If we talked to our friends the way we talk to ourselves… well, you know where I’m going with that thought.
Each of us has used harsh, declarative, punishing statements towards ourselves that we’d never utter to someone else:
“Wow, that was stupid.”
“You always mess that up.”
“What the hell is wrong with you? ”
There’s a lot to be said about those bold statements. (I’ll save that for some rants on Inside Job, or another newsletter.)
Sometimes though, the harmful and misleading words we use with ourselves are not overt, explosive messages.
Lately, I’m noticing how often we say small, repeated things to ourselves that distort the truth and erode our agency and self-regard.
It’s death by a thousand verbal papercuts, the series of (what seem like) minor, dismissive, petty comments or habitual word choices that deeply shape how we see and support ourselves.
How we speak to ourselves has a massive impact on our confidence, our presentation to others, the choices we offer (or don’t offer) ourselves, the actions we take, and our peace of mind.
I consider my mental wellbeing as reflective of my relationship with myself, and I have a chance to ask myself:
“Is this it the language of a healthy relationship? ”
I think we can do better. I believe we deserve better.
This month, I offer a few opportunities to notice and upgrade the way we speak to ourselves.
See if anything sounds familiar…
❝ I have no time…” becomes “I’m making choices…”
There is not a single client I’ve ever worked with who hasn’t been engaged in some kind of warfare with time. Usually, the war looks something like the client trying to jam 100 hours of material into a 40-hour work week.
This results in a persistent sense of panic, overwhelm and resentment.
The language we use around this tends to be: “I don’t have enough time.”
We all get the same number of hours in a day. The time is reliable and quantifiable. We’re the variable.
We’re making choices all day every day, hour by hour.
- We are making choices to tend to the things that we’ve decided are important or we’re making decisions to tend to something else.
- We are making choices to respond to every email or we’re making decisions to devote energy to something that requires deep thought and planning.
- We’re making decisions to notice and process our feelings, or to numb them out by online shopping or watching another video on YouTube.
One of the best ways I know how to shift our thinking about time is to shift our language about time.
What happens when you say: “I chose to spend more time on email than writing. I chose to drop work to hang out with my kids for a little longer… ”?
At the minimum, it draws attention to the facts behind the feeling that there’s not enough time.
At the maximum, it leads to more self-honoring decisions in line with what you really want.
The note here is that when our language reflects our responsibility, we can regain the space to examine and choose again where we allocate this finite and precious resource.
❝ I don’t know what I’m doing…”becomes “I’m experimenting…”
When we’re in pursuit of something we want – a new job, some visibility, new opportunity or skill, especially when it feels uncertain, I notice we can mask our fear of the unknown by repeating to ourselves (and the people around us) that we don’t really know what we’re doing.
Somehow it temporarily eases the sensation of floundering.
And yet when I ground myself or my clients in language like: I’m taking one step at a time, or we’re making incremental progress, or we’re experimenting with this one thing… I notice we relax, we become more patient with ourselves, and we’re proud of the small growth.
In fact, this language gives us the courage and fuel to keep going.
Think about something you’re wondering about, or just beginning.
For me, that’s a 2021 experiment with drawing.
It’s easy to fall into language of: “I have no idea what I’m doing.”
I barely even register the sentence as it leaves my mouth, and that’s exactly the problem.
It’s not what I actually mean. It’s just what I’m used to saying.
The truth is I’m working on it, improving and using resources to help me. This language is more respectful and encouraging of my own path, and is completely reflective of reality at the same time.
❝ Don’t worry about it! ” becomes “ Wait, what do I need right now? ”
This kind of statement comes in a variety of flavors.
“It’s not that important, it’s not a big deal, don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of it…”
These are the little toss-away statements when we start to express a thought, and then minimize its importance to us, mostly because we’re worried that it will take away from someone else, or call attention to ourselves unnecessarily.
This is a verbal habit of mine that drives my family crazy. Even my 13-year old will say to me: “Mom, If you want something, just ask for it.”
What if every time we quieted ourselves or brushed our own words off, instead we paused and asked ourselves:
“Wait, what do I really need right now? Do I need to be heard? Do I need some help? Do I want to share a thought out loud? Do I need a little rest? Do I need a snack? ”
Whatever it is, we’re allowed to want it, we’re allowed to need it, we’re allowed to express it.
- Slowing down helps me notice these patterns.
- Asking someone I trust deeply to help me stay in check helps, too.
- Practice, not perfection.
What works for you as you upgrade how you speak to yourself? I’d love to know.