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There’s an Aesop’s fable about a man and his son who were traveling to market with their donkey. As they walked along by the donkey’s side, a passerby said, “You fools! Why aren’t you riding the donkey? That’s what it’s for!”
So, the man put his son on the donkey. But soon they passed several old men who said, “See that disrespectful boy? His father has to walk while he rides.”
The man ordered his son to get off the donkey, then got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when a couple walked by and one said to the other, “Shame on that lazy man for letting his poor young son trudge along.”
Well, that put the man in a fix! But he solved the problem by putting the boy on the donkey with him. They came upon some travelers who scoffed at them and said, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves for overloading that poor donkey?”
The father and son were stumped. They both got off the donkey and thought about what to do. Finally, they cut down a pole and tied the donkey’s hooves to it.
They entered the market to gales of laughter from everyone around them. They were staggering into town carrying the pole with the tied-up donkey on their shoulders!
The Most Critical Voice of All May Be Yours
Like the father and son, sometimes listening to useless criticism leaves us in a worse state than when we started. That’s because we can’t please everyone, and usually we end up hurting ourselves because of it. Yet when it comes to critical voices, there’s one that often stands out more than any others.
It’s the one that pops up between our ears.
Some call it negative self-talk. Others call it the harsh inner critic. Whatever we choose to name it, that voice is an internal dialogue that frames the way we react to life. It’s a set of messages that we repeat in our minds during our waking hours — leaving us feeling down and discouraged.
Here’s a quick exercise: Think about everything you’ve said to yourself today. Was your inner voice “critical”? Was it hurtful? How did you end up feeling after you listened to your self-talk?
If your answer isn’t something like, “I feel hopeful and energized,” it may be time to introduce positive self-talk into your life.
That Harsh Inner Critic Can Harm Your Health
According to mental health experts, too often we develop a negative pattern of self-talk that may spring from things we were told by important people in our lives such as parents, teachers, siblings or classmates. Over many years, we play these messages on “repeat” until what’s in our minds leads us to angry, fearful, guilty or hopeless feelings more times than not.
Listening to that negative inner voice can even hurt your health. Research has shown that harsh and critical self-talk can put physical stress on the body and cause harm to heart and gut health, as well as the immune system.
Create a New Pattern of Positive Self-Talk
Now let’s talk about how you can introduce a new pattern of positive inner messaging that can help you become more optimistic and joyful, and healthier in mind — and body.
Do a Mental Checkup
Stop at various points in your day to evaluate what you're thinking about and what you’re saying to yourself. If your thoughts lean more toward the negative, try to find a more positive way to handle them. For instance, if you usually say to yourself, “I won’t get any better at doing this.” Try replacing it with, “I’ll try again.”
Listen to What God Says About You
You most likely won’t hear Him speak audibly, but you can always hear what He says by reading His Word. Look for certain Bible verses that let you know that you’re His special masterpiece (Psalms 139:14) and He sings over you with joy (Zephaniah 3:17).
Make Small Changes
Look at areas of your life where you tend to have negative thoughts. Maybe those areas are work, family life or health goals. As the saying goes, “Don’t try to eat an elephant in one bite.” Instead, start small by focusing on one area you can handle in a more uplifting way.
Say It With Kindness — to Yourself
Remember this simple rule: If you wouldn’t say something unkind to someone else, don’t say it to yourself. Replace a negative thought about yourself with an affirmation about what you’re doing right or the good things that make you who you are. It also helps to be grateful for what’s good about your life in general.
Take Care of Your Body to Help Your Mind
Try some form of physical activity for about 30 minutes on most days of the week. Exercise can lower stress and have a positive effect on your mood. It’s also helpful to make healthy food choices and get enough sleep.
It’s Not Magical — It’s Mindful
These aren’t magical quick fixes. It takes time to change years of negative self-talk. But put your mind to it, trust in God’s love, and you’ll see that it can be done.
The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.
Zephaniah 3:17, New International Version