We’ve all heard the saying “Talk is cheap.” I would agree “Talk is cheap” in the same sense as the saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” So, yes, saying “I want to CrossFit” is not the same as doing it.

But otherwise, I’m not so sure that talk is cheap, not in the sense of “Sticks and stones may break your bones/ But words will never hurt you.” Part of keeping yourself motivated is a part of sticking to any plan to change your life, whether it is weight loss, weight maintenance or a fitness regime, CrossFit or something else.

When you are down, what resonates in your memory? The time you broke your nose or the things you have repeated to yourself, either because someone actually said that bad thing to you or that was the implied message from another’s actions? Those wounds, and the way they reinflict injury on you over and over as you repeat them, are quite costly.

Those things that you say to yourself are referred to by psychologists as “self-talk.” We’ve all seen cheesy versions of trying to fix self-talk, where people listen to self-help tapes and repeat “I am fabulous,” etc.

But just because it can be made to look silly, it doesn’t mean that the idea of changing the way you talk to yourself is invalid. There is one pastor/psychologist who has a ministry, Theophostic Prayer, built on the idea that in childhood we all learn to believe lies about ourselves, and that those lies keep us from accomplishing what we should in our lives. If Christianity isn’t your thing, then take a whiff of Buddhist thought from Daniel Goleman’s Destructive Emotions, where the Dalai Lama comments on teaching children positive self-talk as a way to deal with teasing:

From the Buddhist perspective, what is being done here is to skillfully divert the focus away from the strong emotion so that the mind can first be brought to a neutral state.

No matter your religion or philosophy, ethnicity or nationality, self-talk is a part of the way your brain works. It’s a way we regulate ourselves, and how it works depends on various factors, including your level of self-esteem:

Depending on your level of self-esteem, self-talk can be either positive or negative. Folks who suffer from low self-esteem spend more time planning and going over what was already said. For those with higher self-esteem, self-talk is more positive and congratulatory. They are not preoccupied with thinking about what they should have said.

I, for one, spend way too much time reviewing conversations for things I could have/should have said differently and looking, at times, for cues to how someone is viewing me. I used to have more active negative self-talk than I do now, but it persists. Last night I had a meltdown because I’m adjusting to a higher dosage of blood pressure medication and had to miss my workout for a second day in a row.

The meltdown was because my perception was that I had failed because I had to take two days off in a row. Self-talk took the form of “You can’t stick with anything” and “You’re going to fail at CrossFit because you are not athletic” and “You might as well give up because no matter what you do, it won’t be good enough” and “You’re doomed to suffer the consequences of your previous mistakes and can’t recover.” My wonderful husband gave me substitutes, telling me how proud he was of me, that it wasn’t about the blips, that blips were just how life is, that we were in it for the long haul, and that I had turned a corner in my thinking about fitness. My beautiful daughter chimed in later, telling me much the same, and helping me figure out a way around the problems the new blood pressure med had caused.

See, my blood pressure in the evening had been fluctuating wildly, from 86/60 to 186/102. Yeah. Scared the crap out of me. But the drug is an extended release type, and we started thinking that since it didn’t seem to be giving me problems until the evening, I should probably move my workout to the morning.

This solution might seem obvious, but I  have never been a morning person, so this was a novel concept for me. Yet, this morning I managed to walk my happy ass out to the garage and get the workout done with no blood pressure issues. And, as a bonus, it was relatively cool; we’ve been having to push workouts to later and later in the day because it’s been running way over 100 degrees midday and it is only beginning to cool off near sunset.

So, back to the self-talk issue: I had to get myself to begin thinking about the workout as a long-term commitment that I could do, that I have overcome other issues in my life (soda addiction, for a minor example), and that the blips were not the end.

