When thinking about your health, what kinds of things do you allow yourself to do and what kinds of things do you have strict rules against? Whether it is societal pressure, the way you were raised, or a conscious choice about how to live, we all hold internal rules and judgements that give structure to our lives and routines.
When all hold internal rules – the foods we allow ourselves to eat, the clothes we allow ourselves to wear, the amount of exercise or movement we allow time for, etc. These are all important aspects of overall health and wellbeing; however, there is one area that has perhaps the biggest impact of all – our internal dialogue. Internal dialogue (also known as inner dialogue or self-talk) is simply the way we talk to ourselves.
Is your internal dialogue harsh and negative (do you call yourself names, berate yourself, or make empty promises)? Or is your internal dialogue positive (kind, supportive, compassionate, patient, and trustworthy)? From the fields of psychology to mindfulness to quantum physics, many researchers agree that our thoughts become our reality. So if you want to feel great and look great, take a minute to explore your healthy habits from the inside out.
Getting curious about your own self-talk can provide rich and eye-opening awareness of deep-seeded feelings and beliefs that might keep us in negative or self-destructive patterns. This cognitive exploration is a key component in overcoming blocks around exercise routines, eating habits, and other forms of self-care such as relationships and finances. What do you believe you are capable of, worthy of, and allowed to have? In the words of Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, you’re right”.
Sometimes this type of personal development work can be tricky and deceiving. Our minds are powerful computers and it is easy to get sucked into our own games and distortions. It is often helpful to work with a coach, mentor, or therapist get real and get honest about these internal struggles. When thinking about your health and wellness goals, ask yourself this simple question: “where do I want to go and who can help me get out of my own way so I can get there?”
In my opinion, everyone can benefit from a coach, whether it’s for an athletic sport, a special diet, or an important relationship. When it comes to having a coach to whip your internal dialogue into shape to build the life that you want, it may be helpful to consider a therapist, meditation instructor, or someone well-versed in navigating the mind and the psyche. The practice of improving your internal dialogue can be considered a form of mental training, which is an aspect of mindfulness training.
Mindfulness has become much more popularized in recent years, from the therapy room to military campuses to yoga studios. In the research world, mindfully managing internal dialogue is included in consciousness and meta-cognition studies. However, cleaning up one’s self-talk is also included in studies related to health and wellness. Specifically, within the worlds of addiction recovery, psychotherapy, and developing helpful attitudes for a successful life – such as grit, happiness, and resiliency – the practice of positive self-talk is a core element.
Changing your internal dialogue can be as hard – or maybe even harder – than changing your diet, your addictive vices, or any other engrained habit that is seriously getting in the way of your best self. This is not an easy path, nor is it simple. Here are a few tips on how to start getting mentally healthy from the inside out:
Step One: Get curious about whether or not your internal dialogue is helpful to meeting your health and wellness goals. Simply imagine that someone is recording your self-talk and playing outload in front of a room of people. Would you sink into your chair? (Don’t worry, most of us would.) The goal here is not to let shame drive behavior change, but to shine a light on an old habit. Does your internal dialogue need a makeover?
Step Two: Keep a journal of all the hurtful, harmful, and negative things you say to yourself every day. Too embarrassed to write it down? That’s ok, try keeping a journal of all the helpful, supportive, positive affirmations you say to yourself every day instead. Either way, the goal here is to log your mental habits. Try to stay curious instead of judgmental.
Step Three: Decide the type of person who you want to be to yourself. In other words, think about how you treat yourself compared to how you treat others in your life who you deeply care about. In essence, the question here is – do you love yourself and do you treat yourself lovingly? Remember that you are the only person who will be with you until the very end. You can become your best friend and biggest supporter, or you can become your worst enemy and nemesis. It really is a choice.
Step Four: Go back and review your log entries from step two and begin to write a list of things you would like to say to yourself. Some examples include, “I can do it”, “I am allowed to ask for help when I need it”, “I am stronger than I think”, or “I am worth it”. You may think of other things you would like to say to yourself. Whatever ideas you have, go for it! You know yourself better than anybody else, so what do you really need to hear? Note that you may not actually believe the things you are saying to yourself at first. Part of mental training is training your subconscious mind to set new believes in place. Stick with it, even if it feels fake at first. Here is another good one, “if you can fake it, you can make it”.
Step Five: Move through the negative blocks and your inner critic. If you are like most of us, you will be hit with inner resistance every single day. Your mind will fight and disobey your new commands. Go ahead and expect that to happen. Allow it to happen. And then gently, lovingly, and firmly talk back, repeating your new set of beliefs. The goal here is to engage something called your “wise mind”, which is that neutral place between your overly negative and your overly positive sides. One of my mentors always told me to remember, “always a dialogue, never a monologue”. It’s important to talk back to yourself! This practice may feel silly at first, but it is like doing push-ups, scales on a piano, or any other training practice that helps you develop new skills.
Step Six: Consistency is key. Have you ever been amazed at how a tiny drip of water can carve through stone? This is the same concept. As long as you keep a steady practice of mental training, your mind can become your slave instead of your master. Eventually, your subconscious mind really will believe what you tell it. It’s really a pretty amazing phenomenon, just like carving stone with gentle drops of water.
Think about how much time you spend getting jerked around by your thoughts and emotions. Think about how often you don’t follow through with your health and fitness goals because of fear, resistance, shame, or other thoughts or emotions. Instead, imagine having had trained your mind to navigate these blocks with ease. Imagine feeling strong, healthy, and vibrant from the inside out! Believe it or not, your ability to envision this reality is the very first step in getting there.
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