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I sometimes talk to myself in ways I'd never talk to anyone else.
I criticize myself. I blame myself. I point out my flaws and question why they are there in the first place.
It's ridiculous, if you think about it.
No person should talk to themselves this way, yet human beings do it all of the time.
I'm going to take you on my negative self-talk journey today--and point out how I learned to improve my self-talk, and highlight the work that I'm still doing to conquer this destructive habit.
An Anxious Boy - Learning Negative Self-Talk
Before I was an anxious man, I was an anxious boy. I worried constantly. And I especially worried inside of my head. Some people fidget nervously when they are anxious. My worry mode of choice has always been overthinking and rumination.
As a child, I worried about my friends. I worried about my parents. I worried if I did the wrong thing, the right thing, or a combination of the two. And one particular way that my worry manifested was in the form of negative self-talk.
The worry and the negative self-talk were connected.
Here's an example of my self-talk when I was younger:
"I can't believe I did that. I always do that. Why do I always do that?? It's such a stupid thing to do."
Now, there are several issues with this line of thinking. It doesn't even matter what I did or didn't do. That's not the point. So often, what actually occurred becomes so far removed from the train of thought it produces that it becomes nonsensical.
One of the issues with the above thinking is the extreme statements. No one ALWAYS does or doesn't do something. That is called all-or-nothing thinking, and no person is ever all one thing or another. People are complex human beings, but the brain craves certainty and wants to trick us into thinking that we are only one thing or another.
Another issue with my worried thinking that turned into negative self-talk is the cascading nature of it. I don't know about you, but when I feel anxious, I start to pile one problem onto another. It starts with a simple worry about not calling a friend back like I said I would and then all of a sudden I am the world's worst friend. Not only that, my brain tries to tell me that I never call ANYONE back. Yeesh.
Self-talk cascades. But that means if negative self-talk builds upon itself, then the same should be true for positive self-talk.
I've found that it is.
Positive Self-Talk - Learning How to Do It
I don't know exactly what changed to get me on a different path, but it was probably, after years and years of a destructive habit, realizing that my self-talk was not working out for me. So I made a conscious effort to change.
Big, sweeping changes always start with a conscious decision. To change something, you must be aware that you need to change.
And so I made the decision. And I kept at it. The reality is this: it didn't happen right away. If you think about it, habits are called habits for a reason--they become ingrained in the very fabric of your being. So, to remove a bad habit and install a new one, I had some serious work to do.
This is what I did (and what I'm still doing) to correct my negative self-talk habit:
- I catch myself when I'm speaking badly and choose another way without judgment. Meditation has been helpful with this. Learning to meditate helped me spot my errant thinking and guide it, without judgment, onto a more productive track.
- I learned from people I admired. I realized that the most successful people in my life thought about themselves in certain ways. Of, course, I couldn't double-check my assumptions by peering into their brains, but I could notice the ways they spoke about themselves in everyday conversation. Their perspectives were balanced. They took the good and the bad of life and accepted both. They focused on a realistic viewpoints. I borrowed the balance that these people embodied.
- I talk to myself like I would a friend. Rather than using "I," I'll often say "you" when talking to myself. This simple switch creates some space and gets me thinking in a different way. "You made a silly mistake" doesn't sound as bad to me as "I made a silly mistake." I'll also throw in goofy terms of endearment, like "buddy boy" or "pal." "You're an idiot, buddy boy" just doesn't sound too harsh and damaging--and it makes me laugh at myself.
Bringing It All Together - Talking to Yourself
Now it's your turn. If you made it this far, you most likely talk to yourself in negative ways from time to time.
It's OK. Don't beat yourself up about it. Realize what's going on, and make the decision to change. It's all any of us can do when we're wrapped up in our negative self-talk.
Did any of my 3 self-talk suggestions resonate with you?
Go back and re-read it. Try it on for size today. You are not a negative person. You're a human being with a very human brain.
Negative self-talk is a common issue, but it's fixable.
And it can be a thing of the past for you.
Embrace your humanity, and then embrace a new way of talking to yourself.