We are what we say: how thoughts and speech shape our wellbeing
You stumble through the door into your morning coffee ritual. As you make your way through a maze of chairs, tables and outstretched legs you finally arrive at your space at the end of the queue, and the deliberation begins!
‘Maybe I’ll have something different this time, hmm, let me see – Iced cranberry lemon tea? Nah, I need the jolt, I’ll get my usual. Good, now what else – What about one of those muffins? Nah, I’m piling it on, there’s about 6,000 calories in one of those – Bagel? Ugh no, I’ll stick to the coffee.’
Your turn comes, the server asks: ‘How can I help you?’ and you confidently declare: ‘Vanilla latte with a shot of espresso please.’
It all happens in seconds, this mass of deliberation, reasoning and decision making, and it’s never ending. While the coffee shop scenario might not be quite your thing, you’ll have your own version. This is how your mind works. It’s how all of our minds work, going constantly back and forth, every moment of every day of our lives.
Sometimes it’s quiet, sometimes ití’ loud, but it’s always there, that little voice in our head. We all know the one, the internal dialogue that filters life, categorises people and hears what it hears to give life that ever-so-familiar ring to it.
We have 50,000 thoughts per day and your moods are in a dance with your internal dialogue
Studies show that we have more than 50,000 thoughts per day. While we have little or no say in those automatic and reactionary thoughts, we have a massive say in which of those thoughts we attach significance to.
Your emotional state, your moods, your ways of being and acting are in a dance with your internal dialogue. Your experience of yourself, of being you, is intricately woven into existence in the way that you speak to yourself and others. It’s not only what you talk about but, more importantly, how you talk about it.
Most people believe that they have certain feelings first, followed by a thought to themselves about how they feel. Not quite. The language you use has a direct and powerful in-the-moment impact on your feelings. The German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, said: ‘Language is the house of being’, while his compatriot, Hans-Georg Gadamer, insisted: ‘Without language nothing exists.’
Look at your own life where you use terms like ‘This is impossible’, ‘I can’t’, ‘I’m confused’, ‘This is too much’ or ‘I’m trying’. Each of these (and a litany of others), gives rise to certain emotional states (anger, frustration, resentment, hopelessness, etc), all of which work against you in your endeavour. How does feeling hopeless help in that job search, or being frustrated help in healing your relationship, or feeling incompetent get you that promotion? It doesn’t. It weighs you down and dampens your enthusiasm.
As a simple example, changing ‘It’s impossible’ to ‘I haven’t worked it out yet’ has a remarkable impact on the way in which you deal with certain problems. Your emotional state shifts.
In very real terms, how you talk about what you are dealing with either works for or against you.
Next time you’re feeling suppressed, frustrated or worn down, check yourself. Go over that internal chatter a few times and see if you can connect how you’re describing it to yourself to how you feel. Ask yourself: ‘Am I using the kind of language that is building something or destroying something? Is this in my favour or working against me?’
Language really is that important. After all, you are what you speak.
Unf*ck Yourself by Gary John Bishop is published by Yellow Kite at £12.99. Order a copy for £11.04 from bookshop.theguardian.com