The words we use are a reflection of how we see and experience the world. The meanings that we attach to these words and the way we use them can have a powerful effect for the better or for worse. As much as your words have an impact on others, the way you talk to yourself can have a powerful impact on your mind, your feelings and your actions.
You’ll probably recognise the inner monologue or commentary in your head, where you provide opinions and evaluate your actions as you go through the day. These inner-conversations that you have with yourself are called “self-talk” and it can either be your biggest cheerleader or your greatest critic.
It’s easy for self-talk to slip into critic mode, where you constantly comment on your actions in harsh, unforgiving terms. “You’re an idiot… you’ll never be good enough… why do you even try, you know you will fail like you always do…”
These are some examples of negative self-talk that we engage in, often without realising the crippling effect it can have on your self-esteem, self-worth, confidence, productivity happiness and your overall mental well-being. Making self-talk work for you, by engaging in a positive dialogue with yourself is not as hard as it seems.
Step 1: Categorise your negative self-talk
Try to notice what your inner-self says to you. You’ll start to notice a pattern in the type of negativity—you could be personalising everything by blaming yourself for everything, you could be magnifying the things that go wrong in everyday life by only focusing on the negative aspects of the situation and ignoring all the positives. You could be getting into the habit of catastrophising, expecting the worst and predicting that things will go wrong or you could be talking to yourself in a very polarising way, seeing the world in terms of black and white, leaving no room to accept and process life events.
Identifying these patterns will help you understand the nature of the negativity in your self-talk and that’s the first step to changing it.
Step 2: Challenge your negative self-talk
When you hear yourself saying negative things to yourself, don’t accept it at face value. Defend yourself by first asking yourself if there’s any evidence for that negative thought. You’ll find that we tend to assume the worst about ourselves even when it is not true. People tend to be kinder to others than to themselves, so ask yourself what you would say if it was a friend who was in the same situation.
You’ll soon find explanations for why that negative thought is not valid. Most importantly, ask yourself if there’s anything that you can do to change what you’re feeling bad about. This will help you put that situation in context, process it, and figure out whether to do something about it or to just let it go and move on.
Step 3: Change your self-talk
As with any new habit, it will take a lot of practice to transform your negative self-talk into a positive one, but as you categorise and challenge these thoughts, you should practise replacing them with positive ones.
For example, when you hear your inner voice telling you: “You won’t be able to do this/You’re not good enough for this,” make a choice to ask yourself: “What can I do to help me resolve this?”
Every time you hear yourself saying something negative about yourself, make a conscious move to remind yourself of something positive about yourself. For example, when you hear that familiar voice saying “You’re terrible at this”, tell yourself: “Yes, but I’m good at…”
Self-talk can be your secret weapon for success, but like every weapon, you must practise with it and hone your skill. Every time you face a setback, remind yourself of past successes and remind yourself that you’re not defined by one action or situation but by how you overcome such things, every day over the course of your life.
There will be a lot of things in your everyday life that will not go the way you wanted and a lot of things that will. It’s only natural that we strive towards self-improvement and to go after goals and dreams.
You must be very, very kind to yourself on the journey to your goals. There will be missteps and mistakes, but instead of berating yourself for it, accept it and ask yourself if/how you can fix it.
There will be success and achievements, and instead of glossing over it, take the time to celebrate them and to acknowledge yourself. Perfection is a flawed concept, so instead of trying to be perfect, we should all just strive to be the best versions of ourselves. You’ve got this. You can do this. You’re amazing. You can make your inner voice one that roots for you. Just be patient with yourself, and above all else, be kind to yourself.