Who doesn’t look in the mirror in the morning? Mirrors are part of most people’s everyday routines. You might look at yourself in one while brushing your teeth, doing your makeup, picking your spots or pinning down pesky strands of hair. But how often do you talk to yourself in the mirror? Probably not that often; but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a good idea.
Talking to yourself doesn’t come without stigma; but in reality, doing so can increase your self-esteem, which in turn increases the likelihood of you leading a fulfilling life. As Dr. Judy Ho, PhD, points out, it is important to employ kindness and compassion when speaking to yourself and to treat yourself as you would treat someone that you love.
It is no secret that many of us are far nicer to others than we are to ourselves. If a friend was wearing something you didn’t like, you would be unlikely to tell them that they should change into something more flattering. You would probably just keep your mouth shut. We don’t have the option of blocking out our own thoughts since we are aware of them as soon as they occur, but we do have the option of changing our thought patterns. Thought patterns shape our current reality, and it is important to identify the difference between reactive and active thoughts.
If I didn’t like what I saw when I look in the mirror, I could have a number of different reactions. Let’s take the example of feeling self-conscious about having dark circles under your eyes. This is a familiar one to me; I have been trying to hide my eyebags ever since a girl at school passed a comment about them when I was thirteen. My initial response to this was reactive. Every time I looked in the mirror, I heard the girl’s voice in my head and resolved to apply as much under-eye concealer as humanly possible. I bought a range of products that claimed to reduce the appearance of fatigue — but none of them seemed to help too much as my bone structure remained the same.
After years of trying my utmost to hide a feature that is simply part of my DNA, I decided to embrace my bags. Positive self-talk was the key to making this decision a reality. Speaking to yourself in an encouraging manner every morning can really help you to flip the script. Rather than silently spending a quarter of an hour rubbing a variety of concoctions into your skin in the hope that an undesired feature will miraculously disappear, it is far more productive to practice acceptance and gratitude. Use encouraging words when speaking to yourself and avoid negative formulations. Rather than telling yourself “You look like you didn’t sleep a wink last night”, simply tell yourself “You are awake and alive — you are going to boss it today!” At the start, this practice might feel a little contrived or bizarre, particularly if you are not accustomed to talking to yourself, but being the author of your own script can be very empowering. You are in charge of how you speak to yourself, and that can define how your day begins.
The same strategy can be applied to a variety of situations. Perhaps you’re concerned that you haven’t been realizing your full potential because you don’t believe you have what it takes to fulfill your dreams. If that is the way you feel, then take note of how you react to these feelings — do these thoughts bring you down? If so, then engaging in some positive mirror talk could help you to feel more self-assured; it could give you the confidence to take the necessary steps to get you to where you want to be in life.
Let’s look at a classic example — job frustration. Imagine you are frustrated with your work, but feel unsure about changing careers because you feel you are too old for such a major upheaval. How do you feel when you look at yourself in the mirror before starting work? Take a minute to take stock of those feelings and say them out loud. That makes them feel like real, tangible issues rather than just passive reactions. Then take a minute to think about how you would like to feel before starting work in the morning. Articulate those feelings out loud, too. Then choose a pair of words.. Write them on a post-it note with the letter “A” next to the negative emotion and the letter “B” next to the positive one. Draw an arrow in between the two words and write the word “YOU” underneath the arrow. You are the only thing standing in the way of feeling emotion A and emotion B. Your circumstances may play a role in creating these emotions, but emotions are nothing more than reactions which we have the power to change.
Stick this post-it on your bathroom mirror and build a couple of sentences using those two words every day. For example, “I will feel less frustrated if I focus on the things that I am good at doing in my job. I will feel more positive about my job if I speak to my manager and communicate my desire to change the tasks I perform at work.” Verbalizing our thoughts while making direct eye-contact with ourselves can help us to recognize them as useful reactions or signals that we can then use to our own advantage — namely to act and achieve positive change.
According to a study conducted by Prochazkova and Kret in 2017, eye contact is an example of automatic mimicry, which they refer to as “emotional contagion”. When two people are sitting opposite each other and engaging in conversation, they make direct eye contact. If one of them smiles, this increases the likelihood that the other one will smile in response. In other words, making direct eye contact with yourself while smiling, paying yourself compliments and setting yourself realistic goals could be contagious!
So, give it a go — stand in front of your mirror, look yourself in the eye and become your own most dependable cheerleader.