If your internal dialogue is only ever positive, loving and affirming, then there’s nothing for you to see here! Move along, and go browse my other blog posts! 🙂
However, if you suffer from negative self-talk; if your internal voice berates you with unwanted and unhelpful chatter, and is sometimes downright rude and hostile, then read on to discover ways to deal with it.
The impact of negative self-talk
Disempowering internal dialogue (aka negative self-talk) has an adverse impact on your overall wellbeing. Understand the ramifications negative self-talk can have on your health by reading a brief article and listening to a 2-minute audio called “How Words Affect Your Health” Come back to this post afterwards.
No doubt you’re now even more motivated to change that negative self-talk!
O.K. so you have a sense of the physical, emotional and mental damage generated by your negative self-talk, it’s time to deal to it.
Let me introduce you to your internal terrorist!
He (or she — there’ no sexism here!) criticises and judges you and your behaviour. He is more likely to make his presence felt when you feel under some kind of stress. The voice tone sounds like an intolerant parent — or a global dictator! His smear campaign might begin as a kind of running commentary — pointing out everything you’re doing ‘wrong’.
Once you’ve exposed him, you’re on your way to disarm him, but you need to be vigilant. No doubt he’s been lurking in the shadows for a while and is not about to give up and go away without some serious interrogation.
So how do you change your inner dialogue and send the internal terrorist packing?
If your internal terrorist has been around for a while, it means you’ve granted him access and let him run wild in your mind. The more you’ve allowed this, the easier it is for him to sneak in without you even noticing. He’s become a habit.
So step one: be vigilant.
Notice the negative self-talk beginning. Don’t beat yourself up when you spot it — acknowledge yourself for doing so. You’re becoming more aware.
Step two: Set a tripwire to STOP him dead in his tracks
Do this by any — or all of the following:
- Say STOP out loud (but not if you’re a passenger in a vehicle!) or in your head.
- Imagine a STOP sign or a red traffic light.
- Distract yourself by taking a sniff of your favorite oil or perfume.
- Start singing or say a positive affirmation out loud (this is the equivalent of putting your hands over your ears and shouting “Na, na na na!”)
- Snap your fingers or tap your desk.
Whatever works for you to disrupt the self-talk for a few seconds. A few moments is all you need to create a change. Then you have several options.
1. Challenge the negative thoughts
This is where the interrogation begins. Confront the little monster by questioning the content of self-talk. Questions such as
- Is this true? Be objective about this. (If the answer’s yes, what evidence do you have?)
- Is it always true? What percentage of the time is it true? Again, try to be objective.
- What can I learn from this?
- And if I learn that, what will that mean?
- What’s the positive intention of the internal voice? (Believe it or not, there often is a positive intention.)
- How can I achieve the positive intention in another way?
O.K. Time for an example
Let’s say your inner terrorist has some opinions on a mistake you made; “Gee, you’re useless, that’s another mistake. You’re always making mistakes, blah, blah, blah etc.,” Running the questions above might go something like:
Q1 : Is it true? “Am I really useless and do I always make mistakes? Well, it sometimes feels like that.”
Q2: Is it always true? What percentage of the time is it true? A: “I guess if I’m honest, it isn’t always true. Actually, I’ve got quite a lot right today, so no, it’s not always true. In fact, on a scale of 100, I’ve got about 98% right.”
Q3: What can I learn from this? “Well, I’ve learned that if I do ‘x’, I get a poor result. But, if I do ‘y’ I get a better result.”
Q4: And if I learn that, what will it mean? “It means if I do ‘y’ in the future, I’ll get consistently better results.”
Q5: What’s the constructive intention of the internal voice? (Just ask – you’ll get an answer.) “Hmm, it’s making me aware of the mistake so I can learn and not repeat it.”
Q6: How can I achieve the intention in another way? “I could just stop and acknowledge when I’ve made a mistake, note the positive learning and move on!”
2. Move your butt!
Move from the spot where the negative self-talk or worry is occurring. If possible, go outside or to a window. Look up and out and put all your attention on what you observe. When your attention is outside yourself, you won’t be so aware of the self-talk.
Begin commentating on what you see and hear, looking and listening for more and more detail.
For example, ‘I can see the trees, they’re getting thrashed in the wind … I can hear the wind whistling through them … oh, and there’s a starling clinging to the branch… there’s a plane off in the distance…etc.’
This only take a few seconds. Notice how your voice sounds more animated and upbeat when your attention is outside yourself. You’ll be aware you feel a little better. Then go back to where you were with a fresh mind.
3. Congratulate yourself
Notice and congratulate yourself on all the things you do well. Even little wins that you recognise and consciously affirm can make a big difference to your self-esteem. You’ll begin retraining your internal terrorist. He might even become your best friend. Discover some more terrorist training tips in 7 super easy ways to cheer yourself up fast — using only your body and mind.
4. Adopt ‘Steph’s Rule’
Imagine if you said some of things you say to yourself, to someone else. What do you think would happen? I suspect, at the very least, you might lose all your friends. In these circumstances, you can adopt Steph’s rule.
What’s Steph’s rule?
It’s simple: Only talk to yourself using the words and tone you would use to someone you really care about. Now there’s a challenge for you!
Remember that this will be an ongoing process
The good news is that the more you can interrupt the unwanted self-talk and apply the tips in this post, the easier it will be to do so in the future. These processes help you rewire your brain and improve your wellbeing and self-esteem.
Here are the four tips to stop your negative self-talk
- Challenge any unwanted thoughts.
- Move your butt.
- Congratulate yourself for what you do well.
- Adopt Steph’s rule.
Other ways to help to enhance your self-esteem and wellbeing
- 7 super easy ways to cheer yourself up fast — using only your body and mind.
- How to Change Your Mind eBook
- How to sabotage the night terrorist
- Musting: How to put off procrastinating