If I were to follow you around all day long and tell you ‘you’re dumb’, ‘you’re ugly’, ‘you’re a failure’, what would you do? Chances are you are not going to turn around and give me a hug. It is more likely you are going to turn around and confront me because it is not ok to speak to others that way. The odd thing is, when we get overwhelmed with life’s tasks, we tend to say these same things to ourselves. These phrases are often referred to as self talk or inner dialogue. Self talk includes all the things we say to ourselves throughout the day starting with the time we wake up with ‘I’m hungry’ or ‘5 more minutes’ and continuing through all the ups and downs we encounter until bed time. Depending on how we choose to frame our self talk our mood will either be uplifting or nasty. The important word to note is ‘choose’. It is in our power to shift our thinking, our self talk, from negative to positive. How we focus our thoughts will also determine our expectations for how our day is going to be, how we see the world, and how we think others see us. Over an extended period of time, our negative self talk can lead to depressive or anxious feelings and behaviors and lower our feelings of self worth and self esteem.
To beat our negative self talk, we need to re-train our thinking habits to be more encouraging. First and foremost we need to accept uncertainty and remind ourselves we do not need to be perfect. The world is ever changing and there are often hiccups in our plans. Even when things do not seem to be going the way we expected, it is important to remind ourselves it is okay and we can get through it.
It is also helpful to start questioning our negative self talk and begin looking for evidence against it. For example, if we are thinking ‘I’m such an idiot’, we would search for reasons why it is untrue; such as ‘I can do many things well’, ‘I’m still learning this skill’, or ‘I am knowledgeable in other areas’. After we find evidence against the negative, we can ask ourselves if there is a more positive, realistic way of looking at the situation. Back to our example, perhaps we realize this is a great opportunity to learn something new or that we were just having an off day. Lastly, we need to ask ourselves if the negative thought is helpful. If the thought is draining us emotionally and causing a major block in moving forward, perhaps it’s time to battle it in order to move forward.
In addition to battling the negative thoughts directly, we can try to control some of our environment to minimize the chance of negative input seeping in. For example, if we are around people who speak negatively about themselves and others, or are entertained by media that is negative in nature, we are more likely to experience negative thoughts. Eliminating or minimizing exposure to such input and replacing it with more positive input can help. By doing so, we can begin to change our thinking habits. We can also begin giving ourselves positive affirmations and creating lists of things we are grateful for daily. Doing so will force us to see our strengths and appreciate those things that are going well in our lives.
If people who are close to us started saying negative things towards themselves, we would try our best to encourage and support them. We would remind them of how wonderful they are, how much they are loved, and how strong they are. We would tell them they are doing the best they can, considering the situation they are in. Now it’s time to start telling ourselves the same things and taking control over our thoughts. With time and consistency we can change our habits, accept our imperfections, and give ourselves a positive outlook.