INNER TALK AND OUTER REALITY
Your self-talk is constant. You are mentally talking to yourself all the time. In fact all day long you are giving yourself more advice, feedback, criticism and encouragement than anyone else ever could.
This mental chatter is often called your self-talk, or inner dialogue and it can have a direct bearing on your health and wellbeing. This is why taking charge of your inner talk is an important part of coaching yourself to better health.
For one thing, it has a direct bearing on your self-esteem, it also affects how you react to stress, your motivation levels and your outer performance. So taking the time to catch yourself saying self-deprecating things to, or about yourself, then deliberately changing them into something more positive is one of the most important things you can do.
How often have you been aware of saying derogatory things about yourself either inwardly or out loud? Can you imagine speaking to your best friend like that? Probably not. Yet we all say things like, “I don’t deserve,” or, “I’m not good enough,” on a regular basis and occasionally this can get out of balance leaving us feeling low in confidence and exhausted. Happily, the reverse is also true; if your mental chatter is predominantly positive it can be a tremendous asset to you and it’s one of the key steps in turning around your limiting self-beliefs and opening up new horizons.
Strangely enough, when you catch yourself using negative self-talk, the first thing to do is to congratulate yourself for having managed to observe what you are doing. This is really important because without that observation you are powerless to change, but with it, you give yourself the gift of being able to choose again. This time choosing words that reflect your true worth and potential.
Just consider for a moment how often you linger on past memories or images that are negative, deprecating, limiting or unhelpful. Most of us tend to let the patterns of our past colour our experiences in the present, yet the simple truth is this; if you spend time dwelling on negative images of yourself, then before you know it you will begin to believe that those thoughts and images are actually true and your inner-talk becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It is all too easy to programme yourself in this way without even realising what you are doing. Vivid repetition of these imaginings can easily trick you into believing that this reduced and compromised version of yourself is who you really are. But it’s not who you are and the good news is that there is no need to let the patterns of your past become your predictions for the future.
With just a little bit of effort, you can reframe your past and make new choices so that you are no longer caught on the treadmill of negative thought patterns. Best of all though is that this doesn’t require hours of soul searching, just a willingness to go searching for new memories of those forgotten or ignored truths about yourself which uphold the positive qualities that you do want.
If you allow yourself the time to improve your self-talk I think you will be very pleasantly surprised at the results. Whatever you go looking for, you will find and it really is up to you which memories you choose to emphasise and accept as your truth and which you want to reject.
Here is a simple formula that is well worth remembering:
IMAGINATION X VIVIDNESS = REALITY IN YOUR MIND
It’s a curious fact but your subconscious mind does not know the difference between an actual experience and one that is vividly imagined. This means that an event need not occur in reality for you to register either a positive or negative reaction to it. In other words when you imagine something with great vividness using all of your senses it can seem very real in your mind. In fact, one of the functions of your subconscious mind is to ensure that you always act in accordance with your self-image which is why focusing on positive self-talk is one of the most important self-coaching skills you can have.
Remember, no one can put you down unless you agree.
To stop thinking about your limitations, or stop running yourself down can be a challenging task, especially at first. Fortunately, there are plenty of simple ways you can begin to make these changes and you’ll hear me come back to this time and again throughout this book. The key is that you must be willing to practice and ultimately you must be willing to change.
For now, I suggest that you aim to gently become more aware of the negative or unhelpful things you say to or about yourself and the next time you catch yourself being negative, make a deliberate effort to change those words to something kinder and more positive.
If you find this too difficult to do on the spot, then try doing something practical which requires your external attention for a while. Preferably something that is fun and enjoyable that will help you to break any unhelpful thinking patterns as quickly as possible. Take a brisk walk for a few minutes, hum a tune, do the washing up, do anything that is easy and gets your attention out onto something practical. Then chose to say something kind and positive to yourself, however mechanical that may feel. Don’t worry if you don’t believe it. If this is a deeply ingrained habit for you, it is unlikely that you will be able to change these patterns overnight. But change they will with gentle and consistent practice. So don’t give up, once you get into the habit of doing this you will soon find it becomes much easier to break patterns of negative thinking and you will save yourself a huge amount of mental energy too!
DON’T WORRY THIS WON’T HURT!
Even if you think that the essence of your self-talk is predominantly good and positive, the chances are that you still use a scattering of negative words in your everyday language. Words such as don’t, can’t, shouldn’t and so on. They are negative because they refer to you avoiding or stopping doing something and we all use them in our everyday language. For example, “I can’t stop thinking about those biscuits,” or, “I’m really not going to have another cigarette today”.
The trouble with saying these things is that your mind cannot process a ‘negative’ concept without first of all bringing into focus whatever is to be avoided. In other words, your mind has got to call up an image of something before it can process the command to dismiss it.
Let me give you an example here. Have you ever been for a medical or dental treatment only to have the person caring for you say something like “don’t worry, this won’t hurt”?
What happened? Most likely you ended up thinking of the very thing you wanted to avoid, in this case, how much it might hurt.
We always move towards what we picture most strongly in our minds regardless of whether it’s in our best interest or not and this is really important to understand when it comes to making some positive changes to your wellbeing.
So when you use a ‘negative’ in your sentences such as can’t or won’t in actual fact all you are doing is focusing your attention on what you really want to avoid, such as that extra cigarette, or the biscuit tin. The trick here is to keep all your language positive and focus your attention completely on what you do want rather than on what you are trying to avoid.
What you say about yourself and to yourself will eventually become a self-fulfilling prophecy if you repeat it often enough. So it’s worthwhile taking a few moments to scan your self-talk for any negative words or ‘labels’ that you may have given yourself, or been given in the past and then deliberately change them for something more positive. Simply by changing your habitual vocabulary, you can quickly begin to change how you think and feel. If the words you are presently using to describe yourself dis-empower or dishonour you, then choose to change them right now for something new and more encouraging.
Your subconscious mind will always go to work on your behalf to create exactly what you tell it to. So when old negative beliefs come up in your self-talk try breaking the pattern by saying something like, “although up until now I haven’t [x], I now chose to [y]”.
ACTIVITY: TALK TO YOURSELF
Consider the example below and then think about what your own examples might be.
Negative self-talk: I’ll never be really fit.
Becomes: I haven’t felt really fit up until now.
Becomes: I now choose… (be specific here about what exactly it is that you want)… and I believe it is possible.
New Belief: I am steadily increasing my fitness level all the time
NOTICE WHAT YOU CRITICIZE YOURSELF FOR
Whenever you hear yourself engage in some limiting or deprecating self-talk, ask yourself, “where is that message coming from?” Your answer may come in the form of a memory of something that you learnt as a child, or perhaps from strong influences that currently affect your adult life. The trick here is to recognise the ‘voice’ behind these limiting beliefs so that you can consciously and deliberately dismiss it and deprive it of the energy of your continued attention.
Self-criticism can be exhausting and if it goes unchecked you can end up believing that your self-talk is really true for you and eventually end up depressing yourself.
If this is the case for you then it is a habit that is well worth turning around.
ACTIVITY: LET GO OF THE SELF-CRITIC
Spend some time today noticing how and when you criticise yourself and when you give yourself praise.
If you find it difficult to praise yourself then aim to say something good and kind about yourself at least half a dozen times a day for the next few weeks, to help build up your self-esteem and confidence.
The quality of your inner dialogues is really important and if you keep repeating self-defeating talk you will eventually defeat yourself. Coaching can help turn this situation around by enabling you to become more aware of any negative self-talk and then giving you the tools to change it.
“Your mind can only hold one thought at a time. Make it a positive and constructive one.”