Can our inner voice and self-talk really have an impact on our health and wellbeing? In short, yes. It can.
Let’s look at how…
Our inner voice or self-talk is the language we use to understand our thoughts and feelings and make sense of them. Language plays a crucial role in how we feel and amazingly, most of us rarely stop to notice what we are ACTUALLY telling ourselves. All too often, our inner voice becomes the critical running commentary for our lives. But how does language and our self-talk have such a huge impact? Basically, the things we tell ourselves become our habitual thoughts; our thoughts then create feelings which then result in behaviours. You may notice a feeling first and then have a thought about it which will in turn affect that feeling and subsequent behaviour. For example, you may recognise a physiological feeling that you label as ‘anxiety’ and you have an inner dialogue about it. If the feeling is unwanted, the thoughts tend to be more unhelpful and self-critical about why you feel that way. Your brain then starts to look for evidence to make sense of the feeling and thoughts about it, creating more feelings of anxiety in the process and round and round we go.
Language is key
So, for me, the most important thing to address first is language. It is important to note here that the brain believes what you tell it…so be mindful of your language, stop and notice what you are actually saying to yourself. For example, if you constantly tell yourself you are tired and in pain, then it is highly likely you will feel tired and in pain. You are effectively instructing your body to respond that way.
Now I’m not saying that all symptoms of ill health and prolonged stress can simply be changed just by changing our thoughts and I’m also not saying that the physical symptoms aren’t real, because they are. There are many other factors that influence our health and wellbeing from our biology and how much we sleep to our environment and social support networks. What I am saying, is that our thoughts and mindset play a huge role in how we manage these and how we feel – physically, mentally and emotionally.
We are what we think
One of the most common traits I notice in people and particularly those with chronic health conditions, is the use of negative identity statements such as ‘I AM ill’, ‘I AM exhausted’ and ‘I AM in pain’. I remember when I was unwell and someone challenged me to notice every negative thought I had confirming my state of ill health – honestly, I stopped counting after about 100. I was staggered at just how often I was telling myself such unhelpful and detrimental things. This reminded me of a conversation I had with my mum when I was doing my G.C.S.E’s that has stayed with me since. I said to her, ‘Mum, I AM going to fail’ and her response was, ‘Yes darling, with an attitude like that you will’. It really hit me because I realised she was right. By telling myself I was going to fail and believing it, I was already setting myself up to do just that. Then, if and when I did fail, that would fit nicely into my belief system of not being good enough and prove to myself that I was right. Now that’s a whole other article so, for now, the most important thing to note is the language I was using.
Identity statements are a fantastic tool when used in the most helpful way. You want to actively feed your brain positivity. Tell yourself positive statements such as ‘I AM confident’, ‘I AM enough’, and ‘I AM well’. The more you tell yourself something and repeat a thought, the more likely your brain is to understand that as something important that needs to become permanent and habitual. Most people suffering with symptoms of prolonged stress, including chronic pain and fatigue, are running an internal dialogue telling themselves they are constantly down, tired and in pain. They also tend to ‘body scan’ to look for the pain or evidence to support how they feel. This means that when they are not feeling tired or in pain for example, they look for it and will inevitably ‘find’ it as they have told themselves it will be there somewhere. Again, they are instructing themselves to be tired or in pain.
Now they might try and tell themselves something seemingly positive such as ‘I am NOT tired’. This, however, doesn’t work because the brain will focus on the word TIRED. This is in part down to our RAS (Reticular Activating System) in our brain which works by filtering suggestions of what we are most focused on. An easy way to think about this is ‘Energy goes where focus flows’. With that in mind, a more helpful statement would be ‘I am feeling energised’ for example.
Thought patterns can be changed
The good news though, is that once you have noticed our unhelpful inner dialogue, you can begin to change it and control it. When you notice yourself using negative identity statements, tell yourself to STOP! Break that thought pattern and ask yourself how you would like to feel differently. The brain must answer to a command so if you assertively say stop, it will listen. You then have a window of opportunity to tell yourself something different, an opportunity to be kind and compassionate with yourself. The more you do this, the more you believe it and the more you believe it, the better you will feel. The better you feel, the more you will do it. So, start changing those unhelpful thought patterns now.
Addressing language is just one way we can start to make changes to our health and wellbeing. If you would like to begin your journey to optimum wellbeing, why not take a look at my personal development programme and start to make those changes today.