Can our inner voice really have an impact on our health and well-being? In short, yes. It can.
Let’s look at how…
Our inner voice or self talk is what we use to understand our thoughts and we use language to make sense of them. Language dictates how we feel and amazingly, most of us rarely stop to notice what we are ACTUALLY telling ourselves. All too often, our inner voice becomes the critical running commentary for our lives. But how does language and our self-talk have such a huge impact? Basically, the things we tell ourselves become our thoughts, our thoughts then create feelings which then create behaviours. So, for me, the most important thing to address first is language. It is important to note here that the brain believes what you tell it…so be mindful of your language, stop and notice what you are actually saying to yourself. For example, if you constantly tell yourself you are tired and in pain, then guess what, you will undoubtedly feel tired and in pain. You’re effectively instructing your body to respond that way.
Now I’m not saying that all symptoms of ill health can simply be changed just by changing our thoughts and I’m also not saying that the physical symptoms aren’t real, because they are. What I am saying is that our thoughts and mindset play a huge role in how we manage these and we feel – physically, mentally and emotionally.
One of the most common traits I notice in people and particularly those with chronic health conditions, is the use of negative identity statements such as ‘I AM ill’, ‘I AM exhausted’ and ‘I AM in pain’. I remember when I was ill and someone challenged me to notice every negative thought I had confirming my state of ill health – honestly, I stopped counting after about 100. I was staggered at just how often I was telling myself such detrimental things. This reminded me of a conversation I had with my mum when I was doing my G.C.S. E’s that has stayed with me since. I said to her, ‘Mum, I AM going to fail’ and her response was, ‘Yes darling, with an attitude like that you will’. It really hit me because I realised she was right. By telling myself I was going to fail and believing it, I was already setting myself up to do just that. Then, if and when I did fail, that would fit nicely into my belief system of not being good enough and prove to myself that I was right. Now that’s a whole other blog. So, for now, the most important thing to note is the language I was using.
Identity statements are a fantastic tool when used in the right way. You want to actively feed your brain positivity. Tell yourself positive statements such as ‘I AM confident’, ‘I AM enough’, and ‘I AM well’.
Most people suffering with chronic pain and fatigue are running an internal dialogue telling themselves they are constantly in pain and will also ‘body scan’ to look for the pain. This means that when they are not in pain, they look for it and will inevitably ‘find’ it as they have told themselves it will be there somewhere so, again, they are instructing themselves to be in pain. Now they might try and tell themselves something seemingly positive such as ‘I am NOT in pain’. This, however, doesn’t work because the brain will focus on the word PAIN. This is in part down to our RAS (Reticular Activating System) in our brain which works by priming us to pick up on suggestions of what we are most focused on. An easy way to think about this is ‘Energy goes where focus flows’.
The good news though is that once we have noticed our negative self-talk, we can change and control it. When you notice yourself using negative identity statements, tell yourself to STOP! Break that thought pattern and ask yourself how you would like to feel differently. The brain must answer to a command so if you assertively say stop, it will listen. You then have a window of opportunity to tell yourself something different, an opportunity to be kind to yourself and love yourself. The more you do this, the more you believe it and the more you believe it, the better you will feel. The better you feel, the more you will do it. So, start breaking those negative thought patterns now.