The impact of negative self talk
Most of us realise that we often have a stream of chatter occupying our head. It might accompany whatever we’re doing – a kind of running commentary – or it may be criticising or judging.
But I wonder if you really understand the impact that talking negatively to yourself can have on your health? If you don’t, please go to a short article and audio called “How Words Affect Your Health” Then come back to this article.
O.K. so now you have some idea of the damage you could be doing to yourself with your negative self talk.
So how do you change your inner dialogue?
Great question! The first thing is to become consciously aware of that internal terrorist!
I think most people have one – an inner critic who’s ready to comment on every little thing in a destructive, nagging and negative way. Once you’re aware of him or her then you’re on your way to disarming him – but you need to be vigilant. No doubt he’s been around a long time and is not about to give up easily!
So, once you’re aware of that negative internal voice the next thing to do is to STOP.
Yes, just stop!
You can do this by saying STOP, out loud or in your head, imagining a STOP sign or a red traffic light or doing something to distract yourself like taking a sniff of your favorite oil or perfume. You could start singing or say something out loud. Whatever it takes to STOP.
Challenge the thoughts
Now you can objectively challenge the little monster by asking questions such as:
- Is this really true? Be objective about this. (If the answer’s yes, what evidence do you have?)
- Is it always true? What percentage of the time is it true? Again be objective about this.
- What can I learn from this?
- And if I learn that, what will that mean?
- What’s the positive intention of the internal voice? (Believe it or not there usually is a positive intention.)
- How can I achieve that positive intention in another way?
O.K. Time for an example.
Let’s say your inner terrorist comments on a mistake you made, “Gee, you’re useless, that’s another mistake. You’re always making mistakes, blah, blah, blah etc.,” Running the questions above might go something like:
Q: Is it really true? “In other words, Am I really useless and do I always make mistakes? “Well, no actually I’ve got quite a lot right today, so no, it’s not always true. In fact on a scale of 100 I’ve got about 98% right.”
Q: What can I learn from this? “Well, I’ve learned that if I do ‘x’, then I get a bad result. However if I do ‘y’ then I get a better result.”
Q: And if I learn that, what will that mean? “It means if I do ‘y’ in future I’ll get consistently better results.”
Q: What’s the positive intention of the internal voice? (Just ask – you’ll get an answer.) “Hmm, it’s to make me aware of the mistake so I can learn from it and not repeat it.”
Q: How can I achieve that positive intention in another way? “I could just stop and acknowledge when I’ve made a mistake, take note of the positive things I’ve learned from making the mistake and then move on!”
Move your butt!
It’s also often useful to physically move. Get up and move out of the spot where the negative self-talk or worry is occurring. If possible go outside or to a window. Look up and out and put all your attention on what you see – when your attention is outside yourself you won’t be doing the self-talk.
If necessary begin commenting to yourself on what you see and hear, looking and listening for more and more detail.
For example, ‘I can see the pohutukawa trees, they’re blowing around quite a bit at the moment… I can hear the wind whistling through the trees…oh, and there’s a tui sitting on the branch…
… there’s a plane off in the distance…etc.’ This need only take a few seconds. Then go back to where you were with a fresh mind.
Start noticing and congratulating yourself on all the things you do well, even little things that you notice and comment on positively and consciously can make a big difference to your self esteem.
Adopt ‘Steph’s’ Rule
What’s Steph’s rule? It’s very simple. It’s that you may only talk to yourself using the words and tone that you would use to someone you really care about. Now there’s a challenge for you!