Years ago, I decided if I ever had children, I would use cloth diapers. I enjoy going the road less traveled and pursuing a more sustainable lifestyle. As with many personal lifestyle decisions, however, the opinions of others started pouring in as friends, family, and strangers caught wind of it. “Oh, I could never do that.” “See how long that lasts!” “My friend tried cloth diapering and it was a nightmare.”

When sharing about other life decisions and milestones, I have often found myself the recipient of warnings and horror stories instead of the simple encouragement or congratulations I hoped for. Perhaps the impulse to point out the negative and challenging comes easier to us than words of empowerment and encouragement. Everyone has felt the weight of discouraging words spoken over them, but many are unaware of the power their own words have to empower or defeat them.

There is a constant dialogue occurring within your mind. A stream of messages speaking your actions, abilities, and identity into being. Are you aware of the messages your internal communication system is broadcasting? Is it the encouragement you long for, or the defeating messages of limitation, discouragement, and failure?   

      • “I could never do that.”
      • “I’ll never get this done.”
      • “I’m stuck this way.”
      • “There’s no way I can pass this test.”
      • “This promotion is out of my reach.”
      • “I can’t learn that.”
      • “I’ll never make it that far.”
      • “I’m not strong enough to do that.”

Unlike the messages you receive from others, the messages you speak to yourself are under your control. You can choose the words that affirm or undermine your identity as a strong, capable individual. You can choose the words that build up or tear down your self-concept. You can choose the words that move you forward or leave you stuck in barriers and limitations. I challenge you to take a moment to inventory the messages being broadcast over your internal communication system. 

The first step is identifying the self-defeating messages when they come up. The next step is to start shifting them to messages that affirm who you are and who you want to be.

      • “I can’t do that” shifts to “I haven’t done that yet.”
      • “I could never figure that out” shifts to “This is new to me.”
      • “I’m stuck this way” shifts to “I can make changes, even if they’re small.”
      • “This is impossible” shifts to “This feels overwhelming right now.”

When shifting from defeating to empowering language, consider a few basic things.

  1. Time words: Adding a simple time word can completely change a message. “I can’t do that,” is final and limiting. “I can’t do that yet,” creates opportunity for future action and change. Notice the time words in the shifts above!
  2. Look out for definitive words like always or never: “I always do that.” “I’ll never find a new job.” These words do not leave room for change or growth. 
  3. Notice the labels you use for yourself, especially when you make a mistake: “Stupid!” “I’m so dumb.” “Screw up!” and try acknowledging what happened instead. “I didn’t think that through all the way.” “I was overtired and made a mistake.” “I didn’t notice that. I will slow down next time.” 
  4. Try speaking to yourself like you would speak to a friend: Have some compassion for yourself and speak words that are kind and true.

The messages we hear play a significant part in forming the way we see ourselves and our world. Consider the messages you are receiving from yourself and how your outlook might change if the words you speak to yourself provide empowerment and opportunity instead of defeat and limitation.

Your Story Matters Therapy Group is here to answer questions or to provide professional services. We are still offering telehealth sessions in addition to in-person therapy at both of our Omaha locations and our Council Bluffs office. Contact us today.