My breath is short, my hamstrings screaming out in pain, the cramp in my stomach is making me hunch over, and sweat is plastered on my forehead. It’s 6 pm, and the sun hiding behind the clouds has bathed the world around me in a strange copper-y tint. I would stop to appreciate the beauty if I wasn’t so busy with my evening jog around my apartment complex. As I come upon the slope near the gate, I start telling myself. Shhhh, just a few more minutes. A few more minutes and you’ll be done. Almost there! You can do this. Just climb this slope and soon enough you’ll have thighs like Bipasha Basu. You just need to reach the fire hydrant after the gate and you’re done for the day. Try going further today if you think you have it in you.
When I was a child, I would always talk aloud to myself when I was solving a puzzle. “No this piece doesn’t make sense here, it has to be a corner piece. Okay, so let me find a corner piece with a groove on the right side…” And soon enough, I’d find the right piece, with help from none other than moi.
This ‘private speech’ as it is called, is a common behavioural trait in children between the ages of 2 and 7, claimed by many Psychologists to help children develop language, reasoning, problem solving and critical thinking skills. Well, if we could do it as kids, then why can’t we be our own cheerleaders now? By actually talking to ourselves, we can actually act as our own motivators, coaxing ourselves to finishing that monster of an assignment due tomorrow, to get through situations we think we’re incapable of, fixing our heartaches like no one else, and push us to your limits when we’re trying to get back that once flat stomach.
I’m not saying we should start yelling encouragements at ourselves at every challenging situation, because let’s face it, adults talking to themselves tends to scare passers-by off (I know from experience), and might cause people to run the other way when they see you approaching. This is where the power of the mind comes in, with self-talk.
It’s a simple concept, really, this ‘self-talk’. For those of you who haven’t already guessed – it’s a form of inner speech, an internal dialogue constantly going on in each of our heads – consisting of both conscious as well as subconscious thought. Your mind talks to you, makes comments about things you’re going through and directs the manner in which you think of something. We all do it, maybe without even realising it, without thinking twice about the internal processes driving our actions, or understanding its great importance. From waking up in the morning and deciding your outfit for the day, to reprimanding yourself for that extra donut you ate, to guiding you through a terrible workday, to telling yourself that you’re all tanked out at the end of the day; your mind is your constant companion. And it helps if that companion gives you a sense of confidence rather than acts as a de-motivator, don’t you think?
When one gets into a cycle of negativity, telling yourself things like ‘this is hard’, ‘I can’t do this’, ‘I don’t like the situation I’m in’ becomes second nature, and the result is usually cynicism, sarcasm and bitterness. To break this cycle, it’s actually possible to train yourself to move away from the self-defeating type of self-talk.
Try it for yourself; make a self-project out of it. Find a notepad and paper and write down the type of self-talk you think will help you in a particular sphere (let’s call this the Plus List), and a similar list of the thoughts that you want to avoid (the Minus List). Now, start noticing your own self talk more carefully as you go through your day. When you catch yourself using items from the Minus List or variants of it, make a conscious effort to stop and to instead use something from the plus list in some way. The key is observation, conscious modification and keeping yourself in check. It’s a slow and continuous process; but over-time, you’ll see a change, with the constructive self talk coming more naturally. It’s just a matter of making a habit out of it.
P.S I made it further than the fire hydrant today.