All of us, at one time or another, have heard a little voice in our heads saying things like, “You’re weak. You can’t do this. You’re a quitter. No one likes you. You’re lazy. You’re so stupid. This is what you get for trying…” the list can go on and on.
This “Negative Self-Talk” tends to pop up when we’re stressed, depressed, angry, lonely or experiencing challenges in our lives.
Negative Self-talk can really escalate if we’re battling depression. Many of us are really “good” at Negative Self-Talk.
“Well, at least we’re good at something,” we tell ourselves as we refine and hone our Negative Self-Talk skills.
Just like any other skill, it’s something we’ve practiced, worked at, spent time on, and fine-tuned. In other words, Negative Self-Talk is a habit. And here’s the good thing about habits… we can change them.
There are two different ways that Negative Self-Talk can occur: externally and internally.
External Negative Self-Talk is how we talk ABOUT OURSELVES when we’re around other people. Sometimes our spouses, partners or close loved ones get the largest doses of External Negative Self-Talk. We’re looking for sympathy or want to express natural fears and anxieties and it comes out as Negative Self-Talk.
One example of this might be we’re feeling anxious a new job and we say to our friends things like, “I’m not sure if I can handle this new job. I always screw up good opportunities like this. They’re probably kicking themselves for hiring someone like me.”
We may be looking for reassurance from our friend who we hope will say things like, “You’ve got this,” or“They’re lucky to have you.” In this scenario we’ve given all the power over how we’re going to feel about ourselves to someone else. We’ve broken ourselves down and are looking for someone else to raise us up.
The other way Negative Self-Talk can manifest itself is Internally; how we talk TO OURSELVES in our mind.
Often the voices in our head are belittling, putting ourselves down, reliving past failures, past regrets, fearing future consequences and thinking unkind thoughts about ourselves. We can magnify negative comments from parents, teachers, old flames, or enemies and they can take on a life of their own. Our inner voice feeds these off-hand or hurtful comments, replays them in times of stress and depression with the volume turned up to “eleven.”
Negative Self-Talk can affect our mood at the drop of a hat.
If a stranger came up to you and told you that you weren’t talented, lacked ambition, were fat, or were worthless you wouldn’t stand for it. You’d send that stranger packing.
But when we engage in Negative Self-Talk we invite that stranger to make himself at home in the most precious thing we have – our mind.
Here’s the good news – there is hope and change is possible.
I don’t want to make it sound like this is an easy habit to break but it can be done. Small steps are positive steps and all it takes is a will to change and a gentle hand… your gentle hand… to guide you.
Here is an exercise to help combat negative self-talk:
Throughout the day – be aware of any negative comments you make about yourself to others or to yourself. When you get a chance write these thoughts down.
That’s right – write them down in a little notebook or on a scrap of paper. At the end of the day, take some time to review your list of negative self thoughts.
Here is where the fun starts:
Next to each negative thought – write down a POSITIVE statement. It doesn’t even need to match the negative idea, it just has to be POSITIVE.
For example – if you wrote down – “I’m clumsy.” You could write down “I’m graceful.”
But if you are kinda clumsy you don’t need to “lie” to yourself. You don’t need to write down “”I’m graceful.” You could write down “I am a good friend.”
At the end of the day, you should have as many positive things written down as negative. Now read through the list of Positive Self-Talk. Find a private place and say the words out loud.
The next day – notice your self-talk. Each time a negative thought comes into play – simply notice it.
Then counter it with something new and positive. Perhaps it is something positive from your list from the previous day – perhaps it is new. The task here is to replace each negative thought with a positive one.
Practice this every day this week.
Praise yourself for your hard work.
For lots of people negative self talk has been a life long habit – perhaps it was even a learned behavior from childhood.
But just because you’ve been doing something for a long time doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
Replacing Negative Self-Talk with Positive Self-Talk can become a habit. You need to practice every day until it become a habit. Each day work on recognizing your Negative Self-Talk and replace it with Positive Self-Talk. You will see long-lasting results. You will see your moods and thoughts improve and your overall happiness become deeper and more meaningful.
Good luck and know that you can change. Maybe not all at once but with your hard work and patience you will find joy as you eliminate the habit of Negative Self-Talk.