The way we talk to ourselves matters. Not only does the inner dialogue we engage in shape our perception of our place in the world, it affects our emotions and motivations. It can really suck when your harshest critic lives in your brain. However, it is possible to take control of your inner dialogue if you decide to be more intentional with your thoughts and words.
A 2012 study by researchers at the University of Lethbridge found that in order to integrate positive self-talk, three steps were necessary: first, one must be aware of their inner critic. Second, one must develop strategies to transform negative self-chatter into positive self-talk. Third, they must make positive self-talk a daily habit.
In an effort to help with the second step of the process, we asked authors, therapists, and podcasters about what tactics people can use to minimize––if not outright banish––those pesky, destructive voices in your head. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Interrupt the Cycle and Honor Your Successes
When you find yourself being self-critical, gently say, “I have decided that I no longer speak to myself in that way” and reframe the thought. For example, if you think, “I cannot do this” before a big presentation, the reframe might be, “I am nervous because this presentation matters to me, but I have worked hard to prepare and I have something important to offer.” By gently interrupting the cycle each time it begins, you create a disruption in that behavior and reaffirm your commitment to treating yourself more positively.
Grab a jar or bowl and each time you reframe your thinking or positively celebrate yourself, drop some change or something else that can serve as a visual reminder (dried beans, buttons, beads) of your progress into your jar. If you opt for change, you can then use the change to treat yourself to something when you have acquired enough money. This visual tool serves as a powerful reminder of the progress you are making in relating to yourself more positively. - Rosie Molinary , author of Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance
Hit the Target, Not the Bullseye
I often tell people all you need to do in life is hit the target, not the bullseye. The bullseye is a perfectionistic standard. The only way we fail at something is by avoiding it, not trying, or only doing things we are good at. We don’t grow or lead fulfilling lives this way. When we have more realistic expectations for ourselves and learn to pat ourselves on the back instead of kick ourselves in the pants, we start to feel better about ourselves. When we are trying to train children to do better, 95-percent should be praise and 5-percent should be correction. This is how children learn best, and the same is true for us. - Jennifer Shannon , licensed psychotherapist and author of Don’t Feed the Monkey Mind: How to Stop the Cycle of Anxiety, Fear, and Worry
Ask Questions and Get Zen
If we approach these harmful thoughts from a place of curiosity (“Why do I keep thinking about this thing that’s hurting me?”) instead of guilt or shame (“I shouldn’t be thinking about this because I know it’s bad”) not only are we practicing self-compassion, but also have a greater chance of finding the root of the issue and taking a step towards healing the underlying problem.
Science is finally starting to talk about the benefits of meditation, gratitude practices and other ways to rewire our brain. We’re learning more and more every day that we have the power to practice compassion for ourselves, positive thinking and other exercises that will literally change the way our brain works. For those who want a deep dive, I recommend researching neuroplasticity and learning about how we can regain control of things we once thought were permanent. - Jes Baker , author, speaker and self-love advocate
Put things in perspective
When I’m negative, I remind myself I’m not the first person to ever screw up or be late on a deadline. Everyone in this generation seems to have some form of imposter syndrome. The common denominator isn’t our lack of ability, it’s our abundance of self-doubt. We’ve had more wins than losses so reflect on that when the negativity creeps up on you. - Yaminah Mayo , multimedia content creator and host of the Blah Blah Blah podcast
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