As an ICF certified Christian life coach, have you found your client feeling upset about something, worried about it for days, and then after a few days or even weeks realizing it wasn’t that significant after all? Or perhaps after your client talked through an issue with you, he or she felt much better afterwards? As a spiritual coach, you brought a biblical perspective or understanding that helped your client think differently about the situation, and when he or she thought differently, their feelings changed. Helping your client identify their thought patterns is part of a very important and universal principle: Changing the way you think will change the way you feel.
Things go wrong at times, people let us down, we make mistakes and disappointments happen. Whether or not we get upset about these incidences, and how upset we become, depends largely on the way we think about those situations. Sometimes we can make ourselves feel pretty miserable even when our situation is not that bad, simply by thinking in a negative, self-defeating way.
What Is Self-Talk?
As we go about our daily lives we are constantly thinking about and interpreting the situations we find ourselves in. It is as though we have an internal voice inside our head that determines how we perceive every situation. We call this inner voice our “self-talk,” and it includes our conscious thoughts as well as our unconscious assumptions or beliefs. Research estimates that we speak at a rate of 300 words per minute, but our self-talk rate is 2400 words per minute! As well, we need five positive self-talk affirmations to every one negative self-talk condemnation, if we are to have a healthy mentality about ourselves.
Much of our self-talk is reasonable (e.g. ‘I’d better do some preparation for that exam’, or ‘I’m really looking forward to that game). However, some of our self-talk is negative, unrealistic or self-defeating (e.g. ‘I’m going to fail for sure’, or ‘I didn’t play well – I’m hopeless’).
Here is another universal principle: our past experiences will determine the way we interpret current events. Our past experiences will also have a great impact on our self-talk, either negative or positive. And our self-talk will directly determine the way we feel and behave.
Negative self-talk often causes us to feel bad, and to experience upsetting emotions such as hurt, anger, frustration, depression or anxiety. It can also make us behave in self-defeating ways. For instance, thoughts such as, “I’m not going to meet my boss’s expectations” will discourage us from working hard when we are preparing for an assignment. On the other hand, positive self-talk causes us to feel good about ourselves and the situation we are in. For example, “This assignment from my boss might be hard, but I know I’ll do a good job and meet his expectations.”
The ABCs of Self-Talk
The relationship between thoughts, feelings and behaviors can best be explained by looking at the A-B-Cs of self-talk:
A is for activating situation
The Activating situation refers to the situation itself, or the things that happened when you began to feel bad, such as being at a gathering with people you don’t know, being overloaded with projects at home, or making a silly comment at church that you immediately regretted.
When you identify the activating situation, it’s important to stick to the facts. For example: “I made a mistake on my report at work today that can easily be fixed” rather than “I’m such an idiot for making that mistake on my report!” Or, “I smiled as my pastor today at church, but he just walked right by me; he must have a lot on his mind.” rather than, “I smiled at pastor today at church and he just walked right by me. I guess I’m a nobody.”
B is for beliefs
Beliefs can comprise our self-talk (thoughts) and assumptions that we make about a situation. Identifying our self-talk can sometimes be tricky. This is because it is so automatic that often we are not even aware of what is going on in our mind.
When something happens and we suddenly feel upset, we assume that it is the situation itself that has made us feel this way. However, it is not the situation (activating situation) but the way we perceive it (beliefs) that makes us feel the way we do.
Our thoughts largely determine the way we feel. For example, you might think, “My spouse didn’t acknowledge my work around the house, so I didn’t do a good job. I always disappoint people I want to be proud of me.” Thoughts like these will create feelings of sadness and frustration.
C is for consequences
The Consequences of our beliefs include our feelings and behaviors.
A feeling is a sensation that has been checked against previous experiences and labeled or given a name. An emotion is the projection/display of a feeling.
Feelings and emotions such as sadness, anxiety, guilt, anger, embarrassment, joy, excitement or stress directly affect Behaviors—which are the things we do—such as communication, withdraw, ask for help, go for a run, stay in bed or raid the fridge.
Thinking negatively about situations makes you feel bad and it can also cause you to behave in negative or harmful ways.
In addition, negative self-talk can adversely affect your self-esteem. When you feel down it is likely that you are very hard on yourself, and that you will tend to criticize, condemn and judge yourself unfairly. The worse you feel, the more negative your self-talk is likely to become.
We often blame ourselves when things go wrong, compare ourselves with other people in a way that makes us feel inferior, exaggerate our weaknesses, focus on failures, and predict that the worst will happen.
Here’s an example to illustrate the A-B-C of self-talk:
You get an assignment from your pastor.
- “I’m not going to be able to do this.”
- “I’ll fail and the whole thing will be a disaster…Everyone will be so disappointed in me.” (Question: who is the mythical “everyone”?)
- “I won’t be able to be able to make anyone happy, so why even start the assignment.”
Consequences (feelings and behaviors):
- You feel stressed, panicky, with butterflies in the stomach.
- You can’t bring yourself to focus and start the assignment.
- You sit down in front of the TV and eat a box of cookies.
Helping Your Client
Now that you have a good understanding of self-talk and its effect on our lives, you can help your client understand the connection between A, B and C and how this applies to their own situation.
For example, your client comes to you feeling bad about a particular situation. For example, he or she may be feeling upset, stressed, angry, sad, depressed, embarrassed or guilty. Ask your client if he or she would like to work through the situation using what you can call a “stress log” that explores the A, B, and C of their self-talk. A stress log is a useful tool to help your client challenge the negative or unhelpful aspects of their thinking, and to replace them with more realistic and helpful thoughts.
Applying Scripture to Self-Talk
As a Christian life coach, it is important to use biblically based tools. Here is a practical way to help your client understand the effects of their self-talk on their lives. Ask your client, “Have you heard that you are the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21)? Have you heard it more than once? Have heard it more than ten times? Do you feel righteous all the time?” You can then help your client explore how their self-talk is defeating the truth of God’s word. Then you can explore why it is important to mediate Bible verses so that the life of the word can overrule what our self-talk is telling us. For example:
So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Proverbs 23:7 (KJV)
For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
2 Corinthians10:4 and 5
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.
1 Samuel 30:6
And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God.
When David encouraged himself in the Lord, he gave himself a good talk. This is self-talk positively affecting himself by talking to himself.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
In summary, it’s important to help your client understand that he or she has constant inner conversations called self-talk. The brain does not discriminate; whatever your client constantly tells him or herself is what the brain will believe to be true. How does your client change their inner conversations? By repeating biblical truths whether he or she feels like it or not. As a Christian life coach this is why you encourage your client to meditate on the Word and to repeat to themselves—and out loud—truths that are found in Scripture: I am righteous, justified, loved, and worthy. Challenge your client to think on what the Bible says, and your client will notice a positive change in their countenance and their approach to situations, and their ability to overcome circumstances and achieve their goals.