There are many situations that we may find ourselves in which sparks a conversation in our own mind.
Whether it’s when you look in the mirror, before a job interview or when trying to make a big decision, I think negative self talk is all something we can relate to.
Some may say it is the key to success, but I think it is key to a good mindset and actually reducing stress and overwhelm, too.
If you’re anything like me, there is a CONSTANT voice and upon observing it, the majority of it is negative and it just drives me insane! This isn’t good, because what we say and the way we talk to ourselves DOES matter.
In this blog I am going to look at why negative self talk matters, tips to identify it as well as some advice and exercises to help you work through it.
Why does the way we talk to ourselves matter?
“I look fat, I can’t go outside today incase someone looks at me and sees just how fat I am”
“I have a body. A human body. What it can do for me is amazing. I am going to celebrate my body by going outside for a walk”
Two examples. One shows acting with intent and believing in themselves. The other is really being quite brutal, forcing silence and deprivation of human connection, social interaction and nature. We talk to ourselves like this, as if it is normal. But would you speak to a friend or family member like that?
The more you talk to yourself, the more you start to believe it. So if this is all negative, you start to believe some really nasty things about yourself (which I guarantee are NOT true)
Your brain does not know the difference between reality and fiction, but you do. Whatever we continue to say to ourselves, we start to believe it.
We do not want to become (or continue to be) a prison to our minds. The way we talk to ourselves is really fundamental to the joy we are able to experience on a daily basis.
Think about it…. The only person we will spend our entire lives with is ourself.
Self talk has the ability to impact the way we feel about ourselves, our confidence, our self esteem, our self worth, the way we view the world, what we achieve, the actions we take, how we interact with people. (And I think it’s also important to mention here that there are, of course, a whole range of other factors that contribute to how we view ourselves. This is just one example for the purpose of the article topic)
Negative self talk has the ability to show up in so many areas of our lives, even if we do not realise it. The most common example I come across in my day to day internal dialogue is body image. If we are constantly picking out parts of our bodies and saying we do not like them, we begin to despise ourselves. This then snowballs into not liking any clothes, trying to find a quick fix, saying to yourself “I will not be happy when my body looks like x” comparing yourself to others, less social outings, more anxiety, different programs, diets, etc. and then nothing, not even all the things you think you need, will fix it. This is just another example of how we view happiness as a destination. The only thing that will can change things is the way you view yourself.
One of the causes to problems like this, is the way we are talking to ourselves. We let external factors such as comparisons, the media and weird societal norms influence the way we view ourselves and our wellbeing.
Isn’t it so sad that the default mode is to put ourselves down?
We shouldn’t be constantly tearing ourselves down.
We should be building ourselves up.
If we carry on like this, we will only continue to make ourselves miserable.
The Ego is a term used to describe that voice inside your head.
It is not all bad – Freud suggested that the Ego is there to provide balance and rational when decision making. Between our primitive instincts (the id) and societal rules, norms and morals (the super ego).
However, the difference is how far we let the Ego control our lives and what it says to us. We must not let the Ego become the master of your life.
You are not your thoughts
Thoughts and memory are an odd thing. PsychologyToday described thought as:
“Fundamentally, our thoughts are maps representing and corresponding to things that our brains have either perceived with our senses, felt with our emotions, or formed as an action plan”
Really, they are just our perception of our life experiences and social conditioning. Sometimes we are just living life on autopilot, which then allows minds to become contaminated with fear, doubt, anxiety, etc.
Everything you have ever been exposed to in life, the good and the bad, will effect the kind of thoughts you are having. When you look at the society we live in today, e.g. the media, social norms, etc. there’s no wonder we suffer with so much negative self talk.
Understanding that you are not your thoughts, I believe, is an important step to taking control of your life.
What can we do?
- Do not engage or entertain
- Choose again
I believe that firstly identifying the internal dialogue can be really key. As soon as you identify this, it makes working through it a whole lot easier. And I do say working through, because, as with most things, there is not a quick fix.
We have lots of thoughts.
Some can be really useful, of course. If you are making a big decision, for example. The kind of thoughts I am talking about are the negative, unproductive ones that cause us a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety and become a barrier to having more control and living life. We wouldn’t talk to others like this, so why are we talking to ourselves like this?
Think of them as the annoying, nagging passenger in your car, who thinks they know best, while you are trying to drive.
YOU are in the drivers seat. You ultimately have control over where you are going, how you are going to get there and how fast. Don’t let the bad backseat driver dictate.
If you are here, then step one must be complete.
By identifying it and being aware of it, you are accepting it.
Become a witness
Becoming a witness to your thoughts is a strange concept at first. It’s kind of just like noticing the thought and saying “ah, that thought is there” and making a mental note of it.
This allows you to take a step back and see it for what it really is, just a thought. Then you are able to start to remove the judgement.
A great tip I have been given several times is to name your Ego. By giving it a name, you are just identifying it as a separate entity.
These steps are helpful in bringing a little perspective.
Do not dwell
By not dwelling on the thought, you are not letting it hold power over you.
What makes it real is the energy and the attention we give it. Entertaining or engaging with those thoughts, are only going to create more anxiety and stress for yourself, aka not putting fuel in the fire.
We have the control, we have the choice to let the negative self talk exist or not. We can choice how we respond to them. We are simply the one who hears them.
Note the thought (mentally or in a notebook) and choose again.
You are human, which means you have the ability to choose your thoughts.
This means that, when that negative narrative arises again, you can replace it with something positive or helpful. It doesn’t have to be fake or unrealistic, but choosing your wording carefully can make a huge difference to how the situation makes us feel, and therefore, how we respond and what steps we take next.
“I am” “I can” “It’s part of the journey” “I am capable of achieving x” “I can get through this” “This feeling is only temporary”
These simple things ensure that we are taking back control of our lives and not falling into the prison of our Ego. Old habits will resurface, that’s okay and completely normal. The key is to CHOOSE AGAIN.
Exercise 1 – Journal
Grab a journal, notebook, paper or phone notes and make a table with two columns.
Write out the negative thoughts in the left hand column.
In the right, choose a new word or phrase to replace it with.
Keep returning to this and adding to it whenever you need a hand or reminder.
Exercise 2 – Affirmations
Have you heard of affirmations?
Affirmations are words or phrases that you repeat over and over to yourself on a regular basis. Sounds a bit weird at first, they can also be a bit weird when completing this task, too. You don’t just SAY it. You have to mean it, feel it and believe it. It is a way to introduce some positive self narrative into your life and have the ability to boost our self esteem, confidence and performance.
Affirmations seem to be another buzzword at the moment. If used correctly, can have some real benefits, if not, there’s literally no point in doing it.
There is some science behind it. There are several studies, one in particular interests me.
In 2016, the University of Oxford tested the neural mechanisms of a self affirmation practise and found that participants you were undertaking the practise showed increased activity in key parts of the brains processing and valuation systems, compared to the group who had not.
Worth a try, right?
Your thoughts have the ability to control your mood and emotions. The more we can regain control of our mind and change the negative thoughts, the more joy we can experience. Keep replacing those thoughts. Keep going forward with the things YOU want to do, not what your Ego says you cannot or should not do.
You can continue through life being your own worst enemy, or you can be your own best friend, which can open a world of opportunities for you. We are not any less worthy than anyone else.
“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right”
What do you choose today?