Cancer patients often talk about how much of their illness is psychological, in their head. This blog was inspired by one such discussion.
Positive self-talk is a technique coming from cognitive psychology and is used to stop thoughts that contribute to anxiety and depression. There are many studies with athletes where positive self-talk is used also to enhance motivation and maintain focus./1 In such case it would be a set of phrases an athlete is using repeatedly to replace pessimistic or doubtful thoughts which could negatively affect performance.
There are several studies describing effects of introducing self-talk or similar cognitive techniques to cancer survivors, namely breast cancer patients, to build up more psychological coping strategies./1
It can be very important to learn that you can actually stop the dialogue in your head, that you don’t have to dwell on your thoughts, but treat them as passing elements, and learn to focus your attention on something different. This is not meant to be about avoiding the unpleasant issues, but rather about recognizing when we are overthinking, worrying about something we can’t control or just ruminating about something from the past, and then moving away from it.
What I am more interested in, is the self-talk that is not planned or carefully designed with a specific purpose. The kind of commentary that is not intentional, that runs in our heads automatically. We are so used to it that we don’t really pay attention to it. Actually, we barely notice it.
What do you think about while driving? Or doing dishes? Are you going over the morning meeting? Or the weekend visit to your parents? And what words do you use? Are you criticizing yourself or are you kind?
Of course, we don’t use self-talk only in regards to past events. Same goes when imagining something in the future. Maybe you have been thinking about a course or a trip - are you talking yourself out of it or are you actually planning it? How honest are you with yourself?
And self-talk doesn’t have to come in words or be fully articulated. Body sensations, feelings, images, memories, they all play a part in the way you relate to yourself.
This is a fascinating area to explore with my clients. So many possibilities open up once we start paying attention to the way we talk to ourselves.
What is your experience? Leave a comment below.
1/ Hamilton, R. et al. “Using a Positive Self-Talk Intervention to Enhance Coping Skills in Breast Cancer Survivors: Lessons from a Community-Based Group Delivery Model.” Current Oncology 18.2 (2011): e46–e53. Print.