Two months ago, when I felt like I couldn’t do much of anything (because grief), I did what every sad, but kinda crafty 40 year old woman does: I bought stuff on Etsy.
Specifically, I bought a Lisa Congdon print that says OK Let’s Do This. I hung it right above my desk.
It wasn’t my first choice (I love all of her work), but I sorely needed a pep talk. I was feeling stuck, slow as molasses, and had no idea how I was ever going to get all my work done. Between you and me, my couch game this year has been STRONG.
I knew I needed to see and say those words every day: OK Let’s Do This.
OK Let’s Just Try To Do This One Thing even though your brain had been replaced with moldy Silly Putty.
OK Let’s Get To Work and try to get three things done, then you can listen to another chapter of Educated.
OK Let’s Make a Move Right NOW because if you hesitate for one more second, the couch is going to swallow you whole and burp out your uncharged Fitbit.
OK Let’s Do This.
It was a one sentence pep talk. Nothing fancy. I was just straight up inner coaching myself. But it worked (things that also worked: being outside in the sun, seeing a therapist, painting the walls a new color).
Here’s what I want for you: find the words that help you move in the direction you want to go. Then say them a lot. A lot, a lot.
I couldn’t conjure up the right words, so I borrowed Lisa Congdon’s to
help me pick myself up over and over again this spring, until I could do
it on my own.
Things eventually got rolling again and it wasn’t long before I got my first whiff of overwhelm. I had a lot of catching up to do and I felt anxious. So I had to change my pep talk.
OK Let’s Do This became It’s OK You Got This.
One motivated me to get going. The other helped me to feel calmer, more capable.
Whenever I notice that I’m starting to spin out about the classes I’m teaching, the programs I’m building, the newsletters I’m (not) writing, and the conference talks I’m giving, I stop and remind myself:
Yes it’s a lot, but I know I can do this. I’ve done it before. I’ve got the skills. I’ve got the knowledge. All will be well.
And I feel better.
That’s what I want you to know: What you say to yourself matters. Choose the words that will be most helpful and put them on repeat. Especially when you’re stressed out. Here’s why:
The way we perceive stress and the way we perceive ourselves in relation to stress matters.
Kelly McGonigal PhD wrote about 3 protective beliefs we can chose to have that will change how stress impacts our physical health.
The 3 Most Protective Beliefs About Stress:
- View your body’s stress response as helpful, not debilitating (I’m gonna use this burst of energy to tackle that challenge!)
- View yourself as able to handle, and even learn and grow from, the stress in your life (I can do this!)
- View stress as something that everyone deals with, and not something that proves how uniquely screwed up you or your life is (I’m not alone in this, I’m just human, also maybe I need a snack?)
The research shows that having these positive beliefs can protect us from some of the harmful effects of stress, even if we can’t REDUCE our stress.
And here’s another way we can change how stress impacts us, without reducing our stress: find the meaning. If you can finding some meaning in whatever it is that’s stressing you out, you can reduce the harmful effects of stress (says McGonigal).
This is important to consider because lots of you work very intense jobs and there will be times when you can’t reduce your exposure to stress. So you have to change how you relate to it. That shift can help protect your heart (and other at-risk body bits) from the harmful effects of stress.
For me, it was the second belief (I know I can do this!) that has been really powerful for me these past couple of months. I can’t prove that it helped keep me physically healthy. But I can say, without a doubt, that telling myself over and over again – It’s OK, You’ve Got This – led me out of anxiety time and again.
When we believe (and reaffirm) that we have the skills that we need to address a challenge, we become less stressed by that challenge.
And if we don’t know how to address the challenge, but we believe that we have the capacity to learn the skills we need to tackle it, we’re less stressed.
If we believe that we have the skills and resources to cope with the difficult emotions that might come with the challenge, we’re more resilient to the stress.
How you perceive yourself in relation to stress matters. And you can shape your perceptions with deliberate self-talk.
So say it with me now:
OK, Let’s Do This.
It’s OK, I’ve Got This.
You can learn more about this stress perception stuff in the super popular TED Talk from Kelly McGonigal. But what about you? What words do you need to have on repeat, so you can do the thing?