On mastering the skill of self-talk
When you’re healthy all your life and suddenly experience recurring pain because of a condition or injury, it doesn’t only affect you physically, but also mentally. I’ve been dealing with mine for two years now.
I experience severe bouts of stomach pain that last somewhere between days to weeks. My self-talk initially was like: “Just get some rest. Take it easy. Don’t work out much. It will pass.”
This was a passive mindset, accepting the condition. But when my health problem didn’t disappear, that mindset became harmful. I was being too passive. Sometimes, you let life happen to you. That’s what happened with my stomach problems as well. About two months ago, I decided I’d had enough. I changed my self-talk.
In life, I don’t believe we can afford to be passive. I believe in addressing life head-on. I believe that a proactive mindset works best: Mentally, physically, and professionally. Now I say: “I don’t care about the stomach pain. I’m going to work through it. I’m not going to give up and lay in bed at the first sign of pain. I’ll fight.”
I’m talking to the pain there. And that head-on works for me because it gives me energy. This doesn’t mean everyone has to do the same. The point is that you have the power to change your self-talk if you want. If you feel like the voice in your head is somehow standing in the way of living a good life, realize that you can change the voice.
We don’t have to give in to emotions, pain, weakness, and our innate drive to pursue the path of least resistance. We as humans have the power to reason with ourselves. This is one of the foundational beliefs of Stoicism. As Seneca once said:
“You are a reasoning animal. So what is the good in you? Perfect reason. So call it back on duty to pursue its goal, and let it grow abundantly, as much as it is able.”
When you’re dealing with negative or unhelpful self-talk, you have the ability to use reason to make a change. While the perfect reason is an unattainable goal, the point of Stoicism is to aspire to be as close to perfect as possible.
No one expects you to always live according to Stoic values and be positive, resilient, and never have a moment of weakness. That’s not realistic. But trying to be your best and most reliable self is very realistic.
Never forget that we’ve stronger than we think. We have the ability to preserve difficulty even though our minds always prefer comfort. I really experienced that with my IBS. But the more I give into comfort, the more pain I experience. When I don’t exercise and take it really easy, I always have more stomach pain. But exercise improves my gut health.
Especially running improves my gut problems. When I experience stomach cramps and bloating, it’s really uncomfortable to run. But after about 20 to 25 minutes, I start feeling better. I learned what works well for me through trial and error. Now, this obviously not the case with all conditions.
The more proactive I am, the better I feel. And I’m pain free for a while. Looking back, I now think that’s obvious. But when you feel weak, your instinct is to stay put. Now, my goal is to keep working out and to stay mentally tough. Even if we know we’ll never be perfect, or totally free of pain or problems, just like the Stoics, we can aim for the perfect. No one ever got worse by trying to be better.