I talk to myself, both aloud and in my head. We all do this, of course. The experts say that examining your self-talk is vital, because when you say something enough, you program your brain to believe it. People who consistently say, “I’m ugly” or “I always mess up” or “I’m never on time” can say these negative things so often that their brain impulses actually hardwire the message, which makes it even more likely to be thought, and so on. My personal one has been “I’m a procrastinator and unfinisher, and that’s just the way it is.” You say it so much, you don’t even question its validity anymore.
When it comes to doing things, I have certainly had my share of conversations with myself. As I lay in bed last night, I thought of all the statements I had made about myself and the effect those statements have had on my life. Words are more important than we give them credit for.
“I want to do this.” This is one mantra of childhood. Kids in their naive and hormone-laden states want to do everything - even things that are unwise, dangerous for them or other people, or things they are not mature enough to handle. Many adolescents lack judgment and all they can think of is what they want. “I want to sleep in and skip school today.” “I want to have sex.” “I want to drive as fast as this car will go.” “I want to get revenge on this teacher.” “I want to see what it feels like to get high.” Add to this the wants for material things, technology, clothes, games, etc., and the first fourth or so of one’s life can be consumed with trying to satisfy all those wants. As an adult, it becomes “I want to lose 20 pounds” or “I want to be loved” or “I want to be content in life.” You see, wants are not always bad, but when you want something you know would be good or healing for you and don’t do anything to achieve it, then it’s empty. As an adult, “I want” is just not enough.
“I should do this.” This was my childhood mantra. I was a good girl. I was a good student. I was a good church member. I was a good daughter. I knew what was expected of me, and usually I did it. I’m not belittling that, of course. I’m glad I could be a good family member and citizen. A sense of personal responsibility is admirable. But as adults, if we find that our lives are totally filled up with doing things because a nagging voice says we “should” and nothing else, and we do these things with no passion, no purpose, and sometimes with dread, it turns an admirable statement into a negative one, and drains our energy and eats into our lives.
“I could have done this.” Ack - the regret syndrome. Oh, the wasted life! The unaccepted challenges! The road not taken! Sometimes this becomes pathetic, but sometimes it’s funny. I remember when Matt was in, I believe, 6th or 7th grade, one of his friends was a good runner. Matt had never done fast sports, only karate (a much slower, more intentional skill), and one day he ran a race against this other boy. As he told us later about how he lost, he ended the story to us with a smile and said, “I could have beaten him...if he had had his shoes tied together!” It’s good to laugh at ourselves! But we shouldn’t be consumed with glory dreams of what might have been. We can learn from the past, but we really have only the future.
“I’m afraid to do this.” Boy, don’t I know it! This is the other half of a kid’s mantra (ergo Caroline’s standing in the street in her first set of roller skates, panicking). I’ve had those moments as an adult. “I’m afraid to commit to a health regimen.” “I”m afraid to kayak on the bay in Bar Harbor.” “I’m afraid to attempt this difficult quilt pattern.” “I’m afraid to take the Certified Medical Transcriptionist test.” “I’m afraid to fly to Memphis.” Of course, all these will be followed with the word “because,” as in “...because I might give up,” “....because I might drown.” “...because I am not skilled enough.” “...because I might fail,” and “...because I might crash.” If we admit fear, that’s being truthful. If we let fear paralyze us so we never try anything, well, that’s a big waste.
“I can do this.” Now we’re getting somewhere. As I mentioned in an MT chat room yesterday, when I passed the CMT, it sparked something within my brain that said, “If I can do this, maybe I can do something else that seems scary or difficult.” Do I really have the wherewithal to give up Cokes for the rest of my life? Am I mentally capable of a commitment to daily exercise? Can I actually make a quilt and finish it in a reasonable amount of time before I start another one of the myriad projects in my head? Am I actually physically, emotionally, and mentally able to get on another plane after freaking out on one 14 years ago? I made a list of things that up until now I had said,”I want to...,” “I should do...,” “I could have done,” and “I’m afraid to do...” and started associated these goals with a whole new statement - one with energy and promise. I can do this. I CAN DO THIS!
“I will do this.” This is the commitment statement. This is the one where you’ve discarded all the negatives, accepted the certainly that it is possible, and have gone one step further to commitment. After the goal is met, the feeling is indescribable, and feeds on itself to other goals and challenges and self-confidence. This can be overwhelmingly powerful and gratifying.
Finally, there is one more statement. For a couple of weeks, I have been visiting a site called www.transformation.com. It’s dedicated to encouraging people to transform their lives to their God-given full potential - not only physically in fitness and good health, but spiritually and emotionally and every other way from the inside out. They recently featured a teenage girl with leukemia, someone I didn’t know anything about but whom everyone was praising as such an inspiration because of her positive attitude about life. They said that her favorite statement was “I get to.” In spite of her chemo treatments, nausea and vomiting, and physical deterioration, she could still say, “I get to live another day.” “I get to give back to the society.” “I get to use this illness to encourage others.” She died last week, and the online community's outpouring of grief was tremendous.
I wondered what using her statement would do in my life. “I get to exercise today, because I have all my muscles and limbs and am not in a wheelchair!” “I get to fly to visit my family in August and get there in one day instead of driving for solid week there and back!” “I get to work in this fantastic career, where I not only use my skills, but I learn wonderful new things every day!” “I get to accept this new challenge, because win or lose, the struggle will only make me stronger!” “I get to participate today in this incredible journey called life!”
Now, that’s what I call making a statement. What a wonderful way to hardwire your brain!