How many of us are clouded in thoughts that are self-critical, demeaning and shaming? I could confidently say all of us have fallen victim to such defeating and counterproductive patterns.
Negative self-talk is often learned throughout our life from toxic people and difficult experiences. We learned to punish ourselves to motivate us for change. However, does it actually help? I argue that it doesn't. Though it may give us a temporary push to make changes out of fear, it's not sustainable.
For lasting and meaningful changes, positive self-talk is the key and jet fuel to get you where you would like to go.
What are common negative self-talk patterns we get stuck in?
The belief that things are supposed to be a certain way. The level of shame involved in "should" statements is poisonous.
- "I should have known."
- "I should always smile and be friendly."
- "I shouldn't make mistakes."
Disqualifying the Positive
Recognizing only negative aspects of a situation and ignoring the positive aspects. Oftentimes, we hear several positive comments about our performance, but focus on the one negative comment. Especially with our social media culture, it's easy to fixate on and absorb negativity from other people.
Seeing only the worst possible outcome of a situation. Some people say they expect the worst in attempt to minimize the pain and disappointment if something bad happens. But, does it actually take away the pain?
Jumping to Conclusions
Interpreting the meaning of a situation with little or no evidence. We often base our conclusions on previous experiences, emotions or assumptions.
How to stimulate positive self-talk patterns
What could you try instead?
Instead of "Should" Statements:
Take the shame away—it has no place here. Small changes in language can have big changes to our perspective. These statements show acknowledgment of the error and a plan for next time. We are building towards hope.
- "I missed that, but this will make me better next time."
- "I aim to be friendly most days, but I understand that sometimes it's alright if I'm having a bad day."
- "We all make mistakes, but I will strive to be more careful."
Instead of Disqualifying the Positive:
We often painstakingly describe bad experiences but are concise with positive experiences. For example:
"How was your day?"
"How was your day?"
"Awful! I was late for work because of traffic, I forgot my phone, I forgot my coffee, and my boss was super rude about it!"
Even when things are going bad, I challenge you to find little windows of positivity, as well, and detail it. They may be hidden, so sometimes we have to look really hard!
Instead of Catastrophizing:
It's okay to acknowledge that a bad outcome may occur, but then include all options in the spectrum. Our perspective is important to our emotions and behaviors. If we always anticipate the worst, it could negatively impact our health (high blood pressure, high cortisol levels, fatigue, sleep disturbances) and mood (anxiety, irritability).
Instead of Jumping to Conclusions:
Get all the facts first. Assuming cuts corners and doesn't give us the quality we deserve when in a situation. Take a moment to take a few breathes and clear your mind. I like the illustration of a jar with water and dirt. It's cloudy and fuzzy when shaken up, however after a few seconds, the dust settles and it's much clearer. Let yourself settle before acting.
Finally, externalize that negative voice.
I like to call it your positive inner coach. Externalizing your negative thoughts can help you challenge them.
Most of us would not tolerate if someone spoke to us the way we speak to ourselves. What would your positive inner coach say? Keep going! Try again! You're almost there! You got this! The power of that encouragement and belief can be life-changing.
What is your positive inner coach telling you today?
Written by Dr. Diana Ro, a Doctoral Limited Licenses Psychologist at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services.
Courtesy of Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services.