Usually, during the first one or two sessions with a new patient, I discuss the importance of positive self-talk as a prelude to use of hypnosis in a positive way. I demonstrate to my patients that telling themselves that they can be strong or weak actually translates into increased or decreased muscle strength when I ask them to flex their biceps while I pull against their arms. I then ask what they think will occur if they tell themselves that they want to be “not weak.” Most of my patients are surprised to find out that they become weak in this circumstance as well.
The reason that what we tell ourselves affects our strength is related to how our subconscious responds (for more information about the subconscious see the April 15 blog). The subconscious focuses on the main word in what we tell ourselves and carries it out to the best of its abilities. Thus, it disregards the word “not” when we say “not weak.”
One of the reasons for the power of positive talk is that it helps the mind consider new possibilities. For example, a 10-year-old who had a falling out with some of his friends might react by saying to himself, “I’m never going to have friends. Nobody likes me.” When his mind hears these thoughts it reacts with agreement, and this causes the boy to feel even worse. On the other hand, this boy can be taught to say something that is absolutely true about the unfortunate situation: “I want to make more friends and for them to like me.” When he thinks in this way, the boy’s mind is prompted to ask itself, how is this going to be possible? Maybe I should go to the playground to meet new kids, or maybe I should have a party at my house and invite my classmates?
Once my patients learn how to use positive talk, they can apply it widely in their lives. For example:
A 14-year-old who was very worried about doing well on her tests, would tell herself at the beginning of each test, “I can do well. I am able to focus well on the material. I want to recall what I know with ease.” It is important to note that she did not say, “I will do well” or “I will recall what I know” because statements that are predictive of the future are not always true. Therefore, some doubt might have remained in her mind about whether the positive talk represented a true statement. That doubt is a form of negative thinking, which can counteract the effect of positive talk. On the other hand, stating that she wanted to do well is something that she knew to be 100% true.
A 16-year-old athlete used positive talk to encourage himself to improve his ability to play basketball. He would tell himself that he wanted to improve his shooting ability, and coupled that encouraging statement with imagining the appearance of an outstanding basketball shot. This boy demonstrated that positive talk can be strengthened through use of positive imagery. The importance of imagery in this context is that it shows the body what the mind would like to achieve. Without such imagery the body may not know how to shoot properly.
An 8-year-old girl helped herself overcome her fear of monsters in the darkness of her bedroom at night by telling herself, “I want to be brave.” To help her achieve her goal I gave her a recipe for homemade Monster Spray. (Boil some water with your mother’s help… Let it cool… Take a cup of the water… Add ¼ teaspoon of salt… Add ½ teaspoon of lemon juice… Add a sprinkle of cinnamon… Add 3 drops of lavender oil… Mix well… Put in in a spray bottle… Label the bottle with your name… Spray around your bedroom at nighttime.) Use of the Monster Spray would not have been sufficient to overcome her fears, without use of positive intent that was established by her positive statement.
The automobile manufacturer Henry Ford knew all about the power of positive talk. He said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you are right.” Further, not only do we affect ourselves with positive talk, we can help each other by using positive talk and expectations with people who are in our sphere of influence.
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