You'll need a friend for this one. Stand with your back against the wall, and you're your arms straight out in front.
Now, repeat the words “I am weak, I am nothing, I don’t matter” while your friend pushes your arms down with strong force. They went down pretty easily, right?
Next, do the exact same thing while saying, “I am strong, I am powerful, I can.”
If you’re like most people, it was actually much much harder for your friend to push your arms down while you repeated positive affirmations.
Welcome to the world of the mind-body connection, where the words we say to ourselves – in our minds or out loud – become thoughts, and then beliefs, and eventually, manifest themselves in reality.
Researchers now say that we have about 40,000 – 60,000 thoughts a day, but too many people consistently engage in negative self-talk that sets them back – or becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In fact, negative thoughts lead to a lack of energy and always being tired, feeling burnt out, irritated, frustrated, anxious, unsettled, and even unable to enjoy everyday life.
Studies have shown that people that commonly engage in positive instead of negative self-talk end up having real health effects like:
- Lower stress level
- Increased life span
- Lower rates of depression
- Better functioning immune system
- Better psychological and physical well-being
- Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
- Better coping skills
More empirical studies need to be done, but behaviorists and psychologists believe that we shape our internal representations about the world when we engage in negative – or positive – self-talk, including how we then perceive, interpret, and react to all other external stimuli. Studies show that this can go so far as physical and environmental stimuli, such as the sense of taste, pain receptors, etc.
Of course, it’s natural to have negative thoughts, as everyone has them at some times and to some degree. So psychologists make the important distinction that people shouldn't try to suppress those negative thoughts or pretend they don't exist but learn how to cope with them in a healthy and productive manner.
In fact, trying to suppress negative thoughts can backfire, moving them into the forefront of your consciousness.
That was the findings of a landmark study done a few decades ago when subjects were presented with the image of a white bear, and then explicitly told NOT to think about that white bear again.
It turns out that trying not to think of something is just the same as trying to think about it – or worse, and they couldn’t escape the image popping up again and again.
So instead of ignoring negative thoughts and self-talk, it’s best to go through a process of recognizing them, coping, accepting, and moving on.
So why is negative self-talk so damaging?
The reason lies with something called “Rumination,” which is a scientific term for when people loop negative thoughts, memories, and perceptions, going over them again and again.
By doing so, we basically magnify the bad and minimize the good, which distorts our perception of reality, damages our self-esteem, and adversely shapes the way we live our lives going forward.
But optimistic people tend to do just the opposite of Rumination, de-emphasizing negative "evidence" and instead, highlighting the positive.
Here are four ways that negative self-talk takes over more than just thought, ending up impacting our reality:
When we magnify negative thoughts but choose to filter out the positive ones.
Blaming ourselves when something bad happens, even if the outcome wasn’t in our control, wasn’t our fault, or had nothing to do with us.
Automatically anticipating the worst in every situation – and spreading that negative expectancy to every other part of your life.
When we react to things as only good or bad with no middle ground, most things end up being categorized as a failure.
Due to our inherent tendency to highlight negative thoughts and experiences, and reinforce them with self-talk, our physiological stress levels remain elevated. Incredibly, studies show that 85% of the everyday things we worry about end up having a positive or neutral outcome, not a negative effect on our lives!
And even when our fears and worries do happen in real life, 80% of people say they handled those problems much better than they anticipated.
Wow, that's quite a revelation, giving even the most staunch pessimist reason for hope to turn the tide of negative self-talk!
Find out more specific techniques and strategies for fixing your negative self-talk patterns –and completely change your life in the process – in part two of this blog.