Most of us know that our inner dialogue is important. But we might not realize the extent and power of our words.
This quote attributed to Persian poet Hafiz really captures the magnitude: “The words you speak become the house you live in.”
What we say to ourselves influences everything: the decisions we make, the people we surround ourselves with, the way we structure our days, the way we live our lives.
For instance, if you tell yourself that you’re not good enough, you’ll likely hang out with people who think the same way, with people who don’t have your best interest at heart. If you tell yourself that you’re super busy and starved for time, you’ll miss out on adding genuinely meaningful activities to your days. If you tell yourself that you’re incapable, you won’t talk to your supervisor about a potential promotion or apply to a job you really want.
A lot of times it feels like we don’t have a choice in our inner dialogue. It comes out so quickly, so fiercely and urgently, so naturally, so automatically. It sounds so convincing, so we assume it must be true.
But once we start paying closer attention, we can see these words for what they are: misguided. Words that may be trying to protect us (i.e., an inner critic who tries to shield us from potential rejection or failure or sorrow). Words that someone else said, and over many years, we’ve internalized. Words we’ve picked up somewhere along the way. Words that don’t even make sense, but we keep believing because we simply haven’t thought about them—similar to the clutter inside our homes: After a while, you stop seeing it. You stop seeing the objects you no longer love or need, or the piles of paperwork. You stop seeing the dust and dirt.
So start paying attention to the words and sentences swirling inside your mind. Pay attention to the specific sentences that precede your actions. Pay attention to the specific sentences you say when you’re doubting yourself. Pay attention to the thoughts you hear when you’re about to do something difficult or anything new.
In fact, for a few days or an entire week, set an alarm to ring every hour, and write down the dialogue running through your mind at those times. What are you saying to yourself? Where is this coming from? Do you know?
You also can start using supportive, encouraging words. For instance, in this piece, Sarah K. Peck, founder of the Startup Pregnant website and podcast, writes about the mantras she’s using to prepare for the birth of her second child. Some of my favorite examples include: “Let go of anything that doesn’t serve you.” “Soften.” “You can handle whatever comes your way.” “Allow yourself to be broken and cracked: you might need this in order to let go of things that are no longer serving you.”
Changing how we talk to ourselves is not easy. It takes time and practice. But it’s important to start. It’s important to ask ourselves regularly, What kind of house do I want to live in? What do I want to find inside that house?
And if you’re having a hard time changing those words, because they’re especially stubborn and persistent, start acting differently anyway. Start making time for nourishing activities. Get creative about how you care for yourself. Apply for the position you really want. Seek out people who are sincerely kind.
In other words, think about what would genuinely nurture you and make you happy, and then start taking those actions—regardless of what part of your mind says.