Day 29–If I’m Going to Eat My Words…

…they might as well be sweet. In yesterday’s blog I mentioned the notion of feeding myself, “a steady diet of not having enough time.” I began to ponder what else I’d fed myself, not literally, of course, but what words was I constantly feeding myself either aloud or subconsciously. What are the messages I’m feeding to my subconscious. And thus the title to tonight’s blog: if I’m going to eat my words, that is, feed myself a steady diet of self talk, I need to watch what I’m saying lest I give myself spiritual/virtual indigestion.

How do you talk to or about yourself? Many, perhaps even most of us keep up a running commentary as we go through our days. Some of us talk to ourselves aloud, others primarily in our heads; but I’m confident that most of us are having an ongoing conversation with ourselves throughout the course of the day. Some of us even talk in our sleep, thus rarely knowing moments of true quietness of mind. I would also go out on a limb and guess that much of what we say to and about ourselves ranges from less than favorable to downright abusive. We may berate ourselves, call ourselves names (“You are such an idiot, I can’t believe you did that.”) We often say things to ourselves that we would never say to another person.

One of the most challenging pieces of inner work we can do with ourselves is to begin to change our language. In so many ways we modify the trajectory of our day by how we speak about it, about ourselves, about the people around us. I am working on being kinder in my speech to myself. For every time I find that I am berating or disparaging myself, I try to counter with kind, gentle, and comforting words. That’s hard work, much harder than it would seem to be. And yet it’s so important that we find ways to counter the messages that we give ourselves and that bombard  us from the world around us.

I’ve been working on my language for a while now. One thing in particular I’ve paid attention to is how often I use some form of the word “not” in its many forms (can’t, don’t , won’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t, etc.) Often the word “not” precedes or follows a statement that is negative or harsh or challenging in some way. In trying to be more positive and affirming, it is good practice to find a different way of saying something that speaks to the presence of something good (versus the absence of something bad.) Years ago, author and teacher Iyanla Vanzant called this concept “relanguaging.” And although that appears to be a made-up word, it nonetheless conveys the essence of what I’m talking about. The exercise of removing “not” from my language is good practice for improving the overall linguistic nutritional value of the words I feed to myself.

(One of the downsides of writing this blog in the evenings after I get home from work is that by the time I sit down to write I am often so tired that writing a coherent thought is difficult and I often find myself nodding off several times during the midst of writing. This is one of those moments when I want to convey a particular idea and find myself without the clear example that demonstrates what I am saying.)

In speaking about the language of “insufficiency” in yesterday’s posting, I wrote about changing the ways I speak about not having enough time (there’s that word “not” again…) Simply saying “I have all the time in the world” isn’t going to make it so, but it will shift how I approach time such that it will make a difference in how I spend the time I have. Enhancing my self talk, modifying the ways I address myself, the stories I tell myself, the running commentary I have about other people, will likewise shift my perspectives and improve my overall frame of mind as I go about my daily life. Like anything else, this requires discipline and practice, and the patience to stick with it when it things  don’t change right away (that is to say they change more slowly than I’d like.)

In the days and weeks ahead I am going to return to the concept of language and how we can us it to illuminate and elevate our thinking about ourselves and the world around us. If we want to change the world, it begins by changing our thoughts and the language we use. The world can be such a difficult and negative place. I can choose to contribute to the negativity by feeding myself and the world around me a steady diet of negative thoughts, words, and ideas. Or I can choose the path of hope and positivity, which interestingly is the more challenging path. I suppose I sound a bit like Pollyanna (which the dictionary describes as, “an excessively cheerful or optimistic person”), though I would tell you that I’ve spent much of my life being far from that. Hopefulness and positivity is like a muscle that has to be developed and exercised. Mine used to be rather puny, but through intentional strength training I have bulked it up significantly.

I encourage you to take on the challenge of positive speech, of finding ways to reduce the “nots” in your language and to offer affirmations for every negative statement you make. It’s a lot of work, and I have to believe it’s well worth the effort. I am planning to keep at it and will report back about how it’s going. If I’m going to eat my words, they might as well be sweet. Selah.

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