Using the Power of Positive Language to Connect with Your Truest Self
Tue, 12/08/2020 - 08:00
“What we think, we become.”
A couple of years ago, I moved to Bozeman in the dead of winter. Passes were closed, roads narrowed by mountains of snow, and I was terrified to drive - but I was eager to find out if the slope-side life was for me. Hypothetically, I knew how to ski, having gone a handful of times each winter for a few years. But I was a late learner (I took my first turns during my senior year of college), and I would have rated myself a solidly intermediate skier: a "Blue Square skier," not limited to the “Green Circle” runs, and able to slip, slide, and sidestep my way down most of the “Black Diamond” trails my (much more experienced) skier friends lead me into. I may have cried halfway down, but I could get to the bottom. Eventually.
By the time I moved to Bozeman, I was pretty tired of feeling like the only grom in the group, and a little tired of the adorable but intimidatingly talented teenies zooming by me on the slopes. I figured this mountain town, with its friendly nearby ski area, would be just what I needed to make or break my trajectory as a powderhound. I needed some time to ski at my own level, by myself, so I could gain some confidence and learn to really enjoy those Blue Circles (and who knows, maybe even smile on a Black Diamond!)
I had my own skis, boots, and poles, collected from friends and secondhand stores across the country, and I had a killer vintage purple ski suit. I had money for a lift ticket. I had snacks and goggles and a helmet. What more could a girl need? I should be shredding the pow in no time. Well.
Each week I would plan a day where I could go and ski, and each week as that day approached, something would come up: a work commitment, an invitation to go cross country skiing, a completely empty sock drawer DEMANDING a laundry day...and for some reason, all those excuses not to go, even the really weak ones? They worked. I never went skiing by myself, not once during the whole winter. And each time I didn’t go, I felt bad about it. I was disappointed in myself for not following through with something I really wanted to do, and I wasn’t willing to look very closely at the reason I kept staying away.
Let me shift gears here to a completely unrelated story. Five years ago, I took my first yoga class. Four-point-nine-five years ago, I set my heart on learning to do a handstand. I scoured the internet for tutorials. I strengthened my core and shoulders. I learned to do a headstand with ease, and progressed in my yoga practice until I could do various poses involving balancing all my weight on my hands (just without my feet straight up). A couple years ago, I felt a shift in my alignment and range of motion, and I knew I was ready. I’d been practicing with my feet on a wall, or one toe on the edge of my bed, the bumper of my car, a rock...it was time to lift that last point of contact and stand on my own two hands. So I went for it! But every time I did, I would topple. Immediately, gracelessly, a few times painfully, I would come straight back to the earth evey time I tried.
I was strong, I was aligned, I wasn’t holding my breath, I was a yoga teacher for heaven’s sake! Plus I spend my summers slinging heavy gear and coolers in and out of trailers! This should be WELL within my realm of possibility at this point, I thought. Well.
Turns out, a hope, a plan, a dream or a goal will remain out of reach, inaccessible, and impossible without an inner belief that the outcome is possible for you. In my “rational” internal dialogue, I could tell myself that I had everything necessary to become a skier, or do a handstand. But there was another voice, quieter, deeper, more insistent, less audible, that said, “I’m not the kind of girl who goes skiing alone.” That voice, coming from my deepest sense of who I am, also said, “I’m not the kind of girl who can do a handstand. (That’s for the really legit yogis).”
And with those words in my heart, guess what? I didn’t ski alone, and I couldn’t do a handstand, because those actions didn’t fit with my core identity. Deep down, I doubted my ability to stand on my hands, and feared to head up to the mountain solo. These core beliefs came from lifelong habit of thinking of myself in a certain way. (“I’m not the kind of girl who…”)
To paraphrase Frank Outlaw, “Watch your thoughts, because thoughts become words, words become actions, action become habits, and habits become character.”
What does your inner voice say about “what kind of girl” you are -- and what kind of girl you’re not? How has that shaped your identity, your character? How has it limited you, or held you back from trying something you’d really like to attempt? Perhaps you’re not the kind of girl who asks questions in class. Not the kind of girl who can jumprope. Not the kind of girl who plunges into chilly water. Not the kind of girl who shares her heart, opens up, asks for help, shows vulnerability. Not the kind of girl who befriends a new kid at school. Not the kind of girl who leads her peers, tells a joke, sings a campfire song, climbs a rock wall...
We all, consciously or unconsciously, tell ourselves stories every day about what kind of people we believe we are. And the incredible part of asking yourself about your own beliefs, and looking closely at the language you use toward yourself, is that once those sentences are heard clearly, they can be changed.
Our brains are rewired constantly due to a magical quality known as neuroplasticity. Changing our thoughts is always possible -- though not always easy! But we can work with the mutable quality of the brain through intentional self-talk and positive language, and can actually change our thought patterns, thereby changing our beliefs, our outlook, our actions, habits, outcomes, and ultimately our own identities.
Using positive language to change your identity is not wishful thinking: rather, positive self-talk changes thoughts that come from a place of doubt and fear to thoughts that promote confidence and enable you to take action! Consider the ways in which your beliefs might be holding you back, and pinpoint a negative thought pattern you’d like to alter. Now change the language of the thought from “I’m not the kind of girl who…” to “I AM the kind of girl who…”
Write a list of your positive-language affirmations and post it next to your mirror. Read it to yourself every morning and every evening while you brush your teeth (dental hygiene is important too). Look into your own eyes in the mirror, even if it makes you squirm!
“I am the kind of girl who reaches out to make a new friend.”
“I am the kind of girl who can ask for help when I need it.”
“I am the kind of girl who tries out for the basketball team.”
"I am the kind of girl who brushes her teeth twice a day."
I'll be making a new friend on the chairlift, or at my house practicing my handstands, because I’m the kind of girl who can stick it!
(And next summer, I’ll be taking the practice of positive language to camp, where we’ll experience the transformational power of affirmations in the midst of our Alpengirl Adventures!)
Written by Laura Strom, former Assistant Camp Director and Alpenguide