Language, both spoken and unspoken, can impact our perceptions, emotions and behavior in ways that help or hinder us. Mindfulness practices can help us create less judgmental self-talk — and assist in identifying destructive words we say to ourselves.
You’ve likely had a morning — perhaps even this morning — when you’ve looked in a mirror and been guilty of saying something silently to yourself that was less than supportive.
This is an example of negative self-talk.
“’Self-talk’ is a popular psychology term referring to our internal verbal dialogue, also referred to as thoughts or cognitions,” explains Mikaela Hildebrandt, PhD, Clinical Psychologist with Renown Behavioral Health. “As a language process, thoughts have referents and can verbally represent people, places or events that may or may not be in our present environment. As such, they can shape our perception and interpretation of situations unfolding in the present moment, including the story we tell about ourselves and others.”
But what can we do to improve our self-talk and work toward making ourselves happier and healthier? After all, it seems logical that language — both spoken and unspoken — can impact our perceptions, emotions and behavior in ways that either help or hinder us.
The key, Dr. Hildebrandt suggests, is mindfulness.
“Research on the subject of language acquisition and its influence on human behavior has shown that it is not simply what we think, remember or perceive that influences us, but how we relate to those words and experiences that impact our emotions and behavior most powerfully,” says Dr. Hildebrandt. “In other words, do you get brought into your internal dialogue, or can you recognize that it is your mind producing those thoughts and still act effectively in the moment?”
Dr. Hildebrandt notes that many studies have shown the application of mindfulness, acceptance of uncomfortable thoughts/feelings and committed action are key processes of change in research trials. Specifically, these studies have investigated outcomes like body image, depression, stress and substance use, and also healthy lifestyle changes, like increasing physical activity, diet and improvement of relationships.
These studies show that techniques like accepting what is out of your control, taking action and attending to the present moment contribute to positive outcomes.
According to Dr. Hildebrandt, the research suggests, “…it is the ability to notice the process of thinking, letting go of judgment, combined with a willingness to openly experience thoughts and feelings as they are (not as they say they are) that enables individuals to respond more flexibly to ever-changing life demands.”
Mindfulness Helps ‘Untangle’ Harmful Messages
Being mindful is certainly something that happens introspectively, but it’s also a process that can sometimes involve speaking aloud in a group or privately to someone you respect and trust.
“Mindfulness strategies have been shown to be effective for helping people become a non-judgmental observer of their own private experiences,” says Dr. Hildebrandt. “Several evidence-based psychotherapy approaches apply mindfulness to help people become ‘untangled’ from unhelpful thoughts or feelings that are getting in the way of living life meaningfully.”
What does this all mean? Our self-talk can certainly affect us, but sometimes we can take back the destructive power these words can hold by simply recognizing that the words we say to ourselves and reality may be two different concepts.
“In summary, taking such a mindful approach to day-to-day life challenges keeps individuals living healthier, happier lives,” Dr. Hildebrandt says.
If you need help creating more positive self-talk or becoming more mindful of your communication, visit Renown Behavioral Health to schedule an appointment.