Self-talk is super important! It’s one of the biggest influencers in the things we do, and learning how to become more aware, and how to actively manage what we tell ourselves, will have a huge impact on our lives. Period. It’s that important.
It’s that important because, ultimately, belief determines behavior. Think about that, for a second. Belief determines behavior. What we believe, determines how we behave, and how we behave determines what we do, accomplish, and achieve in our lives. It’s true, and I’m going to try to explain why.
We, as human beings, have a very strong desire to be right. So much so, that as soon as we say or believe something, we will look for every shred of evidence we can find to prove ourselves right. Think about it, when you look up at the sky, see the dark clouds, and say it’s going to rain, what do you want to happen next? You want it to rain. Or, if you are watching a race, and the leader is way out in front, and you say there is no way she can hang on to that lead, your focus then shifts to looking for evidence that she is starting to fall back. It’s innocent enough in these cases, because you really have no control over these outcomes, but what about when it’s something that you do have control over?
This is precisely why I don’t tell my kids they are going to trip when I see them running with their shoelaces untied. I don’t tell them, because I don’t what them to believe me. I certainly don’t want them to start making subtle, unconscious changes, like looking at their feet or changing their stride, that will eventually make it happen. Proving to themselves, and also to me, that we are right.
That doesn’t mean that I let them keep running with their laces flapping around though. I simply ask them to stop and re-tie their shoes, not mentioning that running with their laces untied will make them trip, fall, and smash their face on a rock. It’s really not necessary to go there, and I don’t even want to put those thoughts into their heads. Mostly because, once we believe something is possible, there is a much greater chance of us making it happen. That’s pretty interesting to me, and there are examples all over the place.
Think about running for example. Do you know how long it took someone to break a 4-minute mile? In the 1940s, the mile record was set at 4:01.4 by both Arne Andersson and Gunder Hägg. Two people were that close, and neither of them were the ones to break it. It actually wasn’t until 10 years later that Roger Bannister finally broke the 4-minute barrier in 1954. And then, John Landy broke it again just 46 days after that. Why did it take so long to break the 4-minute barrier the first time? And then, why was it broken again, a second time, by another runner, so quickly after the first? I believe it’s because most runners didn’t think it was possible until Roger did it. Then, when he finally did, and proved that it was possible, others started to believe it as well, and they broke it too. Now, it’s actually the standard for male mid-distance runners. It’s perfectly normal for the fast guys to break a 4-minute mile.
This isn’t just true for running. If you look at the progression in other sports it’s the same. In skateboarding, there is a 10-year-old kid doing tricks today that only a few of the top pros could do in the late 1980s. Today, kids skateboarding for just a few years think it’s perfectly normal to do this stuff. Once we truly believe that something is possible, every fiber in our bodies work together to make it happen, to make us correct in our beliefs. That is the power of self-talk.
Unfortunately, at the same time, self-talk can work just as hard against us. How many times have you said something, watched it happen, and then bragged because you predicted it? You say “I’m going to trip on these steps”, you trip, and then say proudly, “I knew I was going to trip on those steps”. What if you thought of it differently. Instead of taking so much pride in being right, because you knew you were going to trip, take some blame for making it happen. You didn’t predict it, you made it happen by saying and believe it. It’s your fault!
You must already know that this applies to lifestyle change, and specifically to transitioning to a plant based diet as well, or else I wouldn’t be talking about it here. Can you imagine how? How many times have you said, “I can’t do this”? Have you ever told yourself, or someone else, “I can’t live without cheese”? I hear that one a lot. Or, “I could never give up chocolate”, or bacon, or cupcakes, or cookies, or whatever? I hear people say stuff like this all the time, and I honestly don’t try to argue with them. I don’t engage the discussion, because I know they want to be right, and the last thing I want is for them to go through a laundry list of reasons why what they just told me, and themselves, is true. Doing so would even further strengthen the belief, and I don’t want to contribute to that.
If it’s someone who asked me for help, I will just make a mental note, and look for an opportunity to disrupt that thought the next time it comes up. In casual situations, when people find out how I eat, they often tell me “Oh, I could never do that”, and I just think to myself, well, you are probably right. They aren’t even giving themselves a chance, they are psyched out and working against themselves, even before they start. It doesn’t sound like a good recipe for success to me.
Enough about that, let’s get on to how we can use self-talk to help ourselves. It works that way too, and that’s really valuable. All we have to do is start thinking, saying, and believing things that will help us on our mission. If we are trying to give up some food, we have to stop telling ourselves how much we miss it. If we are trying to eat more of a food that is new to us, we have to find a way to like it so we can support that idea for ourselves too. Even if it’s as slight as “It doesn’t taste so bad”, that’s a start. And, if you catch yourself thinking, that’s actually pretty good, continue reinforcing that! Say it a few more times. Tell someone else that you really like it. If you notice that you are starting to feel better, lost a couple of pounds, or that your clothes are fitting differently, keep saying that stuff! Remind yourself every time an accomplishing thought pops into your head, so it really sinks into your belief system. Celebrate these realizations as small wins! Anything you can do to reinforce the progress you are making will help you to continue on the right path.
Even when you do deviate, or slip, or mess up, your self-talk is a good measure of where that’s taking you. I have two sons, who are 11 and 13 years old. Occasionally they will deviate in social situations, and I try to help them through it. It’s never a big issue to me, but I do pay close attention to their self-talk, to see what kind of steering needs to be done after the fact.
If they are at a party, and tell me they had a slice of cheese pizza, I’ll ask them how it was. They almost always tell me that it really wasn’t that good. When they do that, the conversation is over. If they eat something off plan, and are then telling me, and telling themselves, that it wasn’t very good, I don’t have anything to worry about. I might just say; next time let’s figure out how to make sure you have something that you will enjoy. Or, I might just move the conversation on to something else entirely. At that point, it’s a low risk situation. On the other hand, if they told me it was delicious, I would be concerned for them, and I’d start thinking about how to help them work on their choices.
I want to leave you with a few practical tips, and one of my favorite quotes to help you figure out how to shift your own self-talk in a way that will support your wants, instead of working against you. I love the way Henry Ford said it; “Whether you think can, or whether you think you can’t, you are right”. That’s self-talk!