We all go about our lives with a constant dialogue in our heads. Most of the time, we're unaware that we talk to ourselves continually.
We evaluate, judge, make comments and even rejoice — all in the privacy of our brains.
No one else is privy to the conversations we have with ourselves. But what we say to ourselves has a significant emotional impact.
In the past 30 years the field of psychology has learned a great deal about the power we have to control how we feel and behave by examining — and then changing — what we say to ourselves on a daily basis.
In his introduction to the audiobook Sacred Verses, Healing Sounds, Deepak Chopra's readings from the ancient Indian verses of the Bhagavad Gita, Chopra explains that our inner verbalizations create our reality. This inner language can create mental patterns that we carry around with us all our lives.
"Psychologists estimate that the verbal cues fed to us by parents and by society, by advertising, by media (that run inside our heads like muffled tape loops) amount to 25,000 hours of pure conditioning," the mind-body health expert says.
These mental patterns of talking to ourselves are at the bottom of our attitudes, beliefs and behavior patterns. This conditioning gives us the illusion that our choices are restricted when, in reality, we have many more choices than we think.
Self-talk and Weight Loss
So it's little surprise that the statements we make to ourselves about losing weight, dieting and exercising can mean the difference between success and failure. A large part of therapy with my patients involves combatting statements that are defeating and replacing them with words that create desire and motivation.
Have you ever found yourself saying things like: "I hate to exercise!" "I can't do this!" "I don't have time to cook!" All are statements that can ruin the best-laid plans for a fit and lean life.
People send themselves all kinds of messages. One person may use personal judgment repeatedly such as, "Boy, I sure am stupid. I never should have eaten that." Another may underestimate her abilities through statements such as, "I'll never be able to run a mile without stopping."
Most people know that if children are spoken to in this way, they are less able to achieve. Why? Because such statements create negative emotions and beliefs which interfere with motivation.
If what a person says to himself makes him feel depressed and hopeless, how will he succeed at exercise and eating better? If inner dialogues make him feel unmotivated, how will he be able to follow his intentions to lose weight?
And what if these negative self-messages go way back in a person's life, to comments made by parents?
Fortunately, in the same way that statements fed to us by our parents and ourselves might have become negative thinking habits, adopting an inner dialogue that is positive and realistic can also become a pattern.
Changing words and thoughts
I used to hate exercise, outdoor sports and sweating. But when I decided to take up jogging, I had to confront my inner dialogue about exercise.
I noticed that even before I went outside, I was already saying things like, "Oh, yuck, I hate this. This is going to be hard. I can't run an entire mile."
Luckily, I could see that those thoughts not only would make jogging drudgery, they'd make me quit it altogether before long.
I decided to change my thinking about exercise. I took three steps in order to control what was going on in my brain:
1. I stopped myself whenever I was making self-defeating statements about exercise.
2. I considered why my negative statements were self-defeating, and would substitute a positive statement, such as, "I want to learn to exercise. I like running. This is my time and no one can bother me." The fact that I didn't really believe those statements at the moment didn't matter. The point was to stop the old and substitute the new, so that in time, the new statements would become a part of me.
3. I reminded myself while exercising to focus on the present, not how much time was left in my run, or where the end of the track was. I focused on the here and now.
How did I do? Well, it took one year to be able to run one mile without stopping, but that was 1975.
Today, I continue to exercise daily and I do it without much thought. It's like brushing my teeth. I've even come to enjoy exercising, and I love the outdoors. The old dialogue is gone. As a bonus, I've helped others change their self-defeating thoughts about weight loss and exercise, too.
It's never too late to confront those self-defeating statements that are getting in the way of becoming lean and fit. A systematic and patient approach is all it takes.
Lavinia Rodriguez, Ph.D., is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. She can be reached at (813) 240-9557 or DrRod@FatMatters. com. Her book, "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management," is available at FatMatters.com.