One of the things that all humans have in common is our non-stop thinking. Our brains almost never stop their chatter, except for when we fall asleep at night. The quality of that mental self-talk can affect us profoundly. You might never have noticed the things you tell yourself, day after day. And yet that mental chatter affects the quality of your life. How?
Think about what happens when someone compliments you. You might immediately discount the compliment, saying to yourself that they are just being nice, or they don’t know the real you. You may feel embarrassed and say something to try and defuse the praise. Perhaps you physically look away, overcome by the feelings of shame that might accompany the notion that you are receiving something for which you’re unworthy.
Ask yourself what underlies your discomfort with compliments.
Why wouldn’t you simply look the person in the eye and say “thank you,” acknowledging what they are praising you for? Why aren’t you able to praise your own skills, talents, and accomplishments? You can’t take these compliments to heart because your own mind has convinced you that you don’t deserve them.
This self-doubt also extends to the choices you make in your life. What happens when you have a dream or big goal that you’d like to pursue? You might talk yourself out of it before you begin to take action, stopping yourself in your tracks. Perhaps your fear of failure causes you to put the brakes on your most cherished projects.
Failure is something that self-confident people are comfortable with, for they know that it is one of the ways they learn new things. Yet when you’re convinced that you don’t have what it takes to succeed, you might worry that failure is the only sure outcome.
This fear of failure is particularly strong when you’re trying something brand-new. When your mental chatter is negative in tone and you doubt your basic competence, that energy is increased once you begin to create change. Your patterns of fear and unworthiness become threatened – perhaps your new venture will succeed, rendering them obsolete. Your ego mind ramps up its negative self-talk, wanting to hold you back from following your dreams.
The ego-mind wants you to stay in the comfort zone, doing the things you’ve always done. Truthfully, this comfort zone probably isn’t all that comfortable. And yet, for the most part, you stay there. The reason is simple: habits require a lot of energy to shift.
Like water that flows in the same channel year after year, habits follow the path of least resistance. Sometimes it takes an obstacle to change the flow, or a strong desire for change.
When you’re faced with a crisis, or finally grow tired of following the same path over and over again, then your intention becomes strong. Your ego-mind is not the entirety of your consciousness. Your observer self can step back and see the patterns you’ve fallen into. That is the part of yourself you can tap into when you want to release the negative inner voices that are holding you back. It will require practice and strength of will, yet you are uniquely able to transform your own harsh words into supportive encouragement.
Transform Trash Talk to Encouragement
The best way to begin the process of retraining yourself away from negative mental chatter is to notice. Tap into your inner observer. This is the part of you that watches, with a clear and open eye, what goes on in your life. You might think of it like a loving older friend or mentor, one who is removed enough from your day-to-day life to offer wise words of counsel.
When you open to it and allow this voice to come through, it can help you to see beyond the negativity that has become a habit of mind.
Start by taking just one day to observe what goes on inside your head. Perform this observation without judgment. Be as objective as possible. When you speak negatively, whether aloud or in your mind, notice and affirm that you have noticed. As life coach Josha Grant likes to observe, “Isn’t that curious…”
Here’s an example. You get up in the morning and head for the shower. As you undress, you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. Your first reaction is “ugh, I’ve really got to hit the gym and lose those extra pounds.” Pause, and notice. Say to yourself, “Isn’t that curious, that I’m feeling bad about the way my physical body looks?” Be as objective as possible in the language you use to observe.
Don’t scold yourself for it, or try to change it. Simply pay attention.
When you begin this practice, devote an entire day to it. Set an intention for the process, such as “Today I notice my self-talk” or “For today, I am the observer of my mental chatter.” Remember that you are new to this way of being. There will be a learning curve. If you forget from time to time, simply bring yourself back to the moment when you do remember. Some people like to create a physical reminder, like post-it notes or a bracelet that you shift from one wrist to another each time you observe negative self-talk.
You can choose to keep track of your observations, or simply let them flow through your consciousness. If you enjoy journaling, write about your experience at the end of the day. If external processing is more your thing, choose a trusted friend and share how it went. Keep track of your observations in your own way. You might wish to expand your process of observation, continuing it for a few more days or even a week. Do what feels right to you.
NOTE: The above is an excerpt from my book Cultivating Self-Love: Your Path to Wholeness. I’m delighted to announce that as of this week, the book is available in paperback! Get your copy today, and welcome more self-love into your life. It also makes a great holiday gift for friends or family members. Blessings!