Some days I can close my eyes and instantly be transported back to my elementary school playground. It was hot and dusty and loud. Very loud. There were kids playing tag, some playing red rover, and always the kids in the corner jumping rope. There was lots of laughter. There was also a lot of taunting on that playground – some friendly, but mostly not.
Two taunts stick out in my mind as being the most popular among the elementary set. The first was – I am rubber and you are glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you. The other was – sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.
I was thinking about the second taunt as I spoke to a group last week about their self-talk. I was thinking that it really wasn’t entirely true. Words do hurt. They can hurt a lot depending on the person throwing those words at you. The closer the relationship, the more the words hurt. The good thing about others hurling negative words at us though is that ultimately we can choose to sever that relationship and walk away. Not always a simple proposition, but definitely within the realm of possibility.
But what about those words we hurl at ourselves? What happens when those words are harmful? What happens when the words we speak to ourselves – commonly referred to as self-talk – are harmful and prevent us from achieving our full potential?
Scientists have confirmed what psychologists have taught for years, that our self-talk matters. You see, everything we say to ourselves gets recorded in our brains. And those words we say repeatedly, those become the programs that define our lives. The principle of neuroplasticity is becoming more widely known and is impacting the way we understand our lives, our choices, and most importantly, our self-talk. Simply stated, neuroplasticity is the concept that our brains continue to create new neural pathways and alter existing ones based on our experiences.
You see the mind is very much like a GPS and those directions you input are the new neural pathways our brains create. You can’t get where you’re going if you input the wrong address. Tell your brain every day that you’re a failure and guess what? Chances of you succeeding at anything are greatly diminished. Every time we use words like can’t, won’t, shouldn’t we erect boundaries around our lives that limit our ability to achieve our purpose and reach our full potential.
It doesn’t have to be something as drastic as thinking yourself a failure either. It can be simple every day things like, “I can’t remember names,” or “I’m not good at that,” or “I shouldn’t eat that.” All these phrases repeated over and over create a roadmap that our brain follows. The question is, are you giving your brain the right directions? Do you know where you want to go? And are you programming your brain to get there?
Sticks and stones will break your bones. But the reality is that words do hurt. Our negative self-talk hurts. But our brains are amazing machines that can create new neural pathways, new programs, and new roadmaps. What are you saying to yourself today?