Words Are Power

If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a monologue running inside your noggin almost all the time. Here’s a potentially scary, representative excerpt for you:

I wonder what if people are going to like the new Well Fed 2 recipes.  Jeez, I’m hungry. Oh! Look at that cute puppy! Man, I can’t wait to go our trip to Europe. I wonder how I’m going to eat and exercise right. I mean, I am going to eat and exercise right… right?! It’s really amazing that Charlotte Bronte came up with the story of Jane Eyre, considering what her life was like. How did she do that? Will I ever do anything that awesome. CRAP! I need to meditate today. What time is it?…

There are occasions when my inner voice shuts its pie-Sunbutter hole. Namely, in the front row of a loud concert, romantic moments with my sweetie, during meditation, and in the throes of my workouts.

When I’m training, the effort usually silences that stream-of-consciousness chatter. But I do talk to myself when the stopwatch is ticking or I’m underneath the barbell. This article from the blog Growing The Game Together got me thinking about what I say to myself – and how I say it – during my workouts.

The article is meant to address coaches and parents talking to players, but the same tips apply to our own inner voices, as they coach us through our lives. Here are a few valuable snippets; I encourage you to read the whole thing:

Should  – Replace it with WILL. There is a big difference when you speak to yourself with will, as things will go that way, while “should” simply gives more reasons not to make it so. “Should” means “might” to your future actions while “will” means it is going to happen.

But  – Change it to AND. “That was the fast arm swing we want!, but…..”   So what is coming? Yep, a slam on what was done, some flaw in the positive, specific feedback you are sharing. It slams the door on the feedback … Changing the word to “and,” or simply saying it without “but” and giving positive feed-FORWARD. For example – ….”now let’s keep that fast arm and start doing new shot variations,how about a line shot or do you want to incorporate some other option?”….

Can’t – This one is a no brainer to eliminate too, but we need to guide the self talk of players to not use all these words with themselves… We need to make it clear to them at the start of a new variation or skill that you are not focusing on the errors, only the successes, and that you are asking them to do something they are ready to do  and CAN do, just not 10 out of 10 times…yet….

Finally, the quote below is my favorite piece of advice. The author calls it “car ride words,” and it’s the kind of thing anyone would want to hear after a practice, a game, a workout, or even a tough day at the office

It is simple. Say the following. “I LOVE to watch you play.”  Then be quiet. Win or lose, the rest of the conversation needs to come from the PLAYER, not the parent or coach….

Sometimes, just saying to ourselves something like, “I love that you worked out today.” is enough. Then just be quiet.


Don’t be such a baby.

Um, yeah. I might have said that to myself this morning when I was running intervals around the lake. I did 10 rounds of :30 all-out followed by 2:00 of recovery walking (followed by 20 minutes of walking).

Turns out, 30 seconds of all-out running is pretty hard after, say, the first four rounds. And I definitely yelled at myself, in an internal snarky voice: Don’t be such a baby.

Then I thought, Um, you wouldn’t say that to anyone else in the world, so how about being a more supportive coach on the next one?

On the next few sprints, I told myself things like, Keep going! and Don’t quit! and You can do it! and Sure, OK… slow down a little if you need to. And then, honestly, on the last few sprints, I was working so hard I couldn’t think anything at all. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

My point is this: I enjoyed the sprints a lot more when I was not calling myself a baby. I have no idea if my running was improved by the kinder approach, but I sure felt like smiling a lot more than with the insulting monologue. And to me, that’s the whole point.

What kinds of things do you say to yourself?

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  • Jennifer G says:

    I just noticed the books you’ve recently read and have read all of them. I’m a huge Jo Nesbo fan, read Smila’s Sense of Snow years ago, and was undone, completely undone, by The Lost. I’ve read a lot about the holocaust over the years, but never had anything that affected me so deeply as did The Lost.

