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What You Didn’t Know About Imagery and Self-Talk

Woman looking into the mirror during self-talk

I’ve done it. A client or colleague mentions a birth plan and I struggle not to emit an audible guffaw. We professionals know that those birth plans, with a list as long as my arm, never work out, right? But why? Is it possible that imagery and self-talk are a part of the equation?

Wish, goal, plan, or reality? Which is it?

I’ve worked in enough labor/delivery units to admit that the written birth plan is often just a wish list. Ditto for breastfeeding.

But what’s the difference between a wish and a goal? The dictionary says that a wish is merely a desire. A goal, however, is an achievement. Wishes are floating around in your head; goals require action.

Wishes are freeform, freewheeling, and just plain free. Goals, on the other hand, have a cost. We pour out our blood and sweat and tears and guts for our goals, but not for our wishes.

A plan usually looks like a straight highway from A to B. Reality almost always looks like a twisted, winding, meandering road with lots of potholes and speedbumps — or detours and jersey barriers. But what does the plan have to do with goal?


A goal — an achievement that exists in reality — is highly unlikely to occur unless it’s preceded by a plan.

Is there a difference between imagery and self-talk?

Yes. I’m not an expert on either one. But I think of mental imagery as visualizing a picture in my head. Hence, visualization or mental imagery is more along the lines of a scene or a movie. It has characters, colors and sense-related information: sights, sounds, and more. (St. Ignatius emphasized the importance of “application of the senses” in prayer.)

Self-talk is more “text.” It’s the words you speak to yourself (or even to others.) Affirmations are one type of self-talk.

Whether you’re birthing or breastfeeding a baby, running a business, or taking an exam, negative self-talk (e.g., “I’m not sure if I can do this”) is totally counterproductive.

You can wish all day long. But if you’re doing a lot of negative self-talk, you’ll end up with a just a wish, not a goal that manifests in reality.

Reading Shad Helmstetter’s book, “What to Say When You Talk to Yourself” helped me to become aware of my own self-talk. Thereafter, I could change it so that I could set myself up to meet my goals.

Years ago, I read Shakti Guwain’s book, Creative Visualization. (I also used her accompanying workbook.) Recently, as I started to formulate my 2021 goals, I re-read parts of it. It’s a classic, and she is an excellent writer.

By the way, hypnosis is a little different from imagery or self-talk, but it’s along the same lines. Whether you see the picture or say the words, it is, as my therapist friend Sandra Reich says, “… all about the story in your head.”

Is imagery, visualization, self-talk, or positive affirmations effective?

The short answer is, YES!

I was intrigued reading Dr. Joe Dispenza’s book, “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself”. (And I gave my personal physician an autographed copy of his later book, “You are the Placebo.”)

I also attended one of his workshops where he showed how the neurons in the brain look different after we form new habits and when we focus on our goals.

On an enormous screen, Dr. Dispenza showed us images of brain changes that occur with positive thoughts. His take-home message?

Neurons that fire together, wire together. “

In addition to the impact on cognitive brain processes, mental imagery also affects motor control, attention, perception, memory, and more. World-famous athletes continuously use imagery to improve their game. Golf pro Jack Nicklaus asserts that he “never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head.”

So why wouldn’t we think it would work for birthing or breastfeeding? It does.

But let’s say you’re as far beyond childbearing as I am. Could you use it for your 2021 goals? A resounding YES for that one, too!

What goals do you have for 2021? What kinds of imagery or self-talk are you using to encourage yourself? Share in the comments below!

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