The Scientific Answer For That Unanswerable Question
We all know the way we talk to ourselves has a HUGE impact on how we feel about ourselves – Duh! What if I said studies show that if you want to balance out the negative self-talk and have a more positive and powerful sense of yourself, you need to think and speak positive things about yourself and to yourself 5 times – FIVE TIMES – more frequently than the negative stuff… WHOA!!
For every negative thing you think about yourself or say to yourself, if you want to have enough credit in your emotional bank account to recover and feel good, you need to 5 positive things to counterbalance.
This work began in 1992 with noted psychologist John Gottman’s exploration of positive-to-negative ratios in marriages. Using a 5:1 ratio, which Gottman dubbed ‘The Magic Ratio,’ he and his colleagues predicted whether 700 newlywed couples would stay together or divorce by scoring their positive and negative interactions in a 15-minute conversation. Ten years later, the follow-up revealed that they had predicted divorce with 94 percent accuracy.
Clearly Dr. Gottman was on to something. From there various other studies have been done regarding this Magic Ratio and how it applies to other things. Everything from positive parenting groups to effective classroom management studies to mental health studies have all investigated and adopted practices around this theory and found positive results.
I thought it would be worthwhile to share with you what I’ve learned in my own experience about working on practicing this type of ratio in our everyday self-talk.
I should note, one of the cool things about this theory is that it doesn’t suggest that negative thoughts, feelings, or interactions need to be eradicated – so you perfectionists in the crowd can take a deep breath! This theory actually suggests that the negative stuff is necessary in moving us forward by helping us identify what doesn’t work and what needs to change or be renegotiated.
Recognizing what you do that doesn’t work is a key factor in actually doing anything to make a change. You have to recognize the problem before you can fix it. The trouble comes when the negative stuff in your head far outweighs the positive stuff.
I know for myself that before I got conscious about this the ongoing conversation in my mind, a virtual negative-thought-mixed-tape was on relatively constant repeat. I also know I’m not alone.
So now let’s look at the other side of this theory: the positive side and what that might look like in your life…
If you’re anything like me, when you tune into that conversation in your head, one of the first things you’ll notice is how easy it is to jump to the negative side of things – pointing out what you did wrong, how you looked foolish, what you should’ve or could’ve done better… Or maybe you’ll notice the conversation is simply what’s ‘wrong’ with you in general.
(A client of mine calls this the Itty-Bitty-Shitty-Committee – which I think is hilarious!)
There are a whole whack of reasons why this is the norm for human’s that I won’t get into today… the point here is to look at what you generally say to yourself about yourself and your life.
What would it take to move to you closer to the 5:1 positive to negative Magic Ratio?
Would it surprise you to find out that a lot of people – maybe even you – don’t have very many nice things to say about themselves or their lives? Most of us generally disregard the good things about ourselves and focus on all the things we see as problems and deficiencies.
When we go down that road and listen to that kind of background subliminal messaging, we lose sight of the truth about ourselves; who we are and what we’re capable of.
What are some positive things you can start focusing on about yourself? About your life? About who you are in the world?
What can you say about yourself that’s true, that you believe, and that’s positive?
Now of course what likely comes up here is examples of all the places you see yourself as ‘less than’. Don’t panic! It’s simply a demonstration of where your ratio currently sits and that you have some work to do. No biggie! Just a little focus and patience is all that’s required and you’ve got this!!
So now, I’ll ask you again: What can you say about yourself that’s true, that you believe, and that’s positive?
I don’t care if you have to start with acknowledging that you’re a caring friend, a good worker, or even that you’re a good speller. I don’t care if you have to start with appreciating the shape of your earlobes or pinky fingernail! Maybe you’re really good at folding laundry. I don’t care what positive thing you’re focusing on, the point is to start. Just start.
Start here. Start now.
At this point, some of you will be inspired to start practicing building your 5:1 Magic Ratio without a lot of other encouragement. And others of you will feel like you’re fighting a losing battle and have no idea where to start…
Guess what, that’s ok… I have a kind of ‘out’ for you – at least for starters. If you’re really struggling to come up with some nice things to say about yourself – my recommendation would be to start by consciously coming up with (and writing down!!) 5 – YES AT LEAST FIVE – things daily about yourself. Then you can start saying (out loud!!) to other people positive things about them; genuine & meaningful compliments about what you admire or value in them. The act of filling up someone else’s ’emotional bank account’ has positive impact on you too.
So there. If you’re stuck with starting on yourself, take on complimenting 5 people with GENUINE & MEANINGFUL things for a week. See how you feel at the end of it. See if your emotional reservoir is any fuller. See how you feel about yourself at the end of the week…. And get that you’ll now have something nice to say about yourself because you just spent a week making sure that other people in your life were being acknowledged for the great things about them!! What a gift that is!!
You can do this. You really can!! I believe in you!!
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