Negative self-talk isn't something to take lightly. It weaves itself into every day of our lives. It convinces us that we should not attempt whatever it is that is in our heart's desire. It's a breeding ground for Imposter Syndrome.
I grew up in a strict household. At home, I was often corrected or criticized; I was seldom celebrated or praised. My mistakes were magnified and my successes ignored because that is what I was supposed to do. The pros of growing up like this are that I truly have created the habit of attempting excellence in whatever I do. The cons of growing up like this are that I took over the habit of criticizing everything I did with what I was saying silently to myself. No accomplishment ever feels big enough. I spent years of my life picking up where strict parenting left off. Praise myself? Never.
I'm in sales training currently where we are covering topics like sales and lead generation. The idea of picking up a phone to call people is so terrifying for most, they never even try. New technology seems like a behemoth of a mountain for them to climb. There's a way in which our imaginations create disastrous outcomes so strong and vivid that we're absolutely convinced that beginning in the first place is futile. There are common themes among the women that I work within my coaching program and negative self-talk is extremely common. Why wouldn't it be?
Anything that we practice over and over again starts to run on autopilot. We can start thinking of our negative self-talk as an auto-correct that only gets it wrong.
When spell check mishaps happen to our phones do we stop, look at the mistake, correct the spelling without torturing ourselves for bad spelling and then hit send and continue with our day? Or do we send the automated words, whether it has typed what we intended or not, and then spend the day berating ourselves about it? Negative self-talk has become the spell check misspellings that we ignore because we've been doing it so long. How do we stop it when it is incessant?
Here are four things that can be done to help stave off automatic negative self-talk:
Start watching your reactions as if you are outside of yourself looking in. Watch yourself with curiosity. If you're having a tough moment ask yourself, "What's really wrong?". Are we upset about what happened or is it an oft-practiced reaction on autopilot? At first, it may seem strange but with practice, it can be illuminating.
Are you upset about what is going on or is it because it feels like the way you were always silenced as a child? What are the emotions you're having teaching you? Observe yourself both when happy and when upset. We get to feel our feelings and should. There seems to be this incorrect assumption that being positive means blocking out our negative feelings. Being positive doesn't mean negating unpleasant feelings. It is positive to take a step back and listen (without judgment) to what comes up when we ask ourselves questions.
2. Self-Soothing & Praise
We get to be our own best friend. When our friends call us in distress, we jump to being their best cheerleader. When we find ourselves upset, we can be our own biggest critic. We deserve to be our own best friend in our head.
I can be found reminding myself that right now, everything is OK. Even if there are steep challenges to overcome, in this moment, everything is OK. How often do we have to get to the other side of conflict before realizing that it was a lesson that we needed to get in order to grow? We can find ways to remind ourselves of this even as we go through the fires of life. As a survivor of sexual assault, I have to remind myself often that it is OK to be OK. I can be on heightened alert at all times. Even the smallest setbacks seem huge building blocks.
I call my inner best friend my personal superhero. She is always on-hand to say I'm doing better than I'm giving myself credit for. I'd bet money the same can be said for many of us, survivor or not. My inner best friend will clear the worry space out by declaring: "Nothing to see here folks!" Be the cheerleader friend you are to others for yourself in your own mind because you can say more to yourself than a superficial, "You got this!"
3. Pivot Your Inner World
There is a book called Coming Alive: 4 Tools to Defeat Your Inner Enemy, Ignite Creative Expression & Unleash Your Soul's Potential by Barry Michels and Phil Stutz. Inside this book are four tools that can be used on the spot to shift our negative thought patterns.
Let's say that your negative self-talk is loud and distracting. Find a place that you can stop, close your eyes, and feel what you are feeling with intensity. Imagine doing this while sitting in a room with large glass windows. Make everything outside the window disappear. Then make everything inside, except you, disappear. You are left with yourself and silence. The space created by this exercise may help you quiet your mind enough to continue on with the day. Not everything works for everybody. I encourage you to find out about the other tools because they can be implemented on the spot when you need them.
4. Who Gave You That Script?
Ask yourself whose voice that negative self-talk really belongs to? In my case, I took up where my strict parent left off. I also remained in an unconscious state of survival mode. I never gave myself a break and I only paid attention to what I thought needed fixing. Whatever was fine in my life, I ignored. It doesn't need fixing so it doesn't need focus. Plus, if everything is going well, I'd be preparing for the next shoe to drop. Then one day, it dawned on me that I had taken up right where my strict parents had left off.
One of the things I do if the negative self-talk starts is to remind myself, this is not my voice. I don't have to do this for them. I can choose the inverse.
You are the adult in the room now. How do you choose to talk to yourself? Write down the things that you say most often. Now rewrite them inverted. Start practicing the repetition of these inverted statements to drown out the auto-negative. Pre-program your responses to the negative self-talk so that they automatically flow. It took several years to get the automatic reaction going, so it is going to take practice and time to change it. Be easy with yourself as you practice. Beating ourselves up for not doing something new perfectly right away only adds fuel to the negative self-talk machine. Choose a few from this list to practice as soon as you notice the negative monologue beginning. You do have the power to rewire your automatic response to life's challenges.
I am a fan of starting small. For example, I got into the bad habit of saying "f*ck my life" if a mishap happened. Now, I catch myself before I say it and say "Bless my life," instead. It seems so small but every house is built bit by bit. Retraining our brain is the same way.
In fact, I'd argue that small but consistently gentle changes are the best ones to practice for lasting change. What do you say to yourself when mishaps happen or challenges arise? Practice your own version of "Bless my life". When you stay consistent with your practice, one day you'll step back and observe that you are now saying your new supportive self-talk.
Being your own best friend in your head is much better than broadcasting those naysayers installed by someone else. Strip away all the noise and you realize that right now, in this moment, inside of yourself everything is fine.
Pre-planning the response challenges and stresses will slowly faze out the unwanted voices and truly bless your life. Please know that there is no shame in getting help from a coach like myself or a therapist or even a support group. Take Action and practice, practice, practice.