Living Better

There is Power in Our Words: They Will Feed Us or Starve Us

There is Power in Our Words: They Will Feed Us or Starve Us

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” ~ Proverbs 18:21

Life is a network of decisions; consequences from those decisions; opportunities lost or won; and circumstances that at times are out of our control.

Life…is complicated.

It’s like navigating a 3-dimensional model from within, and there’s no stinking map included.

We build a latticework into our lives, which after some time we look back and discover that we really have grown, moved forward a bit, and even found success.

Even that single large step we took to cross a particularly hard place in life was preceded by many smaller steps.

And although it’s never just one thing, without a doubt, our words play a huge part in how we go about our day. Words we speak (and think) reinforce what we believe about ourselves, and they ultimately set us up emotionally, mentally, and even physically for a more successful day, if not life.

 

Words of Famine

Not long ago, I had a particular way of waking up.

My eyes would flutter open, my stomach churned with acid from the enormous amounts of coffee ingested the day before, my head swirled from not getting enough rest, and from my lips dribbled out in a hoarse whisper…

“Fuck me.”

Then, leaning on an elbow as the world came into focus, my eyes would scan the digits on my alarm clock—safely out of arm’s reach (well…most mornings anyway)—a low groan from deep down and a heavy sigh ushered…

“Ffffffuck.”

By the time my feet hit the carpet, the tone of the day was set. Each morning, it was as if some heinous storm was about to break on me, and I could feel the dark clouds gather near to my horizon.

And most days, I hated myself, loathed my job, felt caged in a relationship, and never satisfied.

Throughout the day, my vernacular was made up mostly of; “Fuck this…or that”, “Oh shit!”, “I can’t…”, “I’ll never…”

And worst of all? — The internal words that bounced around inside me that I never uttered out loud, “I’m too scared” (to change); fear itself seemed to coil around my heart like a serpent around the base of a tree.

 

What do our words do?

“A single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.”

That quote is from the book, Words Can Change Your Brain, by Dr. Andrew Newberg (a neuroscientist) and Mark Waldman (communications expert from Loyola Marymount University).

Their research sheds light on how our words impact our lives.

The words we speak, coupled with the words we hold onto in our heads, can restructure and reprogram the way our brains function…and ultimately, the way we perceive the world around us.

They go onto say…

“And as our research has shown, the longer you concentrate on positive words, the more you begin to affect other areas of the brain. Functions in the parietal lobe start to change, which changes your perception of yourself and the people you interact with.

By holding a positive view of yourself will bias you toward seeing the good in others, whereas a negative self-image will include you toward suspicion and doubt. Over time the structure of your thalamus will also change in response to your conscious words, thoughts, and feelings, and we believe that the thalamic changes affect the way in which you perceive reality.”

Hence…

 

We approach life the way we view life.

A pessimist will never be satisfied, no matter what. They rarely see the opportunities laid at the doorstep and will envy those who succeed and spout off, “They were just lucky.”

I know this because I was born a pessimist and my upbringing only reinforced it.

The thing is, our self-chatter is ruthless, especially if we don’t see ourselves valuable in the first place.

And the filters are not just internally directed but are projected onto others, and those closest to us feel the effects acutely.

But…it’s in our DNA to be pessimistic. To be on the lookout for the lion that we know is hiding to devour us. Today, no kitty from the Savanna is stalking us, but the lions we fear are from disapproval of our peers, abandonment; fear of failure, and even success.

If there’s been setbacks, breakups, or ‘perceived’ failures, our self-talk can become a self-fulfilling prophecy going forward, and the words we speak can corkscrew us into the dirt before we even get out of bed in the morning.

Just like when I used to utter, “Fuck me,” in the mornings. The whole day was clouded, shapeless, full of dread, no one to be trusted, and it would’ve been better had I not woke up at all.

Our tongues are like a rudder on a large ship that can turn its course 180 degrees…if we want.

 

Feed yourself living, healing words, then see what happens

Someone mentioned to me that the first thing they say to themselves the moment they wake up is, “It’s going to be a wonderful day.” They said it changed their outlook toward life and their struggles throughout the day seemed to be lessen.

That came to me at a time when I was open and ready for some drastic changes in my life.

But being a diehard pessimist, I had a hard time believing that just waking up in the morning like Julie Andrews singing a tune out the window was going to change anything. Honestly, it sounded stupid at first.

As I said, I was open, maybe not quite a believer, but open.

I gave it a try for a few days. I started the morning by saying, “This is going to be a great day.”

In full transparency here, because of a long pattern and habit that I had built into my psyche of verbalizing Fuck me the moment I came to on the pillow, I actually had to force myself not to drop the F bomb and think of a positive thing to say.

After a few days of doing this, I noticed that by the time I stumbled into the bathroom, a subtle change had taken place. I actually believed that the morning was going to be okay. Maybe my life didn’t suck so bad after all.

That small step led me to start verbalizing other things along the way, such as looking in the mirror and telling myself, “I love you.” That was really tough at first.

That led to replacing “Oh shit” when something didn’t work out to my expectations with “It’s going to be okay.”

That led to placing a quote by Marcus Aurelius on my bathroom mirror and reading it out loud every time I saw it…

“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive—to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”

I inadvertently proved to myself without knowing what research has already told us (effects on self-talk & performance and self-talk in reducing stress) that speaking words to yourself such as, “You can do this”, or “It’s okay, you got this” can bolster your ability to overcome obstacles and reduce anxiety.

AND! I didn’t become a Pollyanna; denying harsh realities of life by being overly cheerful and exceedingly optimistic—ignoring life’s challenges.

Sure, there are days that still stink…that’s life—no other way to put it.

