Do you ever feel like you are being held back from trying new things because your inner voice says things like I’m not adventurous enough to do that? Have you wanted to engage in an activity but held back because you thought I’m not fit enough to participate? Have you wanted to change careers but were afraid to fail? Have you ever come home after a party or a date and berated yourself for something you said that you thought was dumb?
I know I’ve experienced all those thoughts at one time or another. At different times in my life I’ve struggled with different issues, but the core was always that nagging inner voice telling me that in some way I just wasn’t good enough or that I needed to keep my expectations small because I wasn’t ever going to achieve anything worthwhile. I worried I wasn’t pretty enough or smart enough and my negative self-talk was always pointing out something I’d done to confirm those thoughts.
I came to realize I wasn’t alone in these negative patterns. Women (and men) everywhere have that same inner voice that is quick to point out how inadequate we are. We constantly tell ourselves all the things we can’t do or replay a scene over and over in our mind where we made a mistake or even just said the wrong thing. We beat ourselves up for days and sometimes much longer as our negative self-talk calls these things to mind. I’ve spoken to women who appear completely confident and self-assured on the outside but are filled with the same doubts and self-limiting thoughts on the inside.
But this doesn’t have to be the way we live. We can choose to banish that negative inner voice in the same way we overcome any negative habit. It takes a consistent effort over time, but we can replace those negative thoughts with positive ones that reinforce our inherent value. If you would like to shut down that negative inner voice once and for all, then read on.
The first step we can take to overcome this negative self-talk is to:
1. Acknowledge the voice inside of us.
Much of the time we may not even consciously hear that inner voice and realize it is working on us. As I was thinking about this blog, I happened to go into the kitchen and put a dirty glass on the counter, then as I left, for some reason I picked it up and started to walk out of the kitchen with it in my hand. A moment after realizing what I was doing I said, “you idiot” out loud to myself and then realized what I had just said. We are so used to hearing our inner voice say things like, “you idiot”, “that was stupid”, “you did it again”, “you are such a klutz”, “can’t you do anything right” that we don’t even realize it on a completely conscious level.
So, the first thing we need to do is make an effort to recognize that negative self-talk when we hear it. Start today and for a week become consciously aware whenever your inner voice says something negative or limiting and write it down. Maybe you can even give your inner voice a name like Negative Nelly, Debbie Downer or Killjoy Kate. Brene Brown, a research professor and author of The Gifts of Imperfection, refers to her inner critics as The Gremlin.
2. Accept that your negative inner voice is not an accurate reflection of who you are.
You are not defined by the messages from any internal or external negative influence. You are a wholly unique and special individual made up of a collection of traits, behaviors, thoughts and feelings. Even if you have done something pretty stupid, it hardly reflects you as a whole. You spend your days being perfectly competent and yet your inner voice wants to hone in on a specific instance when you do something wrong. Imagine if you were watching a baby learning to walk? Would you tell her what a klutz she is when she falls? Of course not, you celebrate the steps she does take.
3. Respond back to that inner voice.
Start answering those negative messages. The next time you make a mistake, like grabbing a dirty glass and taking it back out of the kitchen with you and your inner (or in my case outer) voice says “you idiot”, talk back and tell yourself you are not an idiot. You are intelligent and do many more things right than the mistake you just made. Remember, that voice in our heads that is prone to criticize us at every turn is not being helpful by pointing out every little flaw. When our inner voice tells us something negative repeatedly, our brains will start to look for proof to affirm those negative thoughts.
4. Replace your negative voice with a positive one.
Going forward, when Negative Nelly starts to chime in, consciously choose to ignore that voice and replace it with something positive instead. As I replaced the dirty glass on the counter the other day, I said “you are not an idiot, your mind is simply on something else and in fact you are very intelligent”. Eventually, you will create new pathways in your brain so that positive thoughts come automatically. Also remember, we do make mistakes, we are human and that is just part of being human.
The important takeaway is that we are not defined by our mistakes. We are not stupid because we do something stupid. We make a mistake, we learn from it and move on. Don’t let your inner voice define you by the mistakes you’ve made. Don’t dwell on the negatives, focus on your strengths and the positive things you do every day. If you genuinely have something you need to improve on, then change the way you focus on it. For example if you struggle with exercising calling yourself a lazy so and so isn’t motivating. Instead reframe your thoughts as a call to action and give yourself encouragement to change. Think about how you would respond to a good friend if they were down on themselves.
5. Record your new interactions.
Try journaling for at least a week at the end of the day. Record the positive thoughts you chose to replace negative ones with. This will help reinforce positive messages by keeping a permanent record for future reflection. This is a great way to track progress over time. While you are at it, write down a couple of your strengths each day. Over time you will get a more accurate and positive picture of who you really are. Another post on this site that can give you more to think about is Happiness, Vulnerability and Being Enough.
You are now sufficiently armed with the tools to combat your own negative self-talk. We are prone to falling back into old habits so be consistent in your efforts. Join me on my Facebook page and let me know how you are doing or if you are struggling with a particularly difficult area. We all need encouragement from time to time and especially when we are making changes in our lives. All of us are worthy of hearing only positive self-talk. That doesn’t mean we ignore mistakes. We can acknowledge them in a positive way as a learning opportunity and then move on, but listening to a negative message over and over just destroys our self-confidence and makes us fearful of trying new things.
1. Acknowledge the voice.
2. Accept that it is not an accurate reflection of you.
3. Respond back.
4. Replace negative with positive.
5. Record the changes in your journal.
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