If someone asked, you’d guess you’re a pretty positive glass-half-full kind of person.
So why do you feel stuck? Why does it seem like something’s holding you back?
It’s likely your negative self-talk — the sabotaging words that you say to yourself, and believe.
You see, your brain is listening to you as you go through your day. It has voice to text, taking dictation.
“Did you say you’re stressed? Got it. Not creative? Ok. Too fat? Whatever you say.”
Your brain is laying down pathways with these commands to help you remember. Especially whatever words you repeat.
But what can you do?
If you’re ready to be free of these psychological mind traps that stymie your progress in devious ways, read on.
Why negative self-talk?
It starts when you’re young, and a teacher or parent first tells you “You can’t…” or “You’re not…”.
A few repetitions and it sticks. You think “I’ll never be…”.
You’ve repeated these subconscious thoughts till they’re etched into you.
They’re the default words that spring up to define and diminish you.
Negative self-talk warps how you see yourself.
Some say we have between 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts every day (although a recent study found it’s more like 6000).
But here’s the kicker — 80% of the thoughts are negative and 95% are the same as yesterday.
No wonder you’re feeling like you can’t move on.
It turns out, we all suffer from this.
Here are 5 broad categories of self-talk. Sometimes they overlap.
Do any sound familiar?
1. The sky is falling
You extrapolate from one incident to the worst possible conclusion. You catastrophize.
“I got up late. It’s going to be one of those days.”
“I saw the news. The country’s going to the dogs. “
“I goofed up on the job interview so I won’t’ get the job and we could lose the house.”
2. No middle ground
You see options in black and white. Everything polarizes to far ends of the spectrum. If it’s not perfect, it’s a failure.
“It’s hopeless. I’ll never be good at anything.”
“Nothing ever goes right for me.”
“Noone likes me.”
3. It’s always like this
You overgeneralize. You assume one event is a lifelong pattern.
“I blew it. That’s what I do.”
“I could try another diet but they’ve never worked for me.”
“I didn’t win the raffle. But I never win at anything.”
4. What if …?
You overthink into the future. You dream up problems before you even start.
“What if I can’t do this and I look stupid?”
“What if I make a fool of myself?”
“What if I don’t know what to say and clam up?”
5. It’s all about me
You label yourself with emotionally charged words. Or personalize events as if you control them.
“I’m such a jerk/loser/stuff up.”
“My friend canceled on me. What did I do to offend her?”
“We lost again. I’m a total drag on the team.”
How to change the conversation?
The first step in overcoming negative self-talk is to recognize what you’re saying to yourself. To become self-aware.
Pay attention to what you say when you’re feeling cramped inside. When you’re saying no to an opportunity or challenge.
Try writing down your self-talk words or reality-checking them with a friend.
Ask yourself, “Is this really who I am and will always be?”
When they resurface, edit the negative words immediately. Reprogram your brain with specific and positive phrases, in the present tense.
Instead of “I’m so stressed. I can never get on top of my life,” try
“I’m in charge of my time. I only commit to what I can happily do.”
Or, rather than saying, “I’ll never learn this. It’s hopeless,” try
“I’m doing my best. That’s all I can do.”
Watch how you speak about yourself to others as well. If you limit yourself, others will take your word for it and reflect your small self back to you.
And be alert to the negative self-talk around you — your family, co-workers, the media. How are they all contributing to this drama?
Over time and with practice, you’ve built up negative self-talk. Over time and with practice, you can convert it into constructive language.
You can speak to yourself in a kinder way, the way you speak to support your friends.
Does science back up that positive self-talk works? A broad research review says yes. Positive self-talk helped in sports performance. It also reduced anxiety, improved concentration, and focus.
It’s well-known by coaches in sports, business, and life, that winning the “mind game” is critical to success.
Who’s in charge now?
Recognize some familiar negative self-talk patterns here?
You literally can be your own worst enemy.
You’ll appreciate how insidious are those quiet conversations with yourself.
Start today by taking back the reins on your mind.
You know how to hold the horse and steer it the way you want to go.
Talk to yourself the way you do to your best friend.
You’ve always had her back and now you have your own as well.
Watch closely as your words turn into your dreams.