NPR radio recently broadcast a segment called “Why Saying is Believing – The Science of Self-Talk”. If you think it sounds like a waste of your time, you might need to change your self-talk. Laura Starecheski investigates the messages we send ourselves and the implications these messages have on our daily lives. While it may seem like a simple feat, the ability to use positive self-talk on a consistent basis is easier said than done. However, this skill–when mastered–can have major benefits on our well-being and can lead us to feeling “sexier, more successful, have better relationships, and even help start a money making business and chase dreams [we] didn’t even know [we] had.” Starecheski investigates these claims by finding leading researchers in their fields and picking their brains on…well, how we pick on our brains. David Sarwer from the University of Pennsylvania specializes in research on eating disorders and immediately places a mirror in front of patients when he begins working with them. He encourages them to stray away from using harsh, critical vocabulary when describing themselves, and instead incorporate more neutral references that help them reframe their negative thoughts. While listening to the program, I began thinking, “Yes, I see the value in this… However, they are still just thoughts…and how harmful can thoughts truly be?”
Shortly after, my question was answered.
A study conducted in the Netherlands analyzed anorexic subjects, and noticed that while women walked though doorways they turned their shoulders and squeezed sideways even though they had plenty of room. This was an indicator that their internal representation of themselves was that they were much bigger than they were in reality. Studies like this (i.e., those that show the tremendous effects self-talk can have on our physical world) are not uncommon. So how do we overcome these small thoughts that can become big problems? Ethan Cross of the University of Michigan suggests that the use of third person self-talk may be a trick to help “rewire” our brains. Cross uses Lebron James as an example of using third person self-talk. n an exit interview in 2010, Lebron James talked about leaving Cleveland for the Miami Heat:
“One thing I didn’t want to do was make an emotional decision. And I wanted to do what was best for Lebron James, and what I could do to make Lebron James happy.”
In this instance, he was able to distance himself from his emotions and look at a situation from a more neutral, logical standpoint. Cross furthered this idea with research of his own, confirming what he had already hypothesized. When people used third person self-talk and referred to themselves by name rather than “me” or “I”, subjects were significantly more rational, less emotional and were able to provide themselves with encouragement and advice.
Our self-talk shapes not only our internal world but our external world as well. More often than you may think, the internal representations we create of ourselves are vastly different than reality. The skill of developing healthy, positive self-talk is not only beneficial, but also vital for our well-being and success. If you think otherwise, ironically you may just be the perfect candidate for strengthening your self-talk.