-talk is the first step towards positive thinking. We can start by changing how we talk to ourselves so that we may think differently and feel better, and, in this case, be more inspired to reach our New Year’s resolutions.
Additionally, it can be motivating to hear encouraging words, especially from yourself. You may say to yourself, “I know that it is going to be tough to change, but I am going to try my best.” When you are kind to yourself and accept your mistakes, you are able to grow from these poor decisions and not let them rule you. In essence, spending more energy on successes, and picturing what you do want, versus obsessing over mistakes and what you don’t want, is key to achieving positive results.
To start, pay attention to your inner dialogue. Notice the language you use when you are at a crossroads or faltered on a personal goal. If you wouldn’t say it to someone else, then you know it’s time to discard it. Try replacing negative or worrisome comments with empowering words. You may want to choose a catchall phrase, like a mantra or positive affirmation that is easily remembered and universal. Speak from the present moment; don’t dredge up past experiences or anxiety about your progress.
Above all, be patient with yourself. Changing habits takes time. Luckily, New Year’s resolutions span the course of 365 days, which equals a lot of chances to change your self-talk!