What Did You Say?

I found myself talking a lot on my run one morning about a month ago. I was not with a running buddy. I didn’t have a bluetooth in my ear. I wasn’t having a conversation with God. This was self-talk.

I was back to my running after a two-week hiatus from an illness. I was running in a place I’ve run before, but not very often. I was running hills, which is my 2nd-least favorite training run.

So, the self-talk was about comfort, encouragement and due diligence.

Many people underestimate the power of self-talk. There are two kinds: (1) positive and (2) negative. The words you say to yourself daily can bring you down, keep you stuck, undermine your power and self-worth. Or, your daily mantras can be motivating, uplifting and empowering. Self-talk can help you reach the goals you’ve set for yourself in running and in life.

Just as regularly hearing negative messages from teachers, parents, boyfriends, girlfriends, a husband or a wife can erode your self-concept, so can negative messages you say to yourself. When I work with couples, I tell them about John Gottman’s research that indicates the ratio of positive-to-negative comments is about five to one for a marriage to be healthy and happy long term. The same goes for the relationship we have with ourselves. The inner dialogue that is self talk can either be inspiring, nurturing and positive or it can be limiting, negative and defeatist.

So, if I’m telling myself I can’t run up that hill or I’m too tired and shouldn’t even try, then it’s likely I will fail. However, if I tell myself I can start my own business, be a good mom, or run that marathon, then I’m more likely to succeed. And, I’m not talking about trying to fool yourself into believing something you don’t really accept about yourself. I’m asking you to be more honest and kind with yourself.

Words are powerful, whether you say them out loud or whether you say them in your head. Beating up on yourself is not motivating - it only serves to make you feel worse. If you are constantly telling yourself: “I should”, then you are “should-ing” on yourself. Now think about it, you wouldn’t want anyone else to do that, so why are you doing it to yourself?

Negative self-talk can alter the way you experience your life. For instance, if I berate myself for not finishing in the top 10 of that 5K race, I will miss the fact that I trained hard, got to the start line and ran the best race I could run that day. If you aren’t looking at the positives in your life - you won’t see them and you won’t experience them.

Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Psychology researches optimism and pessimism and how it effects people’s lives. What he found is that when a person’s self-messages are negative such as: “I shouldn’t even try,” “I can’t do this,” “This is too difficult for me,” it ads stress to the situation. However, if the person’s self-messages are more optimistic - “This is a challenge and maybe I will succeed,” or “This will be a learning experience,” then there is not only less stress associated with the task but also health benefits.

So how do you turn negative self talk into positive self talk? One way is to change those negative thoughts to questions. For example, instead of “I can’t” to “How could I”. Introduce positive affirmations to your daily life. Things that motivate you that are fact: “I will do the best I can.” “I have run this route before.” Another way is to wake up with something positive. Instead of waking to an ugly, disarming alarm, wake up to “It’s a Beautiful Day” by U2 or some other inspiring song. Start the day off on a positive note. And, end your day on a positive: either write down or think about at least three things you were grateful for that day - even if it’s you made all the green lights on the way home from work.

When I can conquer the hills on my running route with my positive self-talk, I have more confidence and more inspiring self-talk for the hills in my life. How are you going to talk to yourself next time you’re facing a challenge? What could you do if you stopped telling yourself you couldn’t?