Right off the bat – it’s okay to talk to yourself. We self-talk almost all of us, i.e., we conduct various monologues about our lives throughout the day. The inner voice combines conscious thoughts, unconscious beliefs, and biases, and this mixture gives our brain an “interpretation” of everyday situations and experiences. The first problem is that human nature tends to lean toward negative self-talk. The second problem is that this negative self-talk usually does not reflect reality at all.
A fantasy built on fear
You really aren’t the world’s worst loser, you can study for a test or get through a tough day at work. You’re only brought to your knees by your inner voice, which mistakenly tries to convince you that you can’t improve and pushes you into desperate inaction. It takes a toll on your self-esteem, shame or personal growth.
It might seem like just meaningless talk, but! Self-blame and reliving negative events can increase your risk of developing mental health problems, according to one large study. Other research, for example, points to deepening feelings of depression. Therefore, negative self-talk needs to be corrected. If you allow yourself to be consumed by a negative mind, you will fall into a rut of helplessness, stress, and demotivation. You limit your thinking. The more you tell yourself that you can’t do something, the easier and faster you will believe it. The inner critic affects behavior and decision making, and can take away many great opportunities and maybe even people. Or do you think your friends will be endlessly amused by your lack of communication, its bitter flavor or constant pessimism?
Don’t talk or listen?
When negative self-talk is so damaging and positive self-talk is so motivating, I can simply switch gears and choose kinder words towards myself. You can of course use self-talk to your advantage, but you probably feel it’s not that simple. At the very least, you won’t change right away.
First you have to realize the power of self-talk. Realize that your inner critic exists and quite often does not correspond to your abilities. Are you done? Great. Remind yourself of this with every “toxic” wave, which is your second and somewhat more challenging task. You need to monitor your thoughts and if a negative current emerges, step in. You have two options. Either you divert your attention elsewhere, to other people or to the world in general, or you challenge the wrong assumption. You begin to examine it to see if it is based on truth, and if not, you replace it with a realistic version. We know, that takes work and time. But it’s the only way you can gradually dampen your negative voice and move towards a realistic image of yourself. A healthy, confident, happy self.
Task list for positive self-talk
Noticing your critical voice and then cross-examining it for truthfulness is an effective way to undermine its existence. But there are other mini-tasks you can perform to confront your critic.
- Imagine a friend – you usually dedicate sentences to yourself that you wouldn’t say to your good friend’s face. So imagine him whenever you start talking negatively about yourself. How would that thought sound to a friend?
- Change the perspective – what will the problem look like in five years? In the longer term? Will you still perceive yourself the same way, or will your words suddenly drop in intensity? A different perspective can minimize the negativity, worry and urgency of the ugly self-talk.
- Say it out loud – it often helps because you will hear for yourself how absurd and unrealistic your statement sounds.
- Name your critic – this is also a way to get a laugh when you name your critic stupidly during a negative self-talk. In the moment, you will realize that the critical thoughts are not based on truth and you need to distance yourself from them.
- Give it neutrality – mute the power of negativity by replacing each of your thoughts with a neutral option. For example, instead of “I can’t stand it”, say “it’s hard”.
- Replace it with a good one – notice the negative thought and replace it with a good one. Repeat as often as you can, and build a more positive way of thinking about yourself and your surroundings.
Never forget that you are right, not your evil critic.