What do wispy cobwebs have to do with your health?

(Negative Self-Talk Part 1)

This month’s topic is a little departure from the typical symptoms and conditions that I normally highlight each month. I want to talk about negative self-talk – you know, that critical voice in your head. We all have it. And some (most?) of us listen to it far too often. It’s sneaky, insidious, mean, and sabotages your progress in health – physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Did you know, by some estimates we have 60,000 thoughts a day? (that’s about 40 thoughts a minute) AND…. 95% of these thoughts are repeated from the day before. AND… 80% of those thoughts are on the negative end of the spectrum. So basically over 46,000 thoughts per day are negative-ish. Yikes!

So what? Why should you care?

Because these thoughts undermine your progress. Prevent you from getting help and support. Drain your energy. Sabotage your efforts to change. Drag your health down.

Let’s get specific with just a few of the negative thoughts I hear my patients say frequently. (And realize that what is said out loud is usually the nicer version of what we say in our heads).

  • What do you expect, I’m just getting old. (keep in mind I hear this not just from 60-70-80 year olds but also from 30 year olds!)
  • Why bother – they’re just going to make me _____ (fill in the blank).
  • I’m a mess.
  • I’m no good.
  • I’m too lazy.
  • It’s impossible.
  • I’m falling apart.
  • I’m such an idiot for have done _____ (fill in the blank).
  • Everyone in my family has this condition.
  • Nothing will help me.
  • I’ll never get better.

When you see them grouped together like this, can you see how sabotaging these words are? Pay attention in the next half hour and see what negative thoughts you catch yourself saying in your head.

The good news is that each thought is nothing more than a habit which means it can be changed.

Every thought is a series of nerves communicating in the brain. These nerves wire together stronger each time that thought is thought.

If 80% of your thoughts are negative, and they are repeated day after day after day, just think how strong that nerve connection is in the brain. I like to visualize it as a big powerful strong thick electric cable – try cutting that with a butter-knife – not so easy.

Your new positive thought (like: I can do this… There’s help out there… It’ll get better.) – the first time it is thought, the connecting nerves have the strength of a wispy cobweb. Try cutting this one with a butter knife – easy peasy. It needs to get stronger.

How do you weaken the negative thought and strengthen the positive thought?

It’s just like the old joke – how do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice, practice, practice.

Every time you catch yourself saying something negative, tell yourself to stop. Better yet, is to tell yourself to stop that thought and then replace it with another. For example:

“I’m a mess.” can become… “I’m a mess. Really? Is that true? No, I’ve got a lot of things going right – I just need to get help with this symptom. I can do that.”

“Everyone in my family was diagnosed with this.” can become… “Everyone? No, just three people that I know of, but my situation is a little different and I bet I can learn something from this.”

“I was such an idiot for getting that procedure done.” can become… “Well, it didn’t work out like I had hoped, but I made the best decision I could at the time with the knowledge that I had then.”

Sometimes you have to be more direct with yourself: “I’m falling apart” might need to change to a direct “Stop it. That’s not helping.”

Rinse and repeat. Practice means it’s not going to go perfectly all the time. You’re going to catch yourself saying the same thing again. That’s okay. Just keep practicing. The negative voice will get weaker and the positive voice will get stronger over time.

Now, you try. Take one of the negative thoughts that you catch and change it around. Send me an email to let me know what you caught yourself saying and how you rephrased it.

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