The power of pep talk



Do you have these moments when you want to curl up in a ball like an embryo and hide under the covers? When the world seems too hostile a place to deal with? When you feel filled with fear to the brim, with a big tight knot in your stomach that you have no clue how to disentangle? In those moments, I find myself sitting at the kitchen table paralyzed with fear, like a rabbit in the headlights, losing any sense of time or space. I feel pathetic, and yet unable to move. Everything just seems too difficult, too big, too heavy. I am feeling helpless, useless and very sorry for myself. I am angry with the world but don't even have enough energy to scream or call a friend or do anything for that matter. Recurring bursts of silent tears run over my face – tears of anger and powerlessness. I am so stuck.


I am trying to give myself a pep talk to strengthen my self belief and create a foundation for action but it is pretty hard going: '…. (blank) … You have a powerful mind. … (that is certainly true with all the anxious thoughts floating around that paralyze me) … Come on … keep going... You are unique. There is no one like you in the world. You are an amazing creature. (I can agree with this on a philosophical level) You have overcome so many challenges in your life...' The trick is not to stop this onslaught of positivity, not to let any self doubt come in through the cracks, not to even give your mind a chance to challenge what you say, even if it may sound fake at first.


'You are strong. … Hang on, I don't feel strong at all right now. I feel weak and pathetic. I am just sitting here doing nothing, bathing myself in sorrow. Maybe I am not as strong as I thought …' All right, I am really not trusting myself much right now. I need to think harder of what affirmations I can agree with at this point. Let's take it back a notch: '…. You are a source of strength for your family, friends and clients…' Notice how a slightly more vague and less defined affirmation ('you are a source of strength for your family, friends and clients') can feel more acceptable than a more directly positive one ('you are strong'). If you find yourself strongly resisting an affirmation you are giving yourself, try scaling it back. What you need right now to lift yourself out of this dark pit of despair is your agreement to those positive characteristics, qualities or achievements – any buy-in to something good within yourself is better than none.


'You are beautiful…. No way! I so don't feel that! I look disgusting with my red face swollen from all the crying. And anyway, there are so many areas of my body I am unhappy with.' It sounds like I hit a minefield here. I am stuck, low and anxious right now. This is not the time to work on any body image issues. I need to focus on what I can agree with right now. If a whole area of affirmations feels contested and raw, branch out to one that is more easily digestible. This pep talk is intended to kick start you into action, not initiate some major self development work.


'You are kind. You are caring. You have a lot of empathy. You can tune into others' needs. You are considerate. You are respectful.' That starts to feels a bit better. I feel my anxiety plateauing and slowly declining. Different scenarios appear in my mind: images of time spent with friends and family; hugs, laughter, gratitude from others; presents I got just right; thank you cards from clients; conversations I feel comfortable in and appreciated … 'It is not all bad. There are people who value me. There are situations where I feel good and myself.' I am reminded of the strong connection between words and imagery. No wonder words have such a big impact! I am reminding myself that I can choose what words to use to talk or think about myself, that language matters.


As I am feeling a bit more trusting of myself, I can now build on this, testing out some more positive affirmations to see if they stick: 'You have many skills. You know several languages. You have studied hard to get to where you are now. You are an expert in your field. You have a good sense of people. You can read people well. You have great ability to explain difficult concepts in simple terms. You are intelligent. You are driven. You are calm and collected…' Notice, how I am working from points I can hardly argue with ('you have many skills') to statements my very anxious and depressed mind would find much more difficult to accept as they do not correspond with my momentary perception of myself ('you are intelligent').


As you practice this for yourself, you are likely to find that once you get going with your pep talk for a while and your mood starts to lift it becomes much easier to slip in some stronger affirmations now and then and see how you are responding to them in the moment. The more positivity you can handle, the better!


Exercise:

You can do this exercise alone or with a partner. Set yourself a timer for 2 minutes. During those 2 minutes, only talk (or think) positively about yourself. If you are with a partner, you can take turns, with the other one just listening attentively and encouragingly. If you do this exercise alone and in a private space, it is generally most effective if you actually speak to yourself, for example in front of a mirror, and give yourself an encouraging smile. When developing affirmations, you can focus on your achievements, your qualities, your skills, your characteristics or your preferences. If you find yourself saying something negative (for example I don't make many mistakes) stop and correct yourself by phrasing it in a positive way (I mean, I am cautious and careful; I think things through before I act). Notice which affirmations you are resisting, the strength of your resistance and try scaling things back or branching into different areas. Remember that what you need right now in order to lift your mood and move yourself into action is your agreement to aspects of yourself that are valuable and capable. As you are becoming more experienced with using this form of positive self talk, you can set a regular time in your day or week, challenge yourself by extending the time or tailor your pep talking to specific situations.


Feedback:

What was the experience like for you? Have you noticed any change to your feelings? What affirmations have been particularly effective for you? Which ones created most resistance, and what helped you to overcome it?