How do you get back up when life kicks you down? Start with your words

Angel hugging own knees looking despondentIt’s hard to pick just one standout quote from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, an exquisite book I have come back to again and again throughout my adult life, but this one would certainly be among my favourites: “The secret to life is to fall down seven times and get up eight times.”
In less poetic terms: “I get knocked down, but I get up again.” (Thanks for that, Chumbawamba.*)
Picking yourself up again after failure, humiliation and heartbreak is achingly difficult, but very necessary if you want to move forward in your life. What Paulo Coelho is describing so lyrically is resilience.
So that’s the ‘why’; this is the ‘how’. The words you use are extremely powerful when it comes to getting back up when you are down. I know this because science.

There’s a well-known study in which Japanese researcher Dr Masaru Emoto took two identical jars of cooked rice and wrote “thank you” on one, and on the other “you fool”. He had school children say the labels out loud to the jars every day as they walked past. After 30 days the jar that had received positive affirmation was healthy while the one that was abused had become mouldy and rotten. The conclusion: words have the power to affect us on a cellular level, so it’s important to choose positive ones. In the interests of balance, I should probably point out here that the scientific community have been fairly critical of Dr Emoto’s research techniques. Still, the finding is an intriguing one.
Improving my self-esteem has been a real focus for me this year, but what I’m realising lately is that it’s actually self-compassion which is more beneficial to my confidence levels and life successes than self-esteem. And just like Dr Emoto I’m fascinated by the power of words – specifically, how the language I use in speaking to myself (both internally and externally) could play a key role in making me a better me.  
The difference between self-esteem and self-compassion, explains respected US self-compassion researcher Dr Kristin Neff, is that the former often involves us comparing ourselves to other people. Which no one does, obviously… except me and, you know, every woman ever. (And potentially a lot of men too.)
Woman kissing out love hearts
Comparison might briefly boost your self-esteem if you conclude that you’re better than other people in some way... but when you feel like everyone else is doing life better than you, your self-esteem is going to suffer – badly. (Guilty as charged.) Self-compassion, on the other hand, doesn’t hinge on you feeling special or different – all it depends on is you treating yourself like a human being who deserves love and care.
Here’s what happens: when you criticise yourself, cortisol (the stress hormone) is released in your body. The resulting stress lowers your mood and motivation. So basically, criticism is being absorbed by your cells**. Yikes! But if, instead of criticising yourself, you can pick yourself up in times of darkness and reassure yourself that the failure you’ve suffered doesn’t diminish your value as a human being, you’ll be better able to get back up and try again, says Dr Neff.

In other (my own), words, kicking your own arse only works if you do it with kindness.
Perhaps this could go some way to explaining why so many women struggle to lose weight in the long term. If you slip up with your exercise and diet plan, then start beating yourself up and call yourself fat, you’re unlikely to get back on track with your weight-loss journey the next day.
I don’t know what you guys take from these findings, but for me, it’s made being nice to myself a far greater priority. It’s looking very much to me like being my own best friend is the secret to getting back up again when life kicks me down. This is a friendship worth making time for.

*Here’s a Chumbawamba throwback, because I know you want it. (Lets just overlook the fact that the song’s about drinking, ’kay?)

**Did you know we have more than 50 billion cells in our body? Whoa! I learned this at a recent seminar by wellness guru Dr Libby Weaver. 

Words with friends, and with yourself

Scrabble letters spelling W-O-R-D-S

Words are hugely important to me. (I know that sounds ridiculously obvious, but bear with me – I am going somewhere with this.) Not only are words my currency (I’m a writer by trade), they’re my vehicle for interpreting the world. I’ve worked with a lot of designers who are primarily visual – they see the world in colours and shapes. Me, my frame of reference is words, both spoken and written.
I’m starting to understand more and more how the words I use, internally and externally, are creating my world more than they are reflecting it. Today I read an intriguing scientific study which found that all languages skew towards the use of happy words. The author notes: “This confirms the 1969 Pollyanna Hypothesis that there is a universal human tendency to ‘look on and talk about the bright side of life.’”

Ridiculously cheerful woman with cup of tea
What this means is that we’ve been given the tools to be predominantly upbeat, optimistic people. Which is not to say that we should be happy *all* the time – you’re unlikely to want to bust out your biggest smile when someone rear-ends your car – but that the path of least resistance is to be positive, overall, even in the face of adversity. However, if you actually start to think about the types of sentences you utter on the reg, you’ll probably find – as I have – that they are predominantly negative. Oh.
Aaaaaaaand research also shows that even looking at a negative word for a few seconds is enough to release stress chemicals in your brain. Sad face.
The more I practice mindfulness, the more aware I am of the frequency that negative words pass through my brain and my lips. I’m making a habit of reshaping those. I’m not saying I’m ever going to be able to eliminate negativity completely – hello, I live in the real world! – but I think the more often I can reframe my mindset, the better. As noted in a previous post, the law of attraction means negative words and thoughts draw negative experiences into my world. Ain’t nobody got time for that shit.
Worth thinking about, right?