    This blog message also spoke to me. I’ve struggled all my life with being fat. I refer to myself as “Fat Girl” – even in public to try and make jokes about before I think someone else will (and no one I care about would). I go to a women-only gym now where the trainers really push us. When I push myself now on weights or on cardio intervals, it’s using their words, saying “I can do this! I can do this!” And I tell myself how awesome I am that I’m losing weight and eating healthy (Paleo!), and LOVING exercising.

    I’m rambling, but want to close by telling you how much I love your Cookbook. Women at the gym were talking about it recently and I was proud to say that I’ve been cooking out of it for a couple of months. Can’t wait for Volume 2.

  • Rebecca B says:

    Both of you and Jennifer hit the nail on the head. I make fun of myself all of the time. No one has the chance to criticize me because I do it before anyone else can. I’ve been eating paleo and exercising; I have list two clothing sizes. When people compliment me, I make a joke and move on. I never give myself the the credit or props I deserve. It makes a difference. Tonight I found myself at the gym telling the new trainer about my limitations because of my hip. I said, “I can’t jump.” I quickly corrected myself and said, “I cant jump YET.” I recently saw a quote said, “your mind believes everything you tell it.” Reading your blog I was also reminded of wonderful words of wisdom from a friend of mine. She would say, “you wouldn’t talk to your best friend the way you talk about yourself. Talk to yourself like you would your best friend. You’re worth it.” Thanks for the reminder, I needed it tonight. And I’m sure Well Fed 2 will be just as kick ass as the first one… I can’t wait for it to come out.

  • Krysten says:

    good information!
    I work by myself 5 days a week, so the inner monologue is ALWAYS going – never peaceful!
    It’s true that we say negative things to ourselves we would never say to others. I like the point that you enjoyed your run after inner commendation… will try the very same thing this afternoon 🙂
    When it boils down, I think it’s actually a bit arrogant that I expect more of myself than I do of others.

  • Lisa Van Damme says:

    This advice is also great for coaching employees. Instead of “good job, but next time… “, it becomes “you did X well because you…. AND, next time, consider…”

    I love this post, Mel. I also am in my head all day and am guilty of negative and demotivating thoughts. Nice reminder to switch things around.

  • Lydia says:

    When I hear other people using “should”, I ask them to please stop shoulding all over themselves. =D

  • Libby says:

    Great post, I was told a long time ago when I “woulda,coulda & shoulda I shoulda all over myself ;)” so I try to still that inner critic & keep it simple by doing the next indicated thing so for me to try not to procrastinate, which usually give me some other reason to beat myself up! So replacing will with should is alway a my best bet. I have to work constantly and remind myself “I am enough” right were I am because that is the only place I can be. So I try to enjoy the process, for me & to let go of the results… Me, myself & I can generate a lot of self-love or self-loathing, it just depends on my focus oxoxox

  • Romanesque says:

    I’m so glad you published this. I consider myself the Charlie Brown of my Crossfit gym because I’m ALWAYS the slowest/least accomplished person in the gym. Granted, I’m also the newest to Crossfit, and among the oldest people there (an antique 38). But hearing all my own negative voices gets pretty old. I appreciate the encouragement to speak to myself differently.

    On that note, been enjoying a great book – The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. In one section, he describes the meditation Michael Phelps would do before swimming in a major race. The night before a big competition, he envisions every aspect of an ideal performance – jumping off the blocks, crossing the pool, executing his turns, etc. And this has had a noticeably positive effect on his actual performance. I think it’d be fun to try that before a workout, too.

  • Lauren says:

    I just started reading “The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself” by Michael A. Singer. I’m still chewing on the first couple chapters, but so far there has been some very insightful conversation about the voices inside of our heads. The idea that we are not the voices, but the one who hears the voices (yeah, that goes deep!) has me really intrigued!

  • Isla says:

    It takes me an hour to fall asleep at night because that’s how long it takes me to shut my brain off from its non-stop chattering. It keeps me from napping too.
    It took a long time, but I learned to say only nice things to myself…it takes so much less energy and it makes me happy! Also, love the “car ride words” quote.

