Over several decades studying and working in various capacities as a psychologist, I’ve learned many things. I’ve learned that who we are and how we live our lives is determined by several factors. Our genetics and family history play a role; and there’s also no doubt that our current circumstances impact on the quality of our lives.
But just as much, if not more so, what are technically referred to as “intentional behaviours” have been proven to be crucial in shaping the extent to which we thrive and flourish, or languish and suffer, almost regardless of what happens to and around us.
So, what are “intentional behaviours”?
Well, they can be defined in different ways but in short, they’re the things we choose to do. They include the ways we choose to act and to interact with others, the ways we choose to think and interpret events, and the things we choose to say to ourselves (and also to others).
It’s difficult to overstate how important, therefore, what we say to ourselves in our minds and what we say to others out loud, is in terms of determining how we feel and how well we function in the world.
To restate the point made above, speech can be considered in two forms – internal and external.
Internal speech has been comprehensively studied over the years and includes constructs such as self-talk, cognition, beliefs, attitudes and expectations. This is what we say within our own minds; an ongoing conversation we have with ourselves almost every waking minute of every day.
There’s no doubt that happy and successful people think about themselves and the world around them in a fundamentally different way. They see more good in the world, but when they see something bad, they’re more focused on taking control and finding solutions.
There’s also no doubt that unhelpful and negative thinking patterns can contribute to less happiness and success and more so, to mental ill-health such as depression and anxiety. Those who’s self-talk is more self-critical, dwells more on what’s wrong and less on what’s right, and who’s thinking tends towards “making mountains out of molehills” and taking blame for things that aren’t even their responsibility are markedly more likely to suffer poorer mental health.
At the same time our external speech, or what we say (out loud) to other people, is also influential as this goes towards the quality (and even quantity) of our relationships; and the quality of our relationships goes directly to the quality of our lives!
Happy people have been found to have both more, and better-quality relationships. They describe feeling more connected and having a greater sense of belonging. In contrast, those with poor mental health frequently report feeling lonely and isolated. Although it’s not the only factor, the way we communicate with other people is a key determinant of the way we relate to them (and how they relate to us).
Accordingly, how we speak to others has an impact on how we connect to others.
To conclude with some really good news, we can learn to speak to ourselves and to others in ways that are more positive and healthier; ways that will enhance our mental health rather than detract from it. To begin with, we can practice being more mindful of both our self-talk and what we say to others. Once we’re more aware of what’s going on we can make a conscious effort to speak to ourselves and to everyone with kindness and compassion, with presence and positivity. As we do so more often, we can talk ourselves and our worlds into being better!