All day long, we’re constantly having a dialogue with one person—ourselves.
“Nothing looks right on me today.”
“I never should have…”
“I should be ___ by now.”
“It’s all my fault.”
“I’m so dumb.”
“I’d be better if…”
“They must think I’m ___.”
“Why can’t I be like them?”
“I’d be happy if only I had a better job”.
“I should lose weight.”
“Some day I’ll…”
“Eventually I will be someone.”
Maybe one of these sounds familiar…
Most of us don’t realize it, but as we go about our day-to-day lives we are constantly thinking about and interpreting the situations we find ourselves in. Psychologists call this inner voice ‘self-talk’, which is an umbrella-term used to describe all of our conscious thoughts as well as our unconscious assumptions or beliefs.
Here’s where it get’s tricky. See, most of our self-talk is reasonable — ‘I should study for that exam’, or ‘I’m really looking forward to meeting my friends for coffee’. However, some of our self-talk is negative, unrealistic or self-defeating — ‘I’m going to fail for sure’, or ‘They don’t really want to hang out with me’…or one of the many phrases listed at the beginning of this post.
Self talk is sneaky. It isn’t always “good” and it isn’t always “bad”. Sometimes a productive comment disguises itself as something self-deprecating. The harsh reality is, most of this self-talk, especially in the age of social media where we live in a world of constant comparison, high anxieties, rampant depression, and intense feelings of isolation, is often skewed towards more negative self talk… and almost always, it’s just plain wrong.
It might seem like this is something that just comes with adulthood, but as a matter of fact, we have been surrounded by subconscious interpretations of this idea since we were kids. Flash back to the Disney days when Pinocchio introduced us to Jiminy Cricket…
OR maybe you prefer the Emperor’s New Groove interpretation…
As intuitively as it is for us to breathe and blink, we have, and always have had, an internal voice (or voices) inside our head that determines how we perceive every situation, which can be extremely frustrating. I’ll be the first to admit, most of the time, I either get so overwhelmed by all of the back and forth going on in my head and end up getting moody with the people around me, or I get quiet and shut down, usually perpetuating the vicious cycle of beating myself up for get defensive and feeling badly about how I acted earlier.
So how do we stop this horrible habit?
Well, considering self talk starts within ourselves, it only makes sense that we go directly to the source, ourselves. I order to start making a lasting change, we have to teach ourselves a new way of interacting—with ourself.
I recently found a great method to stop negative self-talk called the “S-O-S” method.
S- Stop. Mentally tell yourself ‘stop’ to give you the opportunity ti address the thought and interrupt the cycle.
O- Observe. Observe what you are saying to yourself and how it is making you feel.
S- Shift. Shift your cognitive, emotional, or behavioral response by using positive coping skills and techniques.
This is a good place to start with how we talk to ourselves. In order to overcome the cycle and start disputing your self-talk means challenging the negative or unhelpful aspects. Doing this enables you to feel better and to respond to situations in a more helpful way.
There are four main types of challenging questions to ask yourself:
Checking in with reality:
- What is my evidence for and against my thinking?
- Are my thoughts factual, or are they just my interpretations?
- Am I jumping to negative conclusions?
- How can I find out if my thoughts are actually true?
Look for alternative explanations:
- Are there any other ways that I could look at this situation?
- What else could this mean?
- If I were being positive, how would I perceive this situation?
Putting it in perspective:
- Is this situation as bad as I am making out to be?
- What is the worst thing that could happen? How likely is it?
- What is the best thing that could happen?
- What is most likely to happen?
- Is there anything good about this situation?
- Will this matter in five years time?
Using goal-directed thinking
- Is thinking this way helping me to feel good or to achieve my goals?
- What can I do that will help me solve the problem?
- Is there something I can learn from this situation, to help me do it better next time?
Once you’ve worked through this practice of stepping back to reflect inward and speaking to yourself from a place of compassion and understanding, you can move on to changing what you are saying to yourself. Need some ideas? Affirmations are a great place to start (link includes a LONG list if you can’t think of your own). Someone once told me, you don’t have to believe it when you start, but if you surround yourself with words of self-love, eventually you’ll start to believe it. “Fake it if you make it” if you will.
Making this change in how you speak to yourself is not easy. Shifting our language is a practice, and it isn’t about replacing a negative with a positive, it’s about tuning in to what our inner-dialogue sounds like now, and actively choosing an alternative that lifts ourselves up.
Your life is full of so many wonderful opportunities and in order to start fully appreciating the world around us, it is crucial to let go of negative self-talk and speak to yourself from a place of compassion; to be aware of any self-judgments and biases that arise, and choosing truthful, helpful, and kind language regularly.
Using this style of self-communication has the power to change someone from the inside out. For me, this practice increases my self-esteem, reduced stress and anxiety, and helped me understand my own feelings and the feelings of others. It’s not just something that sounds good in a self-help book/ TED talk/ instagram caption, choosing to combat your negative self talk can & will enhance our overall appreciation for each new day and help us create a more calm, balanced, and energized outlook on life.
Try these tips for a day, a week, maybe even a month if you’re up for the challenge…you’ll see for yourself. Don’t be surprised when you see the positive shifts that will happen in your life; becoming a better friend, daughter, sister, wife, aunt, mother, boyfriend, girlfriend, the list goes on.
As always—with love and coffee,
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