  • Beth says:

    Thank you for this post. I’ve been overweight my whole life, but I was generally happy and I didn’t think I could change the way I looked so I never really tried. I’ve always made very negative inner comments to myself, and sometimes said them out loud to give others the impression that nothing bothered me. But it did.

    About two years ago I finally developed the desire to become more healthy, all around. Through eating right (or so I thought!) and working out regularly, I managed to lose 30lbs in about 6 months. Then I found out I was pregnant, after trying for 2 years. I started eating a lot more dairy to up my calcium, and stopped working out because I was paranoid something would happen to my baby. I gained back half of what I had lost over the next five months.

    I recently got back to the gym after suffering a very painful 2nd trimester miscarriage that left me depressed and without motivation to do anything good for myself. I started eating Paleo almost immediately after it happened, and lost the remaining 15lbs without much effort at all. I’m now in a place where I have so much more energy and miss having my workouts to help me through my stress, however my inner coach is not a very nice or helpful motivator. I didn’t even notice until after I read this post, and thought back to my recent workouts where I was telling myself that I was crazy to think I could accomplish what I had planned for myself, and to scale back and not try to push myself. I’ve said the same things you have, that I can’t do it, that it’s too hard, etc. I need to learn to follow your example and remind myself that I CAN DO IT!

    A lot of what you say resonates with me, and I would like to thank you for all the inspiration you’ve unknowingly gave to me over these past few months. I recommend your site to women I come in contact with that are interested in following the Paleo Lifestyle. Your recipes are very creative, and your instructions are so easy to follow!

  • NJ Paleo says:

    My husband always tells our kids and the kids he coaches not to say “I can’t” but instead to say “I haven’t yet”. I find that taking that attitude leads me to attempt a lot more things that before I would assume that I couldn’t do.

    Also, it’s more frequent now that during a workout I will tell myself, “You can do this” or “You can do one — just do one”.

    The tone of our inner dialogue can make a huge difference.

  • Lori says:

    Ain’t that the truth, Ruth.

    I really hate when that inner monologue makes me miss a turn by, say, twenty miles.

  • NMG says:

    On a less dramatic note, what’s this about a trip to Europe? Work or fun? 🙂

  • Aslan says:

    Oh, I love that you are coming to Europe. I am an American living in Southern Italy. Might you be traveling here? I started my family on the Whole 30 in Sept of last year. WellFed was my first Paleo Cookbook and it has inspired me beyond my wildest imagination. I never enjoyed cooking like I do now. We are 95% Paleo now and that is quit a feet here in the “Land of Pasta and Pizza”. If you’ll be in Southern Italy and want to stay in a villa on the coast let me know.

    I am in the process of starting a blog in Italian because there are very few resources here. My inner voice is not very encouraging lately, so this message really hit home.

    Thanks for everything.

    • Mel says:

      I’m always so envious of expats. Dave and I want to move to Prague and live there for a few years… hoping to make it happen in 2014. This year, we’re going back to Prague, then heading to Slovenia and Croatia…. Italy is on our must-visit list when we live in Prague.

      Congratulations on making the switch to Whole30-style eating. That’s awesome! Remaining paleo in Italy is quite impressive… and I’m really glad you like Well Fed. Thanks!

      Definitely let me know when your blog is live!

  • Sharona Zee says:

    “Car Ride Words” are the best…need to be on big signs down at the youth sports fields 🙂

  • Thanks for this post! It is so true we can be our own worst enemies when working out…and there is such power in words. I like to put on Hero Co Radio Show when I choose to do my toughest portions and I usually like to have my toddler son near me, because when I am working through a grueling squat routine or doing planks..there he is mimicking me. It makes me excited to see him having fun working out …and I say look at what an image I am setting for him to grow up with…and he makes me laugh while doing it, which is even better! My husband and I both cheer each other on and I would say the best phrase for us..is a Joseph Campbell quote…”Follow your bliss”. I also like Namaste..the good in me sees the good in you..and I like to pretend I am moving a mountain when I am at a point ready to give up…moving those barriers out of my way to continue the journey!!!