Toni Bernhard had a similar experience, which she relates in a post called “Have You Listened to Your Self-Talk Lately?,” turning the do-unto-others adage into “treat yourself as you would have others treat you”:

When I noticed that I was speaking harshly or unkindly to myself, I stopped and reflected on how I’d never talk to others that way. Then I worked on speaking more gently to myself. After several months of determined practice, that inner critic gave way to a more compassionate voice. I’d become my own friend. “Isn’t Buddhism wonderful?” I thought.

Then I got sick and that “new me” unraveled. In 2001, I contracted a viral infection while on a trip to Paris. In fact, because I’m mostly house-bound and often bed-bound, it has cost me dearly in many ways.

The first few years after becoming sick, I blamed myself for not recovering–as if not regaining my health were a failure of will, somehow, or a deficit of character. This is a common reaction for people to have toward their illness. (It’s not surprising, given the barrage of advertising claims that suggest we can stay forever young and illness free, but if illness does strike, it’s easily fixed with the right prescription drug.)

Wow. She’s in my head! Compassion for yourself? What a lovely thought, but not as easy as it sounds.

Margaret Moore has some suggestions, first for identifying negative self-talk (to see her descriptions of each of these, go to her post “How Do You Spot Negative Self-Talk“), which I’ve recast in slightly different language:

You know you’re engaging in negative self-talk if you’re

  1. Saying defeatist things like “I can’t ever X” or “I am [bad thing]”
  2. Jumping to generalizations instead of staying with the specific like “I will always be defeated by health issues” rather than “I’m having trouble today with my blood pressure”
  3. Getting into the habit of name calling, like “Loser!”
  4. Adopting what others have said about you (or what you believe they’ve said about you), like “She’s unreliable” or, the ancient interpretation regarding always being chosen last for any team as a kid, “She can’t do it.”

Moore goes onto talk about “7 Ways to Leave Negative Self-Talk Behind,” after noting about a particular woman that:

[N]egative self-talk was causing stress, and limiting her thinking and potential.

Not just potential for thought, but potential for action. So here are her seven suggestions (again, I’ve paraphrased it somewhat):

  1. Keep track of your thoughts.
  2. Say stop when you notice negative self-talk
  3. Use gentler, kinder words.
  4. Ask  “What else am I feeling?” or “What is really going on here?”
  5. Separate what happened from what you thought about it.
  6. Affirm yourself.
  7. Broaden your thinking.

Polly Campbell talks about positive self-talk specifically in regard to meeting your fitness goals in her post “Positive self-talk can help you win the race — or the day“:

[A]n analysis of 32 different studies of self talk in sports, indicates that the specific words we use when talking to ourselves also play a role in how well we perform.

Positive self talk usually consists of words or brief phrases which inspire, motivate, or remind us to focus and keep moving. Phrases like, “Keep your head down,” “Let’s go now,” “Breathe,” help us focus our attention and trigger the ideal (hopefully) response and action for the task at hand.

So, CrossFatties and others trying to change your lives, here’s my take-away:

  1. You can do it, no matter how old or fat you are. Just keep plugging away at it and remember that there will be short-term setbacks that don’t mean you can’t do it or that you’re a failure. Keep telling yourself that until you believe it.
  2. Focus on the positive results you are getting overall, not on the momentary difficulties: More energy, stronger body, better coordination or whatever results you are seeing.
  3. Change is hard, so congratulate yourself for making a big change by working out and watching what you eat.
  4. There are always potholes, stumps and hills on any road you take, so take the one that does you the most good in the long run.

The way you talk to yourself affects how you act and what you believe yourself to be. So talk to yourself in a way that makes you act the way you want and be the person you’d like to be.

  1. Laura says:

    ouch… I know I need to work on this but it’s so hard. It feels like if I identify all the times that I self-deprecate I will feel even worse. Bad mindset again! Also it kinda brings back bad churchy memories, “You’re not striving to be like Jesus when you think bad thoughts.” arrrrgh gag me… figuratively.
    You and I can cheer each other on, that would help.

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