Mind your language! Learn how to use self-talk effectively.

The language we use can be very powerful. The words we use to communicate with our loved ones, our colleagues, business partners, bosses, acquaintances, readers can make or break somebody’s day. They can set the mood, they can inspire, they can scare, they can bring about happiness and they can make us feel powerful.

The words that we use when we “speak to ourselves” via our thoughts are just as powerful and way more important than those spoken by others. This is what is known in psychology as “self-talk” and it usually consists of an internalised running commentary of how we are doing what we are doing every moment of our lives. A bit like when we watch horse racing on TV.

Unfortunately, unlike the horses, we get to hear every single bit of this commentary whether it’s positive and empowering or whether it’s negative and disempowering. When clients first approach me they are usually trapped into the latter situation and during our initial consultation I often get to discover new and different ways in which people can berate themselves. I have been there too and actually, truth be told, there will always be times in which indulging in negative self-talk seems like the most appropriate thing to do. For a little while.

Always be kind to yourself

If you have also experienced this type of self sabotaging internal dialogue you will agree that it’s not a nice place to be. Imagine constantly looking the other way to avoid catching your reflection in the shop windows because you don’t like the way you look. And when you do catch a glimpse of yourself you start thinking about how your clothes are too tight, you are too fat, you are too short, you look like you have just jumped out from under a stone, and so on…  How is that going to make you feel?

I know, not very good. And how is being in that frame of mind going to encourage you to find a creative solution to this problem of yours? It won’t.

So, what’s the best strategy for turning this around?

heart shaped cup of coffee in the snow

Well, in my experience, having felt totally dissatisfied with my body size and shape for years, being told to start thinking different thoughts isn’t going to help much. Nor is reading thousands of “be inspired quotes”. In my case (and also many of my clients) the negative self-talk was perpetuated by less than enlightening decisions at the dinner table (I bet I can still out-eat most of you when it comes to Tiramisu’ or pizza) and therefore fueled by guilt over sabotaging myself at every opportunity.

One of my past clients was going through the same experience. The first step in turning this nonsense around wasn’t suggesting that she put on a pair of rose tinted glasses whenever she walked past a mirror and tell herself that everything was lovely… nope… the first step on her way to recovery from the negative self-talk hamster wheel was to simply accept what was, what is. Calling herself names wasn’t very empowering but accepting that that was the situation and forgiving herself for all the choices she didn’t want to admit she made up to that point was very powerful and eventually led her to successful weight loss.

What’s important at this point is being totally honest with yourself. The acceptance has to be wholehearted, not just an affirmation repeated over and over again. Unless it’s truly felt it’s just a whole bunch of meaningless words. After acceptance comes (enlightened) action.

There is a new current of thought that is gaining prominence in the field of Sports Psychology: it’s called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (click here for a bullet point explanation). At its core it encourages people to be mindful of their internal dialogue and evaluate whether it’s useful towards the achievement of a goal or not. If the self talk isn’t of any value thoughts are not resisted or opposed with positive language. Instead thoughts that are not useful are simply “observed” and allowed to go through us.

How do we apply this to body transformations, fitness and weight loss?

As previously said if you catch yourself thinking unflattering thoughts about yourself do not try to counteract this with fake enthusiasm. We have all seen at least a friend or relative suddenly going all Mr. Motivator on Facebook only to succumb to the lure of the greasy burger a few days later because they couldn’t sustain their own motivation without the help of people who in reality couldn’t care less. This approach hardly ever works.

Instead focus on becoming aware of the negative self-talk going on in your head and as you bring each thought into awareness imagine that it’s going to float away like a helium balloon. You may wish to “thank that thought” for making you aware of a situation that’s causing you stress and conflict but always let it go. You will feel lighter and more relaxed each time you do this.

Once you have mastered this exercise you can start asking yourself empowering questions. This is when the magic happens. Once we are in this more peaceful spot we can allow ourselves to see the steps we need to take in order to achieve our goals through our chosen weight loss programmes.

At this point it will also pay off to re-frame your fitness makeover goals using empowering words and sentences. For example: if your initial goal was to “lose X amount of weight” you might find that thinking about “finally being able to fit into a size Y dress” is more likely to make you smile. You will also be more likely to make better choices at the grocery store that will effortlessly support you while you are on this journey.

paper dollsFinally, let’s not forget to tap into our network of supporting friends and family members.

Whereas I always advocate hiding your body transformation project from those who might resist your desire for change, I also encourage clients to surround themselves with a group of people who will always be supportive, kind and will call them out on their bullshit if they steer off course and blame it on someone or something else.

Language, especially in relation to self-talk, is such a powerful yet vastly overlooked tool at our disposal when undertaking a Fitness Makeover. It can really set us up for unapologetic success before we even buy our first lettuce leaf or attempt our first squat. The picture that we paint of ourselves with words can make all the difference in other aspects of our lives too: click here if you wish to read the inspiring story by WishWall creator Simonetta Lein about a young man turned artist after suffering life altering injuries in a car accident. Watch his language!

What is your experience with positive or negative self talk? Let me know in the comments below! And of course if you are looking for an effective weight loss programme that uses all the right words get in touch!  😉

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