People are always asking me, “what is self-talk?” Many have heard of it, but aren’t really sure how it applies to them; in a positive or a negative way. Comments I often hear are “you want me to talk to myself?” “out loud??” or “I don’t know what I’m saying to myself.” Self-talk is something you do naturally, sometimes without even being aware that you are doing it. It’s your inner voice, which can be motivating and supportive, or negative and self-destructive. This voice is helpful when it’s encouraging and can push you forward, regardless of uncertainties and fears. However, it can also cause self-doubt and anxiety when it’s negative. Simply put, your self-talk greatly impacts your mental state, your mood and your behavior.
I practice self-talk everyday of my life. I don’t really know where I would be without it. I would say that of all of the techniques out there to manage anxiety, self-talk has been one of the most successful for me; especially on a cognitive level. My negative comments that I say to myself are so predictable that I can catch them before I even think them! Especially if it’s a day that I need to put on a bathing suit or go shopping. So…what do I do? I prepare myself ahead of time. I make sure to always do my hair before going shopping, I wear the right shoes, the right bra and bring my A game. And I always have a couple of affirmations and mantras ready to go in my back pocket.
I know from talking to lots of people, that those with anxiety frequently experience negative self-talk. The internal banter that they have with themselves is often self-critical, relentless and unforgiving. The more aware a person becomes of the conversations they have with themselves internally, the quicker they can begin challenging the negativity. Positive self-talk is a powerful technique that can help with confidence, self-esteem, motivation and of course, anxiety.
Before a person can begin to overcome negative self-talk, they first need to learn to recognize what their thoughts are. Becoming aware of your self-talk doesn’t come naturally; it takes effort and work. You have to really focus on paying attention to what you’re thinking at the time that you feel anxious. If you follow these five steps, you will be well on your way to learning how to challenge your negative self-talk and turn it into something more positive:
- Identify and record the event that led to your anxiety and your negative thought
- Ask yourself what thoughts are going through your head and record them
- Identify the distortion in your thoughts. Two Psychologists, Dr. David Burns and Dr. Aaron Beck played major roles in developing theories and solutions surrounding cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are biased perspectives we have about ourselves and the world around us. They are often irrational. Here are a few types of distortions as adapted from Dr. Burns:
- All or nothing thinking: if your performance isn’t perfect, then you consider it a failure. You think in terms of extremes.
- Overgeneralization: you view one negative event as an overall pattern.
- Jumping to Conclusions: this is the false belief that you know what another person thinks and you often apply it to how you think they feel about you. Another aspect of jumping to conclusions, is the tendency to predict a future outcome based on no factual truth.
- Emotional reasoning: this occurs when you take your feelings and assume them to be a fact “I feel it, therefore, it must be so.”
- Should statements: these are statements about what you “should” do, what you “ought” to do, and what you “must” do. These statements are not just applied to yourself, but to others as well. They often lead to feelings of guilt, anger and frustration.
- Labeling and Mislabeling: this occurs when we label ourselves harshly as well as others (I’m so stupid or he never does anything right).
- Personalization: you blame yourself for events that weren’t your fault and take personally.
- Discounting the positive: you are able to acknowledge a positive experience, but you reject it instead of accept it.
- Write down and challenge your negative thought and cognitive distortion.
- Express how you feel after you challenged your negative thought and made it more positive. What is your level of anxiety from 0-10?
|Situation||Anxious Thought||Cognitive Distortion||Helpful Challenging Thought||Outcome, Feeling after Helpful Thought (0-10)|
|Important interview tomorrow||I never do well in interviews
I’m going to mess up
All or nothing thinking
|That’s not true. I’ve had jobs before and done well in interviews.
Even if the interview doesn’t go perfectly, doesn’t mean I won’t get the job.
I feel less frustrated
Questions to ask yourself to challenge negative self-talk:
- What is the worst thing that could happen? What would I do if that happened? Is it really so bad?
- Am I jumping to conclusions?
- Am I expecting myself to be perfect?
- Am I blaming myself for something that’s not my fault?
- Am I taking something too personally? Does it even have anything to do with me?
One of the questions that I ask myself that I’ve found to be the most helpful, is “what is the worst thing that could happen?” I find that when I ask that, I realize one of two things. First, I realize that the worst thing usually NEVER happens. And, I also usually realize that if the worst thing did happen, I’d probably be able to handle it and I’d probably be able to survive it. It’s like the Kelly Clarkson song: “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Sounds like a cliché, I know. But, it’s so true. With the right mindset, we can survive so much more than we give ourselves credit for.
I’m slightly ashamed to have to admit this, but I’ve been in not one, not two, but three serious car accidents. In one accident my car rolled upside down into a ditch, with my dog along for the ride, For a second one, I ended up having a car land on top of mine (that one made the newspaper) and for the last accident, a car went through a stop sign and threw my car into a dry cleaners. I mean, how unlucky can one person get?? But, believe it or not, each time, I got back in a car and drove again. My father was the key to that. He encouraged me and didn’t allow me to give into my fear. And seriously, what were the chances of me having a fourth accident? But I figured, even if I had a fourth, I would most likely survive it.
So, as you can see, being able to identify negative self-talk is not only helpful, but it’s an essential part of the process needed to change how you think, feel and behave. Identifying what your inner voice is telling you, takes practice and time. Give yourself a few weeks to become aware of what your thoughts are, record them and challenge them. If you commit to these steps, you should feel more positive and confident in no time.