Self-talk is the internal monologue we have with ourselves during our waking hours. Depending on our mood, emotions and general character type, it can be both negative and positive. It can be encouraging, kind, supportive, affirming, and bring a beautiful buoyancy to your day. Unfortunately, it can also be destructive, distressing, obsessive, and stressful.
Have a think, actively; what’s in your mind now? Ideally you’ll be looking forward to reading a lovely article on True Relaxations, eager to find out what it might bring you terms of good health and happiness. But is there anyone reading this whose mind is saying to them something along the lines of, “I’m just using this article as a distraction, why am I always procrastinating, I’ve got work to do!”? Is there a grabbing little gremlin at the back of your mind, giving you grief? Well don’t worry if that is you, because our brains are actually built to remember negative experiences over positive ones; humans have what psychologists refer to as a ‘negative bias’ – more of that later.
Why is self-talk good for you?
If we can learn to master the way we talk to ourselves and give it a more positive slant, we can cultivate a more positive outlook in life, and there is evidence that people who practise positive self-talk have more confidence, deal with stress more effectively, and can even build better relationships. This article will provide some basic ways of dealing with those terrible spinny gremlins.
How can it be bad for you?
The negative bias
Research has proven that negative events have more impact on our brains than positive ones do; humans dwell on the bad. Unfortunately, it’s a fact. Which is why we can be affected by a throwaway remark which has irritated us at work for example: even though the rest of the day has been wonderful, one annoying comment will leave us stewing away all day and maybe longer.
So then: buzzing round and round and round our heads, we have an onslaught of hornets (or gremlins, call them whatever you like – giving them a name can help too!) attacking our nerves, louder and louder, busier and busier the more we think it over! I know I have been guilty of this on occasion – angst snowballing as I dwell, insomnia worsening as my self-talk becomes negative self-shouting: why can’t I do this, how could I possibly have behaved in this way? BUT STOP! IT’S OK, IT ONLY HUMAN! IT’S MY BRAIN! What we need to do is identify how we are thinking, then take the next step of turning those frowning thoughts upside down.
Identify the negatives! This will enable you to change them into positives.
We can identify four different categories that negative self-talk tends to fall into, and once we’ve done that, it’s much easier to work on controlling them and eventually flipping them over to positive.
- Personalising: blaming yourself when things go wrong
- Polarizing: seeing things as either good or bad, with no room for negotiation or any softer middle ground which may feel kinder!
- Magnifying: focusing only on the bad in any given situation, and refusing to allow for any positive
- Catastrophizing: meaning you only ever expect the worst! (Cheer up, it might never happen!)
Can you see yourself doing any/all of these? I know I certainly do sometimes… I often blame myself for the silliest little thing (personalizing), then might have a chat about it with a friend and they will provide me with a completely different subjective standpoint, that I hadn’t even seen. This, for me, has two benefits:
- It offers me another person’s viewpoint, which then enables me to remember the idea that every single person has their own different story going on in their heads, and it’s not just me against the world doing things wrong!
- It provides me with some all-important distance from my deeply personal negative self-talk; other research has shown that distancing ourselves from our inner toxicities, by using the third person instead of the first person when addressing ourselves, helps significantly with reducing the intensity of the self and ridding ourselves of those all-consuming gremlins!
I can also recognise the fact that I magnify situations: this happens at night-times sometimes if I’m dwelling on a recent event: the gremlins roll round and round my head faster and faster, bigger and bigger, and I can’t step away from the situation!
How do I change the negatives?
What we need to do is be aware of what we’re saying to ourselves, but then flip the feelings over so that we think and feel their positive counterparts. Below are some examples of negative self-talk, with their happier, smilier versions of positive self-talk.
|I’ve never played hockey before, I’m going to be awful.||You are going to learn a new skill today!|
|I don’t want to make a fool of myself in my first meeting at my new job, so I’ll just say nothing.||Listen hard and ask any questions you need to get clarity for yourself.|
|I am overweight.||Your body is strong and serves you well.|
|I don’t want to go on a walk, it’s too hot!||Get your sunglasses on, find a cool dress or some shorts and get yourself outside into the wonderful calming, soothing, live-giving force that is nature.|
|I can’t believe I got 11 out of 50 in my first online pub quiz. So embarrassing.||You tried, 11 is better than 5, and you learned a lot! Fun quiz!|
|There’s no way I can do all that in a week. Impossible.||So this is a lot, but it will be ok if you set a structured plan with various deadlines. Keep close tabs on your plan and remember, it will be fine.|
|Oh my goodness I just nearly killed myself and everyone in the car with me! I’m such a terrible driver!||That’s ok, you didn’t actually kill anyone and you learnt a valuable road lesson. Everybody has to learn.|
Try and build on these basic ideas as to how we may change a toxic, attacking inner voice into a positive, supportive one. Remember to use the second or third person to distance yourself from the destructive thoughts.
And also, very importantly, remember that we can’t control what happens, but we can control how we react to it, and therefore how we speak to ourselves and treat ourselves.
Claire King is a copywriter and translator based in York, the UK. When she’s not reading, writing, or doodling ads, you’ll find her practising Pilates or enjoying some top-notch comedy!