You're probably familiar with the saying 'What you think about you get': have a pleasant thought and you'll get a pleasant feeling, but focus on unpleasant current or past events, or unhelpful thoughts or potentially unpleasant future events, then unpleasant feelings are likely to follow. It's useful to remind ourselves of this if we find ourselves as a result experiencing unwanted feelings and (stress) symptoms, as a first step to doing something about it.
It follows that changing what you think about can help to change the way you feel. Thinking about something pleasant/helpful, or neutral, is likely to lead at best to helpful and at worst to neutral feelings.
We can only have one thought at any one time, so what can you think about that fits the bill for helpful feelings when you're focussing on something unhelpful? As ever, if we're struggling with something difficult, that's not so easy to achieve, and we might not feel able or ready to do that. Just acknowledging this rule though can be helpful. Let's remember too that we may need to practice for a while before it starts to come naturally.
This is dealing with the 'what' of what you think about. But what about the 'how' of what you think about, how you think about things, and what you say to yourself, implicitly or explicitly? What we’re getting at here is:
Explicit self-talk: your internal dialogue that you're conscious of, the thoughts/words that run through your head moment to moment, that's driven by your
Implicit beliefs: how we feel about ourselves, others and the world, our core, unconscious beliefs that 'dictate' who we are, how we think and behave
Let's look at some examples of self-talk:
|Examples of unhelpful self-talk||Examples of helpful self-talk|
I can't change
I (will) always get things wrong
I'm not as good as others
I'm not okay
I'm a failure
I can cope
I can do this
Things will work out okay
I'm as good as anyone else
Do you recognise any of those examples? Outcomes and responses and symptoms are liable to be quite different for us depending on which side above applies.
It may be too that this unhelpful talk only happens now and then, depending on the circumstances and the situation, and it's temporary. Provided it's not long-term, and it doesn't affect you too much, what's the big deal? We can all agree with that. It's when it does start to get in the way, and stops us making the most of ourselves and situations that we maybe need to do something about it. And we can do something about it, and learn to change unhelpful ways of thinking to more helpful self-talk, however long this may have been an issue for us. Again, acknowledging that we are engaging in unhelpful self-talk is the first step to doing something about it.
If – and it is a big ‘if’ - we can ‘internalise’ this explicit (helpful) self-talk, through repetition and practice, and behave in ways that accord with it, this feeds into our implicit beliefs in a virtuous circle of helpful thoughts, feelings, behaviours and beliefs. (The reverse to all of this will obviously apply with unhelpful self-talk).
If you can, grab a notebook/diary and write down two examples of helpful self-talk, as a way of embedding them and calling them to mind as necessary, as in
1) What would an example of helpful self-talk be for me in my life generally, at work/at home?
2) What's an example of helpful self-talk I can use the next time I encounter difficulty/adversity?
You might also like to make a note of the above in an Action Plan of
- What I’m going to say to myself, for example using one or more of the examples above, and
- When I’m going to say it: e.g. 'every day/when I suffer a setback or something goes wrong/if I’m feeling worried or blue’.
Writing things down can help to focus the mind, and lead to greater commitment. You could come up too with what you’re going to do in terms of your actions/behaviour to re-inforce and back up this helpful way of thinking. Here are some example Attitudes/Activities/Behaviours relating to Confidence to give you some ideas.
Our training and coaching work is based around this straightforward ‘equation’ of Thoughts (= Beliefs) = Feelings = Behaviours and so on.
For further information, please contact us at Stress Management Plus - we're based in Reading, Berkshire, but cover the whole of the UK - on 0118 3283246 or via email.