What You Should Know About Self-talk
Every minute of every day your brain constantly searches for the next thought. You can’t stop it. There is no pause button.
It's called self-talk - a running dialogue of random thoughts inside your head. These thoughts have the power to make you feel like you're on top of the world or like giving up.
This blog shows why you need to gain control of these thoughts or nothing changes. They are THAT important!
What is Self-Talk?
Self-talk reflects your own personal commentary of daily life. These include private dreams, goals, secret judgments, worries about the future and regrets of the past. Self-talk can be positive or negative. It's true that while you can't control your first thought you can catch the second one and decide to change it.
Here's how it works. First, you have a thought, which creates an emotion that leads to a behavior. Thought triggers Feeling which influences Behavior. Another name for this process is Cognitive-behavioral Therapy. It is deceptively simple but very powerful. This cycle happens over and over again which explains why some days are great and others suck.
What Self-talk Looks Like In Action
Example: You wake up excited to take a trip that day. The initial thought of being excited sets the tone for how you feel. Your thoughts are focused on the adventure ahead and you feel happy. You have a nice chat with your uber driver on the way to the airport. You feel energized and ready to go!
All of that started with that initial thought of being excited about your trip.
Here's what happens when self-talk is negative.
Example: You wake up dreading the trip. You hate flying and wish you didn't have to go. You're missing your kids recital and feel like a bad parent. You feel stressed going to the airport. Your driver talks about his kids and you get annoyed. You start feeling sick from all the stress.
Can you see what's different? The quality of your self-talk determines how your day starts.
Where Self-talk Starts
The majority of self-talk comes from the past. Messages heard in childhood have the most impact on how internal dialogue develops. In other words what you heard as a child becomes the foundation for your self-talk. This impacts self-esteem well into adulthood.
Negative statements like:
“I wish you were more like your sister” or “You can’t do anything right” create a spiral of self-doubt that's hard to stop.
Positive self-talk focuses on what's going well, goals and dreams. Negative self-talk ruminates on mistakes, fears and assumptions about what others think about you. Almost anything can contribute to your internal conversation.
The First Step in Change
The first step in changing self-talk is to identify it. Pay attention to what you’re telling yourself throughout the day. Here are some examples.
- I hate my job and wish I could just stay home.
- I'm too fat, thin, ugly, short, tall, etc.
- I can't do anything right.
- I wish I were more like (so and so).
- Things never work out for me.
- Here we go again.
- Why can't it be my turn?
Once you can identify these thoughts it's important to trace them back to significant experiences that include:
- Family attitudes and beliefs
- Traumatic events
- Any abuse, rejection or abandonment
- How you were treated as a child
- Influences from authority figures
- Any perceived criticism
As you become more aware of your self-talk, you’ll recognize that some of the most powerful messages in your head aren’t even yours! They belong to family members, kids you grew up with and teachers who made an impact on your life.
Here's the thing - if these negative thoughts aren't yours why are your keeping them?
Why Self-talk Is Critical
Thoughts have a tremendous impact on mood and behavior. For example, you dread a meeting at work. By assuming the worst, you feel more and more anxious. By the time you finally get to work you're filled with self-doubt. As a result, you're too nervous to contribute at the meeting. Your boss isn't happy with you. That fear helped dictate your behavior.
Instead focus on identifying negative thoughts early. Thinking “here we go again or "this is going to be a disaster" starts a chain of negative assumptions. Thoughts influence emotions even when you're not aware of them.
Tips for Improving Self-Talk
When self-talk is negative, it's hard to know how to stop it. These thoughts are automatic and shape how you feel about yourself and how you view the world.
Letting go of these thoughts takes two things, practice and courage. That’s because change - even if it's positive can trigger a fear of the unknown. The acronym for FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real. Often, what's familiar is easier to handle than what you don’t know. Catching these thoughts can prevent them from becoming catastrophes.
Here are some tip for improving your self-talk:
Examples of Positive Self-talk
- You can do this.
- I can handle whatever happens.
- I don’t need to control the outcome.
- I’m doing a great job.
- Everything is going to be okay.
1. Write a Gratitude List
This is a popular technique because it works. The next time you're feeling down, list ten things that you're grateful for out loud. By the time you get to five, you'll probably notice an attitude shift.
Positive (or negative) thoughts create more of the same. You get to choose where to put your focus every single day. Notice what your thoughts are telling you. Don't judge them, just practice noticing where your mind wanders. You can't control thoughts you don't know you have.
2. Accept Compliments
Changing your self-talk requires being kinder to yourself. Practice acknowledging your good qualities. If you get stuck, think of past compliments you've received. Use those to create more loving self-talk. Fake it until you make it works here!
3. Identify Stress Early
Stress creates havoc when you ignore it. At first, you might not realize how stress impacts you but eventually your thinking becomes more negative when you don’t take care of yourself. Thoughts of frustration and expecting yourself to be perfect creates even more stress.
Instead, rate your stress level from 1-10. As that number climbs so does your upset. This provides another opportunity to manage your self-talk. Once you recognize what you're telling yourself, change the conversation.
Self-talk can be either your friend or your foe. Your thoughts have incredible power to dictate your outlook on everything. Here's a challenge for you. Try writing them all down for one whole day. You might be surprised at what you tell yourself. Getting control of your thoughts takes practice - and a willingness to make self-talk your friend.
What's one thing you can do today to change your self-talk?
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