Do You Talk Yourself Out of Wellness?

Have you ever considered the words and phrases you use around your wellness efforts may be contributing to your resistance toward lifestyle change?

My husband and I worked under the same manager early in our careers. When she handed us our paycheck at the end of each week, she always smiled and said, “Here is your reward!”

I remember how we used to walk away feeling amused and a bit befuddled by her choice of words. After all, we had just labored for 40 long hours to earn that “reward.” A simple “Thank you for your efforts” would have felt more appropriate.

Don’t get me wrong. We loved our boss and our jobs, and knew her words weren’t meant as a slight. But they never failed to put a damper on the most important day of an employee’s life—-payday!

Words Have Power!

I was reminded of that story this week, as I found myself listening to the words people use when they talk about their wellness efforts. Here are a few examples:

When I asked a group of women in my workshop what they do during their busy day for “me” time, one of them replied:

     “I force myself to go out in my car where it is quiet, and read for 15 minutes during my break.” 

Desperation can be motivating!

When a yoga teacher friend of mine asked one of her students about her practice, she shared:

     “If I’m all caught up on my projects at work, I reward myself with a yoga class at the end of the week.”

A recent caption under a picture posted on social media, showing a beautiful, healthy salad with small bits of bacon scattered around the plate, read:

     “I am allowed to enjoy food like this on my new healthy eating plan!”

What’s Up with That?

So, what’s up with all the reward/punishment language we use to describe taking care of ourselves? Is it that we don’t feel worthy of good health and pleasurable experiences unless we work for them? Or perhaps we feel we should use wellness to better “discipline” ourselves around the bacon bits.

Maybe it’s as simple as conditioning.

Think of all the commanding messages you heard around physical activity and food growing up:

“You can’t go out and play unless you finish your homework!”
“Sit in your seats or you’ll lose recess!”

or . . .

“NO DESSERT FOR YOU because you didn’t eat your spinach!”

There’s a good chance you’re simply repeating an unconscious script picked up from well-meaning adults just trying to keep you focused and on task.

The truth is, studies show that punishing, pushing, forcing, shaming, and even rewarding yourself toward wellness doesn’t work. We all have a strong, autonomous side that hates being told what to do—even by ourselves! While you may experience short term cooperation, ultimately you find yourself joining the “RESIST!” movement in full force.

There IS a Better Way to Change!

If you’re into change for the long term, the goal is to go deep.

Creating new, more positive wellness scripts can give you a sense of autonomy over your choices, build intrinsic motivation (a genuine interest in feeling better), and bolster your belief in yourself and ability to succeed.

Here are a few edits that can shift your punishment/reward scripts in a supportive, feel-good direction:

  • Build autonomy by self-directing your behavior toward positive outcomes: “Taking my yoga class at the beginning of the week will fuel my productivity goals.”
  • Create affirmations to validate and elevate the energy around your positive choices: “I eat foods I enjoy in moderation, because it helps me avoid feeling deprived.”
  • Connect with your values to access intrinsic motivation: “Finding a quiet space for reading during my busy day makes me feel relaxed and calm.”

You CAN Do This!

I have been know to bribe myself toward wellness!

Wellness is not something you should have to “work” towards using a system of rewards and punishment. Instead, it is your birthright and your consistent, healthy choices should feel like fuel for your efforts to create a healthy, happy, empowered life for yourself. (News flash: Nobody else is going to do it for you!)

Sure, I’ve been known to up the ante with a stop at my favorite coffee shop after a swim at the gym. Especially on days when I’m feeling a bit down or tired and would rather curl up on the couch with a blanket over my head.

But like the paycheck comment all those years ago, I know the words I use around my wellness have tremendous power to either inspire or deflate my efforts. So, I choose them wisely.

What about you?

Is it time to listen to the way you either talk yourself into or out of wellness? You might be surprised how a few simple edits can make all the difference in your outcomes.

I’d love to know what think!

Feel good. Be well.


Wellness Prompt: Take out a piece of paper or your journal. Reflect on the words and phrases you use around your wellness efforts. How do you describe your workouts, the times when you’ve eaten “forbidden” foods, or occasions when you’ve made choices that are not in alignment with your plan? Analyze your words for messages of struggle, negativity, judgement, or reward/punishment language. Then re-write your scripts to boost self-confidence, autonomy and intrinsic motivation.  

6 Comments on “Do You Talk Yourself Out of Wellness?

  1. I love this post Meg. So thought-provoking. I like to re-frame the phrase “I have to work out” and instead remind myself (and my clients) that “I GET to work out”

    • Thanks Tamara! Yes . . . another great suggestion for a wellness edit. I read a post years ago that talked about the gift of being able to step onto a yoga mat and practice when so many people do not have that opportunity available to them. I think about that every so often. Helpful. Thanks for chiming in.
      Meg Root recently posted…Do You Talk Yourself Out of Wellness?My Profile

  2. So succint and astute Meg you have a real gift for pin pionting attitudes and belief systems that don’t support our wellnes .
    Thanks for the reminder of just how powerful our self talk and words can be.

  3. Hello Meg,

    I love how positive you are. I am very much aligned with the idea of not living by rewards and punishments. However, I am going to take a look at what do I actually tell myself and perhaps I do need some rephrasing to do. Yes, words are powerful.

    Thank you!

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