For many years I thought that if I berated myself enough for not making some positive change in my life it would motivate me to make the change.
A colleague with an interest in motivating people to make big changes got me thinking about this strategy… He would often ask people “how did that work for you?” and after years listening to him I came to realize that self criticism is often a barrier to positive change.
He introduced me to the notion of “change talk.” Change talk is the way people talk about things when they are getting ready to do something. “Should” does not show up in change talk. Change talk focuses on the potential benefits of making the change and not on the harms being done to oneself by not changing. It is also not focused on all of the potential “losses” that a change may lead to.
Let’s contrast these approaches for someone thinking about diet and exercise.
Should talk is about how you look so fat, if you don’t do something you will never be able to date someone, about how you are eating your way to an early grave, and about feeling that you have got to start dieting or you will become obese….
Loss talk is about those delicious desserts that you won’t be able to eat anymore, about how hungry you are when you are on a strict diet, about the likelihood that you will just go back to eating the same way you were eating in the first place…
Change talk is about seeing yourself in a healthier body, remembering the extra energy that you had when you were not overweight and imagining what that will feel like, and about the pleasure that you can have in eating a healthy meal…
Even if you are not yet ready to make a positive change…you can make a small step forward by deliberately shifting away from loss talk or should talk and spending a bit more time thinking about the benefits of a change.