But even those challenging days are nowhere near the dark pit I used to drive myself into with the negative words I clung to.

As time has marched on since I incorporated this into a morning habit, I have made some pretty incredible changes in my life that have resulted in a more peaceful way of being and a far more optimistic approach to life. It’s as if I raised my emotional baseline.

There is no one key that will unlock the door to a better life; instead it’s a series of steps, a tool chest full of the right tools, and wisdom gained in a life lived that helps us to become better and to unlock opportunities; to position ourselves on the threshold of success…if we want to.

Our lives are such a subjective thing, mostly made up of our own internal narrative, which makes up how we view life. And how we view life is how we’ll go about living.

Speak to yourself kind words, coaching yourself through difficult times with I got this, and I’ll figure this out, AND in a gentler way…and see what happens.


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Posted by Christian Martin Jr. in Change, Intentional Living, Life Hack, Living Better, Self, Self-Improvement, 0 comments
Tears of Crying: If You’re Experiencing Grief, You’re NOT Losing Your Mind!

Tears of Crying: If You’re Experiencing Grief, You’re NOT Losing Your Mind!

I had to stop.

On a small, two-lane road that serpentined its way through sandstone bluffs, jagged ridge-lines, and high desert sage and tamarisk. When you take the time to look, you can see the endless crags and cliffs travel up from the roadway into canyons that disappear in streaks of red, tan, and orange; highlighted by a pristine blue sky.

Truly, a wonderful sight to behold.

But, that’s not why I stopped.

Before my tires were rumbling on the roadway’s shoulder, rocks and dirt pinging the mudguards, my vision had blurred.

Before I could slam the gear shifter into park, the tears streamed.

As I stepped on the emergency brake of my pickup, my shoulders were already heaving forward as I bawled like a baby.

Seriously, how can such a beautiful place, be the center of such a meltdown?

I was broken. Nothing left inside to keep driving. I was done.

And that was how one of many episodes smashed into my life, unannounced, while processing something I had no idea I was dealing with: Grief.

***

I told a friend about this article when I first wrote the rough draft.

My friend replied, “Not yet, give it some time. You’re grieving. Let it breathe.”

I had no idea what that meant.

My friend said, “You’re right in the middle of the five stages of grief.”

Huh? What’s that?

Grief sucks. It hurts.

It needs fresh air. It needs to breathe.

I’ve endured a lot of pain in life.

I had an ACL tear once. When it happened, I heard a snap, went down hard, and by the time I hit the floor, I was crying.

Emotional pain is a whole different beast. You just can’t slap a bandaid on it.

Trust me on this one, alcohol only makes the pain more acute.

***

“They” give us a fancy bullet list of the five stages of grief.

I can follow a formula. I can understand a bullet list. Hand me graph-paper and a pencil, and I’ll draw you a flowchart.

I’m a former marine and retired cop. Between those two vocations, I supervised electronic labs and owned two businesses. Every title I’ve worn has had order to it. I can explain it with a freaking flowchart, but enduring grief, my happy-self could not make heads or tails of it.

In eighteen months, I changed vocations, my Dad passed away, I went through a divorce, a close relationship drastically changed seemingly overnight, family members wrote me off due to the positive changes I was (desperately needed) making to include where I decided to live—I made three major moves.

Ripped, smashed, broken, and alone.

Grief is a natural process, but it is not a linear one; it cares nothing for order and stages.

Thankfully, someone told me that the five stages were never meant to help tuck away the messy emotions of grief into neat little packages.

But…we like neat little packages. We like order in the midst of chaos. We like stability—it fends off fear.

Yet, grief hurts and it sucks.

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Those five come fast and furious. They do not follow a flow chart.

They are very real, ruthless, and cold-hearted SOBs.

And in the midst of it all, you will find that you may starting crying for no reason; in the middle of driving or in the middle of a grocery store. And it will feel like you’re losing your mind.

Let me say this…if one minute you’re happy, and the next minute you’re bawling…

There is NOTHING wrong with you.

***

Here are a few tidbits I dug up about crying:

  • Henry Maudsley said, “The sorrow which has no vent in tears may make other organs weep.” Don’t bottle it up. Ulcers and the acid that runs through the veins isn’t worth it.
  • There are different types of tears: reflex, continuous, and emotional. Each with its own distinct chemistry. Apparently, emotional tears have more protein in them when shed, similar to a workout.
  • The “experts” still don’t understand emotional crying. So, the “experts” do what they do best when they don’t understand something: postulate theories. Hence:
    • When we cry, it stimulates the production of endorphins. Again, think workout. Those lil things in your body that act as a natural pain killer: feel-good hormones.
    • Another theory is that crying makes you feel better—probably based on the above theory. Seems simple enough.
  • One more…crying is a safety mechanism. It rids the body of stress-related toxins.

Looking at all this, I’m reminded of the words penned by King David, “…weeping endures the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Crying somehow cleanses the internal wound so we can begin to heal.

***

Here’s what I’ve learned. It works for me. It still helps…

  • Don’t fight it anymore. It’s okay to cry.
  • Some days, you will feel anger, despair, hope, restlessness, happiness, bitterness, joy, guilt, confusion…probably all in the same day. It’s okay to feel those emotions.
  • Focus daily, best you can, on taking care of your Four Pillars: Spiritual, Mental, Physical, and Emotional health. Some days will be tougher than others…that is okay. Just try. If it’s harder one day than the other, that too is okay, you did NOT fail!
  • Stop stressing yourself out by putting some self-imposed deadline to heal. This isn’t a race; it will take some time. You will heal.
  • AND(!)…You are NOT losing your mind!

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Posted by Christian Martin Jr. in Depression, Grief, Life Hack, Living Better, Self-Improvement, 0 comments