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Poison in a Word: Six Ways to Stop Punishing Yourself

There’s a wonderful old peace-lover’s saying: the pen is mightier than the sword.

In this modern age of war and terrorism, it can sometimes be hard to believe that there’s anything out there more dangerous or destructive than a bomb. But history has shown us again and again that ideas – and the words used to express them – can have more widespread, devastating and profound consequences than any explosive.

Little ideas can easily become big ideas that grow and take hold over generations, sometimes blossoming into say, a peace movement or equal rights for women. This power of words to soak into the very fibre of our lives can be a wonderful force for good. And sometimes not.

Take a moment to ask yourself this question: when you eat a cake or a burger or a big bar of chocolate, and then afterwards regret it – what do you say to yourself?

I can take a really good guess – because I used those exact same words on myself. Weak, no willpower, stupid, useless, pathetic, doesn’t deserve to be thin, brainless, deserves all the crap in life. I could go on, but then I’d have to rate this post R for all the purple language I used!

Here’s a little note for you direct from the psychologist’s handbook – the words you say silently to yourself are the ones you believe most. It’s called ‘self-talk‘. Everybody does it, all the time. But some people fill their self-talk with negative words, and how you feel is directly influenced by the words you think.

So every time you tell yourself that you’re weak – you believe it’s true. Not only that – and this is the kicker – if you believe that it’s true, you ACT as though it is.

Yes, that’s right – by believing it, you make it real. And when you say it, you make yourself feel bad.

The thing is – you aren’t weak! Nor are you stupid, weak-willed, useless and pathetic. In fact, your continued attempts to resolve your weight issues and find yourself a better life tells me you are dedicated, determined and full of the most powerful willpower there is!

Of course, you’re not going to believe me just like that – but you don’t have to. See, if you stop saying all those negative things about yourself, not only will you stop believing them, but you’ll actually begin to feel much better.

I know – sounds like magic, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s all based on sound science, and it’s all to do with how the subconscious mind processes information. I’ll elaborate on this in another post or you can read a little more about it here – but for the moment, I suggest you try out the steps below and see how you go. A little effort will take you a long way – and help you fight back against the poison of your own words.

Six ways to stop punishing yourself:

  1. Be aware of those negative thoughts when they come along. Take note of what self-talk you use on yourself, the circumstances, and especially how it makes you feel. Write it down in a notebook if that helps.
  2. Challenge your thinking. Once you have a good idea of what you’re doing, you can start to fight it. Pick the biggest and nastiest piece of self-talk – and challenge it. Ask yourself if it’s really true or whether you’re exaggerating. I always use the best friend test: would I say such a thing to my best friend? If the answer is no, then I know I’m being too hard on myself.
  3. What is a more positive way of thinking about this? If you’ve just eaten a chocolate bar, the temptation is to curse yourself for having no will-power. But a more positive way of looking at it is that you really enjoyed it, or you were really looking forward to a bit of chocolate. Even if you’ve eaten five in a row, try to find a positive in it – even if it’s only to say, ‘well, at least I didn’t eat ten!’
  4. Find the right perspective. Ask yourself, is it really the end of the world that I ate this? Because the answer is always going to be no. You might have broken your diet, but you can pick it straight back up again. A blip on the landscape doesn’t have to mean the end. Remind yourself that it’s just a chocolate bar.
  5. Are the negative thoughts helping you? This is really important to consider. If you’re in the business of finding a solution for your weight issues, you need to focus on the things that will get you there – and negative self-talk doesn’t do anything good for you at all. It actually makes it worse.
  6. What can I learn from this situation? Believe it or not, we learn far, far more from making mistakes than we ever learn from getting it right. So look at your situation and pick out where you might change things, where you might avoid being around the chocolate next time. Not only can you learn to change your behaviour, but you can turn what was otherwise a negative experience into a positive one!

Don’t think this is a quick and easy solution. It takes time to get used to challenging the beliefs and assumptions we make about ourselves. I remember when I was writing my books and I’d look back and realise I’d got myself into a tangle and nothing was working. So I’d read through what I’d done and repeat to myself, over and over, nothing it written in stone! That meant that no matter what I’d written or how good I thought it was, if it wasn’t working, it would go.

Being kind to yourself works. Being nasty doesn’t.

Have you tried changing your negative self-talk? How did you go? What worked and what didn’t?
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