Positive Self Talk (contributed by Teresa Cheng)

My blogs are meant to provide tools so that you can choose the right tool to help you achieve happiness and success in your active lifestyle. Arm yourself with tools so you can use in whatever scenario comes up as an active woman.  Use and practice the tools provided in the blogs.  With patience, practice and persistence you will be successful.

This month’s blog is separated into two sections. The first section is a reflective pieces on what we can control in life and the second section is a stand-alone tool called “positive self-talk” to help get through the tough times during your active endeavours.

Part 1: Control vs Influence

Our lives all consist of both “good” and “bad” events, and yet, when comparing some people’s lives, it appears they are experiencing significantly more “good” events than “bad”.  How and why does this happen?  Perhaps it’s time to take a step back and consider how those events are created and what our actions can do to impact it.  How much control and influence do we have in particular events?

Do we control or influence the external events that occur, such as winning first place, losing weight, getting pregnant, or finding that perfect-for-us person?  Instinctually, we believe we are in full control over our lives, and yet, to what extent do we actually have control?

If we could truly control external events then that trophy would be ours, there would be no such thing as “fat pants”, and our families would grow with minimal effort.  Life would always be “amazing”.  Unfortunately, life is not always amazing… crappy things happen.

Perhaps then we don’t have full control, but instead, we influence the external events around us.  Consider how shoveling the snow off of your neighbour’s walkway influences a friendship,  or how working and watching your finances influences the money in your account or how eating right and exercising influences your health.  These are all external actions that you can control that will influence your life.

So what do we truly have control over?  There are three things we can control and they are all internal, although they may manifest themselves in an external action:

  1. My mental actions
  2. My verbal actions
  3. My physical actions

By controlling these 3 things, we influence the events and the things around us.


Part 2: A tool to work on our mental action – Positive Self-Talk

Positive self-talk:  It sounds so simple (shower yourself with positive mental thoughts and loving words of praise and compassion!)  but ends up being so hard to do in difficult moments.

It’s hard because of our habit of “negative self-talk”. We are not usually even aware of what we are telling ourselves. It’s a tool that we actually need to practice before we get good at it and, with enough practice, in those emergency, high stress, emotionally attached situations, positive self-talk will be your fall back.

Here is a suggestion on how to become AWARE of our thoughts…

  1. Pick a scenario that rates around a 3 / 10 on the irritable scale (where 0 = no irritability and 10 = extreme irritability, I want to smash it with a hammer). Pick 3 because we want something that is easy. Don’t pick 10… we’re not at that level of positive self-talk.
  2. Write out and then read the thoughts that come to mind when you picture yourself in that scenario.
  3. From the perspective of someone loving, re-read what you just wrote.
  4. What would that loving person think of the things you said to yourself?
    1. Why are you being so harsh on yourself?
    2. You are not (insert negative adjectives).

Example: I am skiing

My thoughts:

“I should be faster than this. I’ve been skiing for 2 seasons now, and I still can’t keep up with my friends. Oh no, not this section of trees… I always get kicked off my skis. See, I fell again. Oh no, I had a yard sale and now I have to pick-up my skis at the top. I can’t do anything right.”

Here is a suggestion on more subtle ways of practicing positive self-talk:

1. Focus on objective things like technique

Example: I am skiing – moguls

  • Reach that arm forward, bend those knees.

2. Focus on what you are doing right

Example: I am skiing the trees

  • I ski faster when I plan 3 turns ahead

3. Focus on the bigger picture

Example:  I am skiing in the fog

  • I’m outside and enjoying the company of others.

Using some of the tips, let’s rewrite the example of skiing:

Here comes the hard section. Weight on my toes, bend those knees. (Technique). Oh boy, I fell and my stuff is scattered everywhere. But I rode through more of the trees than last run by planning my turns in advanced. (Focus on what you did right). I am not progressing as fast as my friends, but I am making improvements and skiing is better than a day in the office. (Focus on the bigger picture).

Which thought pattern is more productive?

As you get better with Positive Self-Talk, try to tackle more challenging scenarios. Practice on paper so you have a script, and then apply it while doing the activity. Observe your thoughts and they will slowly change towards a more positive tone.  Remember, positive self-talk isn’t about denying the facts or lying to yourself (in the skiing example, of course you don’t love having a yard sale!).  It’s about adjusting your perspective to influence those external actions into a more productive result.

Until the next blog…

Teresa Cheng, Occupational Therapist

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