What headline will you write for yourself today? In other words, how will you characterize your experience of this day? As an interesting one: uplifting, satisfying, productive? Or as a depressing one: unhappy, woeful, disappointing.
You will no doubt respond with, “It depends what happens today,” or what happened, if you are reading this at the end of your day. But here’s the thing. Much of how you experience your day will depend not on the events themselves, but how you choose to perceive those events. What you choose to focus on.
You can choose to focus on the cold you caught, or on the relief the cold medicine brought you. You can choose to focus on the friend who ignored you, or on all the friends who cherish you.
You can choose to focus on how annoying your teenager is, with her reluctance to clean her room or do her chores, or you can focus on how valiantly she is meeting the challenges of her school life.
How about the headline you will write for yourself, personally, today. Victim? Martyr? Or Happy Person.
You can choose to see yourself in a positive way, which in turn boosts your immune system, and with it, your chances of longevity. Or you can keep focusing on that weight you never seem to lose, the accumulation of wrinkles on top of your wrinkles, your fears of declining health and brain-power – along with all the other assorted ills and woes of our contemporary life, which then depresses your immune system and eventually can shorten your lifespan.
How we see ourselves is most often revealed by our self-talk. We talk to ourselves morning, noon and night, often without realizing it. Unfortunately, much of that self-talk is negative. How we are upset with ourselves for doing X instead of Y. How stupid we were to forget something. How we’ve failed at this, that or the other.
How do we reverse this trend? How do we turn our negative self-talk into something more beneficial?
It’s remarkably easy. We learn to speak to ourselves as if we were speaking to a dear friend.
That’s the powerful technique psychologist Ethan Kross, Professor at the University of Michigan and director of the Emotion & Self Control Laboratory, has discovered through his research as reported in his book, Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It.
After all, you wouldn’t dare speak to a dear friend the way you ordinarily natter on to yourself. What makes it acceptable for you to inflict negativity on yourself? Surely, it’s basic common sense that you should be a good friend to yourself.
All it takes is a switch in pronouns, and a dose of compassion.
For example, let’s pretend your name is “Jane.” Instead of saying to yourself, “I’m such an idiot! How could I throw away that receipt?” say, “Jane, you’re usually careful about saving your receipts. There’s probably a way to get a copy. Let’s think about that.”
Or, instead of saying to yourself, “I haven’t done any exercise this week. I’ll never get this weight off!” say, “Jane, you’ve been busy, OK? Cut yourself some slack. Maybe you can deliberately schedule exercise-time, maybe enroll Susan as an exercise-buddy. There’s a way to do this.”
Imagine if Miriam Schreiber, who through the chaos of WWII found herself unable to even attend elementary school, much less high school, had given up on her long-cherished dream of a high school diploma? What if she’d said to herself, “I’ll never be able to get an education; my chances of it are long gone”?
Instead, she forged ahead, essentially telling herself “You can do it” as she taught herself English, German, Hebrew, and Swedish, in addition to her native Polish and Yiddish. She then had the courage to tell her life story to the senior class at Hartford, Connecticut’s New England Jewish Academy. The school was so inspired by her resilience that Miriam was finally – at age 81 – awarded that cherished diploma.
A simple switch in pronouns and a dose of the same compassion you would offer a dear friend can work wonders for your health, well-being, and success in every arena. Your headline can then read “Happy Person” on a remarkably consistent basis.
What kind of negative conversations do you find running through your head? Do you have an example of how a change in the way you talk to yourself made a positive impact? What is your headline for today?