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The Stories We Tell Ourselves

"Everyone writes in a way; that is, each person has a "story," a personal narrative which is constantly being replayed, revised, taken apart, and put together again. The significant points in this narrative change as a person ages—what may have been tragedy at twenty is seen as comedy or nostalgia at forty." Margaret Atwood in Women at Work Volume One, Interviews from the Paris Review

Have you ever noticed how you speak to yourself?

The way we talk to ourselves - the language we use with our thoughts - can profoundly impact how we feel and behave.

Most of us use fixed language when we think about things we don't like about ourselves.

Here are some examples that may sound familiar to you:

"WTF I always *&* that up!"

"I never get that right!"

"I'm always doing that!"

We also use fixed language when we speak about things we don't like about other people:

"He never does that the way I ask!"

"She's always saying that!"

"Every, single, time!!!"

The problem is that fixed language does not allow for growth.

When we use fixed language, we make changeable things seem unchangeable and permanent. We make a situation seem like an absolute truth, and this often leads to lower self-esteem and feeling generally crappy about ourselves.

But, there is something you can do about it!

We can change how we speak to ourselves (and other people, while we're at it).

We can use growth language.

What's growth language?

Long story short, growth language uses words that allow for change.

Growth words:

  • Yet

  • Often

  • Sometimes

  • Eventually

  • Maybe

  • Right now

  • In some cases

How to change the way you speak to yourself:

  1. Throughout the day, notice how you speak to yourself.

  2. Find the always/never statements.

  3. Restate that phrase in your mind, but instead of using always or never try some of the growth words.

  4. Take it a step further by finding a question to ask yourself about it.

Here are some examples:

The fixed statement: I am always forgetting to do things.

The growth statement: I forgot to do a few things. What can I do to remember those things better?

As a child psychologist, here is one I hear often:

The fixed statement: "I'm bad at math (or any other subject)."

The growth statement: "I find math difficult. I often get lower marks than I want. There are areas that I really struggle with. What are those areas exactly? Where, in the learning process, am I missing or not understanding something."

I admit these growth statements are usually coming from me!

By changing the language we use to speak to ourselves, we change the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and how we are in the world, thus allowing ourselves room to grow.

If you would like to know more, check out this book:

Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff

Mindfully Yours,



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