“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.” – Marianne Williamson
We hear a lot about “positive self-talk,” but what exactly does that mean? Is it as simple as rephrasing the way you have conversations in your brain? According to psychologists, that’s the place to start.
Consider the messages that typically run through your brain. Are you sending yourself encouraging thoughts, are you being critical of your choices? If you’re like most Americans, it’s likely the former. According to Psychology Today, many of us developed a negative pattern of self-talk at an early age, mentally latching on to the hurtful things we were told as children by our parents, siblings, classmates, and teachers. Whether or not we realize it, these thoughts have knit themselves into our brains, and often replay themselves over and over, launching us into feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. It’s negative self-talk.
Much of self-talk has to do with perspective. When we have negative thoughts, we’re operating from the perspective that things look bleak, or hopeless. Optimists tend to distance themselves from negative events and embrace positive thinking, while pessimists are more inclined to dwell in upsetting thoughts. Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, states that while “there is a genetic component to pessimism, it’s not 100%.”
Meaning, we do have some control over our outlook on the world. It’s by no means easy; positive self-talk can be incredibly difficult, especially if your mind is accustomed to those negative thoughts. These can reveal themselves when you’re working on a project, starting a new relationship, or preparing for an event. You may think, “Well, what’s the point?” or “It’s likely I’ll fail at this.”
Negative thoughts can affect how we view the past as well. Perhaps you’ve just come back from a party and are criticizing yourself for how you spoke and acted, when in reality you were totally fine. The problem is that you’re allowing your brain to blow things out of proportion. And when we give attention to those negative thoughts, we allow them to multiply. The toxicity multiples, and we’re crying on the floor of the bathroom wondering what we can do to salvage a situation. It’s exhausting.
Watch Marianne Williamson’s Speakeasy talk on Wanderlust TV.
This is where you can intervene. Take a deep breath and notice those thoughts. Positive self-talk helps you fight the toxicity by allowing yourself to see the bigger picture, and to understand that your thoughts are your experience and not reality. When we speak to ourselves in a positive way, we enable our brains to move past the immediate circumstances and recognize the truths.
“One of the fundamental truths is that you will make mistakes,” reports Psychology Today. “To expect perfection in yourself or anyone else is unrealistic. To expect no difficulties in life, whether through your own actions or sheer circumstances, is also unrealistic.”
Of course, altering your perspective is easier said than done, especially if you’ve been repeating negative talk for a while. But with some effort, positive self-talk can be learned. Think of it as you would your yoga practice; rewiring your brain demands patience and persistence.
Start by taking notice of the conversations that waft through your mind. The next time you’re feeling upset about something, whether it be a past performance or embarking on a new task, write down the thoughts that start swimming through your head. Look at these thoughts independently. Are they grounded in truth? Is it black and white thinking? Would you tell a friend the same thing? Once you’ve acknowledged the negative thought, see if you can replace it with something positive.
This tool can also be applied to situations that affect your daily life. Maybe you show up to a yoga class and it’s far more crowded than you normally prefer. While a situation like this has the tendency to throw some people out of whack (myself included), see if you can opt for more positive self-talk. One idea is to think, “Wow, it’s so great that all of these people came together to practice yoga. Think of all the positive energy that’s going to be swarming in this space!”
Our thoughts are one of the few things we can actually control in life. Give your brain some space and compassion, and work towards a perspective that is entirely yours.
Amanda Kohr is a 24-year-old writer and photographer with a penchant for yoga, food, and travel. She prefers to bathe in the moonlight rather than the sun, and enjoys living in a state of the three C’s: cozy, creative, and curious. When she’s not writing, you can find her driving her VW Bug, looking for the next roadside attraction or family diner. She also roams the Internet via her blog at cozycaravan.com.