Today I want to talk about how negative versus positive self-talk can affect your life and how you can change it. When you are standing in line at a grocery store and you realize the person in front of you has an item that isn't ringing up and it will be a while -- how do you react? Do you calmly smile and say, "I hate when that happens -- it's Ok" and pick up a magazine or take the opportunity to think about your day and things that make you happy? When someone cuts you off driving maybe a little more aggressively than needed, do you say to yourself, "Wow -- they must be in a hurry?" and move onto the next thought. Or continue singing along with a good song on the radio? I think it's safe to say many of us have similar experiences to these or other things that might seem "not to go our way or cause distractions" almost daily. Only YOU can choose how your react to these situations and the messages you send yourself.
We all have knee jerk reactions to certain situations because they have happened a bunch of times in our lives and it is our habit to react that way. The great news is (most psychologists agree) it takes only 3 weeks (or 21 consistent days) of being mindful and changing your reaction to ingrain a new habit. I want you to think for a second about how you reacted to one of the above or a similar circumstance the last time it happened. If you reacted with calmness, clarity and the desire to focus on something happy -- GOOD FOR YOU! Most people will react to these situations with anger, impatience, frustration and some even despair.
So how do you begin to change your habits and your self-talk if you commonly have negative reactions to situations like these? I can tell you what worked for me.... Firstly I thought about the most common occurrences in my life that caused me stress and rationalized them. Let's take the grocery store example. If someone needs a "price check" or there is another reason for a hold up -- usually no one is happy about the situation. It means extra work for the check out person to either look up the item themselves or have someone help, the person it happened to is feeling stressed because they are "holding up the line" and the people behind in line are giving evil looks and looking at their watches wondering "how long it will take". Now let's look at the possible reactions.
You could get stressed and mutter under your breath, huff and puff
about running late and bring your blood pressure up a few notches.
You could show empathy to the person in front of you and the check out
person by saying "I hate when that happens -- don't worry about it I'm
in no hurry" which will probably get a smile or two and add a bit of relief.
You could stop and breathe, think about how best to use this unexpected
time and go on from there.
Your time is only wasted if you tell yourself it is – there is always a place to go in your mind to make the use of time more positive.
Currently I react the second and third way but for years reacted with hostility, frustration and worry over being late or "thrown off schedule". In reality, how much longer will it take? A few minutes? Wouldn't you RATHER spend that time productively or feeling good instead of feeling badly and upset about a situation that is brief and you have no control over? Wouldn't you rather relax the person in front of you and the check out person by commenting lightly and then think about something positive? Only YOU can make the decision to be mindful and to change the messages you are receiving.
Let's take the second example of the speeding driver because "road rage" is something a lot of people are guilty of. I grew up in NYC and because I grew up with public transportation and the fact that I walked everywhere -- did not learn to drive until I was 21. I did not drive daily until I was 29 and living in New Jersey (in my experience, THE WORST state to drive in). Road rage was something I had heard of but never experienced myself. WOW -- did I get my fill in the 5 years we were there! My husband and I even adopted the 3 A$%hole rule for ANY drive you took. Meaning every morning when I drove my son to preschool (4 miles but 20 minutes away with NJ rush hour traffic) I would count the A$%holes that cut me off and as I said, "#1" I would breathe and not get upset, the same with #2 and #3. After #3 I was allowed to get upset and it was time to get off of the road and pull in somewhere to take a breath and rejuvenate before I drove again.... and started off again with #1. It was a good temporary solution for us but in hindsight it still left us thinking negatively about people and did not put me in a good space at all considering most days my count was up to #3 and I was ready to blow!
What positive things can you say to yourself after being cut off? Firstly wish the person well. If they are in that much of a hurry to be aggressive they likely are not very happy, are rushing to get somewhere or are a very bad driver that will probably wind up hurt at some point. Putting the positive energy out there for that person and in your head lets you move on and feel good instead of letting your rage escalate about something that is over and done with. You can tell yourself to "let it go" that instant. Realize that the moment is over and refocus on finding a good song on the radio or appreciating the scenery in the world around you. You can also give yourself a mental pat on the back for your improved behavior and for listening to your POSITIVE self-talk!
To change your self-talk you need to be conscious of what you are saying to yourself. Making changes like this GREATLY affect your life. Positive self-talk reduces your stress level which in turn reduces your chance of illness and pain. What situations are recurring in your life that bring you stress and how are YOU going to change the messages you send yourself? No one can change the way you look at, perceive things and talk to yourself about ANYTHING besides you.