‘Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.’
– Brené Brown
On first reading, this quote from academic, author and Ted Talk sensation, Brené Brown, sounds a little saccharine and self-indulgent. Do we really have to love ourselves in order to grow and succeed in life?
That’s not what she’s getting at. This is not about narcissism, selfishness or excessive self-interest. It’s not about raising yourself up above others or holding yourself in high-regard. What it is about is communication and confidence.
Self-talk is powerful
How you talk to yourself – whether aloud or in your head – can have a huge impact on how you feel and how you act. That persistent inner voice holds far greater sway over you than any other voices you might listen to on a daily basis. It can make you happy, energised, and motivated, or it can make you doubtful, discouraged and hesitant. Self-talk is a powerful thing. And because of its power, it’s important that you learn how to manage it so that you emphasise its positive qualities and mitigate its negative effects. The inner critic definitely seems to have more weapons in its arsenal than the inner advocate. Your job is to recognise that fact – and to even up the fight.
How do you talk to yourself?
The first step towards achieving this is to recognise when your self-talk might be becoming detrimental to your life. It’s not always that straightforward – your brain is super skilled at subtly undermining your confidence – and it becomes so automatic that you might not even realise it’s happening. Think about how you talk to yourself in different situations:
Do you frequently:
- blame yourself when things go wrong?
- make negative assumptions and over-generalisations about your abilities (or lack thereof)?
- catastrophise about situations and outcomes?
- talk to yourself in a demeaning or belittling way?
- find excuses to stop yourself from taking action?
- use phrases like ‘should have’ and ‘if only’?
The downside of negative self-talk
If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to most of these questions, it’s time to take action. Engaging in negative patterns of self-talk is damaging. It causes stress, depression, and studies show it is linked to an increase in mental health problems. It limits your ability to make decisions and take positive action – in other words, it stops you from progressing.
So what can you do to change that negative inner dialogue?
How to silence your inner critic.
1 – Zero tolerance.
When your inner critic pipes up, imagine it is talking to someone you love – your child, for example. Would you tolerate someone talking to your child in an overly critical, demeaning way? Would you let them blame your child for something that wasn’t their fault? Or what about your best friend? If they had done something wrong, would you let someone hurl harsh accusations or recriminations at them without defending them? Would you stand for someone constantly putting them down? If the answer is ‘no’ to these questions, then don’t allow your inner critic to treat you that way either. Have a zero tolerance policy to negative self-talk. As soon as you hear it, stop it dead in its tracks. Research has shown that saying ‘stop’ after negative thoughts can effectively help people mitigate their effects. Use the immediate power of ‘stop’ to halt that negative, destructive voice in its tracks.
2 – No judgement.
NEVER label yourself, or name-call. Even if you have made a mistake or done something wrong – use neutral language when thinking about a situation. Acknowledge what has happened, stick to the facts, keep your thoughts specific to the scenario at hand and do not be tempted to apportion blame.
3 – Use constructive questions.
Ask yourself positive questions to get your brain to start problem-solving – it acts as a call to action. It gets you to start moving forward. If you are tempted to ruminate on something bad that has happened – just stop and ask yourself – ‘what can I learn from this?’ instead of blaming yourself or going over and over what went wrong. Use constructive questions and the information these reveal to move yourself forward.
4 – Give yourself instructions in the second person.
Give yourself a clear goal when you talk to yourself – this gives you more focus and self-control.
Some research has shown that saying ‘you will be able to get this job’ for example, is more effective than saying ‘I will be able to get this job’ – perhaps moving the focus away from yourself gives you greater perspective? Whatever the reason, it’s worth giving it a try. Make your inner voice talk to you as if you were someone else it was trying to encourage.
5 – Be compassionate.
When something has gone wrong or you don’t get the result you were hoping for, don’t use the benefit of hindsight to beat yourself up. Recognise that the decisions you make or action you took was the best you could have done in the circumstances. Even if you feel that you could have been better or behaved differently, remember a) you’re human and b) any criticism you throw at yourself will just make it all the harder to make the right call the next time.
6 – Be your own champion.
Why wait for others to build you up when you can build yourself up? All those words of encouragement you love to hear from those who support and believe in you are also available to you. “You’ve got this”, “I believe in you”, “You’re amazing”, “I’m so proud of you” – don’t underestimate the power of championing statements like these to lift you up and keep you there. If you’re not used to being your own champion this will feel hard at first. But don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to feel amazing first, before you tell yourself you’re amazing. Remember the power of self-talk – those thoughts become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
7 – Practice makes perfect.
As with any form of behaviour change, it only works if you are consistent and persistent. If you have been talking to yourself negatively for your whole life – it won’t be easy. But every time you hear that inner critic, go through these steps. The more you do it – the more of an automatic response talking to yourself fairly and positively will become. And if you haven’t seen it – watch the animated movie ‘Inside Out’. It may be a kids’ film, but sometimes it takes looking at things from a child’s perspective to really hammer the point home.