Wolfgang is our dog. He’s an almost 4 year-old Labradoodle who is full of energy, yet, sweet and calm at the same time. He has filled our lives with joy. I now know what it truly means to be a dog lover. Wolfgang melts my heart as do most other dogs I see when I’m out and about.
This is not a blog about our dog though, it is about the things that I tell my dog and the things that we tell ourselves. One of the things I say to him is “Wolfgang is a pig, is a pig!” For whatever reason, this is something I say to him a lot, actually, sing-song to him most days. I’m not sure where it came from, maybe from my love for all things pig in high school (admiring them, not eating them). Regardless, it stuck in my brain.
He doesn’t seem to mind it. I call him all kinds of other things too. In fact, do words really matter? We seem to hear a lot about words mattering, but it’s usually about what someone is saying about or to someone else, whether it’s in the news or on social media or in the classroom or in the workplace.
But what about the words we say to ourselves?
Think about it. How often do you say things to yourself that are flat out untrue and usually demeaning? I bet you’re thinking, “I don’t do that!” Well, I bet you do. The issue is that it’s so ingrained in your reactive subconscious mind that you probably don’t realize it when you do.
Let me give you some examples:
You make a mistake on a project you’re working on at work and under your breath, you utter, “WTF, I’m so stupid, what was I thinking?”
You end up eating more than you wished you had and tell yourself, “I’m so gross, I can’t believe I let myself do that again, I’m as big as a house!”
Or you struggle with a task or a skill and say to yourself, “I suck at technology, cooking, driving a car, giving my cat a bath", what have you.
You’re probably thinking one of two things: 1) There’s no way I do that or 2) What’s the big deal if I do anyway? No one is hearing me say those things.
If you are actually someone who doesn’t say berating things to yourself, good, you’re one of the few people out there who doesn’t. You understand why this habit can be so destructive. I trust that you will gently point it out to a friend or a family member next time they do this and get them to understand the gravity of the situation.
Since it is the rare person who does not do this, I know because I hear my clients say these things, I hear my friends do it, I hear my family members do it, I hear strangers do it. It’s one of those things that we’re typically not aware of until someone points it out to us, or we actually pay attention. I used to do it too until I learned how self-destructive it is.
Let’s play a little game, over the next couple of days, pay attention to the things you’re telling yourself and make a mental note of when you end up thinking or saying, “I’m fat or ugly or stupid” or whatever derogatory thing it is.
If you catch yourself doing this, stop yourself, in the moment if you can, and observe. What is causing you to say this to yourself?
Would you say the same thing to a friend or family member?
Why does it matter? Who cares if no one is hearing you? Because YOU are hearing you. I’m pretty sure you would never say these types of things to anyone else, unless you simply don’t care about others. But for most, thoughtful, caring, contributing members of society, saying something like this to someone else is not a choice that they would make.
So, why is it not okay to say these things to yourself? What is the real harm being done here?
What we tell ourselves is an extension of what we think about and what we think about is what we create for ourselves.
When you say these things, you see the undesirable behavior as one and the same with who you are, “I suck”, “I’m gross”, “I am stupid.”
When it comes to truly creating the career, the relationships, and the lives we’ve imagined for ourselves, it starts with us. It starts with the messages that we are telling ourselves, about ourselves. When we speak negatively about ourselves because of some less than preferable thing we’ve done, that’s what we end up believing about ourselves.
We lose a little confidence every time we do it. It gets harder and harder to create the life we want.
We’ve certainly heard messages from others that we don’t care for. This is no different. Just as it hurts when someone else says something uncalled for to you, it hurts when you do it to yourself even more.
You are your best friend, your boss, and your biggest champion. Treat yourself the way that you would expect others who play those roles in your life to treat you. Treat yourself with the utmost of care, respect, gratitude and love. The more that you treat yourself this way, the more you will treat others this way, and the more others will treat you this way. It’s a win-win all around.
As you continue on this journey of word self-care, you’ll find that you’re having an easier time getting things right and being as skillful as you’d like to be. You also have more grace for yourself when things don’t turn out as well as you’d like. Having that grace allows you to grow and be nurtured like a plant. You don’t stomp all over a seedling because it’s not a beautiful, majestic ruby red rose yet. Just like that seedling, you are on a growth journey every day.
First observe how often you say negative words or think negative thoughts about yourself and what you say to yourself, then rewrite the negative messages. Catch yourself in the moment when you’re being negative and replace the negative message with the positive, rewritten one.
Nurturing yourself with positive words of affirmation like, "I made a mistake, it's okay, I'm human" or “I am learning how to cook, next time I will do better” or “I am continuing to build my skills in technology” will put you into a growth mindset.
You’ll probably find that you become gentler with others, as well, the more you practice this new habit.
Speaking of being gentler with others, Wolfgang is no longer a pig! It occurred to us that we might be encouraging his sometimes-crazy behavior by our words and tone of voice (like when we call him crazy). We switched it up and started using calm, peaceful, positive affirmations with him and it’s working! He calms down right away. Seriously, affirmations are powerful!
Reaching our life goals is like running a marathon or climbing a mountain, it requires courage, stamina, perseverance, among many other things. It’s a lot easier to keep going and love getting there as much as being there when you are kind and loving toward yourself. In fact, just like that seedling, not only will you bud and bloom with self-nurturing, you will thrive even if you are the only one doing the gardening.