Not a day goes by without me saying these words ― “Speak life!”
What does that mean? To me, speaking life is an attitude of gratefulness and encouragement. It is choosing words that will build you and others up.
That sounds nice, but what does it have to do with well-being?
It’s simple. While a lot of what we say is neutral, words and thoughts have great power when they are negative or positive. They can build us up or tear us down.
We get stuck in patterns of talking and thinking, and our brain quickly develops paths of processing that become habitual. We start believing these patterns are immovable truths. This automatic processing affects our internal dialogue and our communication with everyone around us. It affects our moods, our health, our relationships, and ultimately, our joy.
For example, a patient with persistent pain said, “I’m never going to feel better. I’ve always had, and I’m sure I always will have, this pain.”
His words sent a message to his brain and body that were tearing him down. They left no room for hope or healing. He didn’t intend to do this, but he was recycling a destructive message.
So, how can you move from negative to positive thinking? Here are four simple tips:
1. Pay attention to your thoughts and words. Are they tearing you down? When I called my patient’s attention to how his words were hurting him, he sometimes responded, “I’m so stupid. I always do or say the wrong thing.”
Unfortunately that was another “tear down” message. This is evidence that the brain is in a negative automatic response pattern. But our brains can be remodeled with a little effort, time, and mostly, gentleness.
2. Start rewriting the negative messages to be positive ones. I credit negative self-talk to something I call the “itty-bitty critical committee” ― a small group of “people” in our heads who repeat criticisms. The illustration to the right puts it into perspective for me. I realize that I can change the thoughts of “committee members” and fill in the word bubbles with messages that build me up. You can try it. Identify the messages of your committee and rewrite them.
3. Create a wall of gratefulness. Take Post-It® notes and write down a couple of simple things for which you are grateful. Stick them somewhere with room to post more. I recommend the back of your bedroom door, or another place where they can be left undisturbed. Keep adding messages of the things in your day, week and life that cause you to be thankful. Nothing is too small to note. Then, on days when you feel particularly low, read the wall. These messages will speak back to you and fill you up.
4. Compliment others and let them know you appreciate them. Watch their reaction. Did they feel that? Did they respond with gratitude? Often you will get what I call the “backsplash of joy” when you build someone else up. It’s the response that makes that person smile back at you, and often, respond positively. But even if they don’t, it generates a spark in you.
A truth I have learned is that whatever we focus on and speak to ― negative or positive ― will grow. That’s why I encourage myself, my patients and everyone to “Speak life!”
Mary Beshara is a board certified Clinical Nurse Specialist in adult health and pain management who sees patients at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Abbott Northwestern Outpatient Clinic. She integrates into her practice complementary therapies such as relaxation techniques, integrative imagery, aromatherapy, reflexology, healing touch and breath work.