How Do You Talk To Yourself? by Liz Watt

This might seem like a really strange question. Your instinctive response will probably be – of course you don’t talk to yourself – doesn’t that conjure up some pretty negative connotations? However, I don’t mean the ‘talking out loud while walking down the street’ scenario, but rather the inner dialogue you have with yourself, that no-one else is a party to.

Most of us, if we are honest, will admit that we have an inner dialogue in our heads, usually unbidden, that provides a running commentary on our actions and behaviours. And it is probably fair to say that this ‘inner chatter’ is usually of the negative variety. It’s as if there is an internal voice on a loop, providing judgement on what you are doing or saying, recalling hurtful things that have happened in the past and catastrophizing about things that haven’t yet come to pass.

If you do suffer from this ‘inner chatter’, you might find some consolation in the fact that you are not alone! For example, high performers are often very adept at being highly critical of themselves.

Whilst a certain amount of internal commentary can be a self-regulating device, a persistent diet of negative speak can have a really detrimental impact. These negative thoughts are often repetitious, and the danger is that they can become self-fulfilling prophesies and limiting beliefs. For example, ‘you’re useless at public speaking – you know you can’t stand up in a roomful of people’ or ‘there are loads of people better qualified than you for that job – why on earth would they pick you?’ or ‘you really are useless at talking to new people – why would anyone want to talk to you at this networking event?’ These are but 3 work based examples; similar conversations will probably be present in your personal life too.

The other impact is that it is exhausting! Dealing with a drip-feed of negativity, even if you are only half aware of it, can really grind you down, and suck the joy out life.

The question that is worth asking is this – would you talk to a friend the way you talk to yourself? I am confident that the answer would be no! So why would we continue to be so unkind to ourselves when we wouldn’t behave that way to other people? And when we realise that this self-talk can impact negatively on our perception of ourselves and our success in life?

It’s unlikely that just telling ourselves to stop with the negative talk will result in an immediate cessation of hostilities. Often these habits are long ingrained and have been with us since childhood. However, there are tools and tricks you can employ to turn this self talk around.

  • Be aware when you are beating yourself up or make some snarky comment to yourself; the very fact of noticing and realizing what you are doing will help you let the thought go and realise that this isn’t ‘real’ or ‘true’ – it is just a thought.
  • Remind yourself – in a non-reproachful way! – that this isn’t helpful; what are you achieving by being rude and dismissive to yourself?
  • Techniques such as meditation, practicing mindfulness, deep breathing can help clear your mind, centre you in the moment and stop your brain flitting from one negative thought to the next
  • Speak it out – talking to a trusted friend or colleague rather than internalizing negative thoughts can help you see these thought for what they are. In the same way, some people find writing their thoughts down has the effect of neutralizing them
  • Keeping active, being busy and purposeful, having distractions, whether this is music, reading, doing a jigsaw, exercising can all help to put anxious thoughts into perspective and lift your mood away from self-destructive tendencies.

As a closing point, I would urge you to remember, when you next find yourself catastrophizing about some unforeseen future event, that things rarely turn out as badly as you might have envisaged. Try and remember the successes and triumphs in your life, no matter how small, to use as a counter attack when that critical inner voice raises its head! With enough focused attention and awareness, and a little more kindness to yourself, maybe the volume of the inner chatter can at least be turned down a notch!

Talk to yourself - BEST ONE

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