Negative self-talk is often learned throughout our life from toxic people and difficult experiences. We learned to punish ourselves to motivate us for change. However, does it actually help? I argue, it does not at all. It may give us a temporary push to make changes out of fear, but it is not sustainable.
For lasting and meaningful changes, positive self-talk is the key and jet fuel to get you where you would like to go.
What are common negative self-talk patterns we get stuck in?
The belief that things are supposed to be a certain way. The level of shame involved in should statements is poisonous.
- “I should have known.”
- “I should always smile and be friendly.”
- “I shouldn’t make mistakes.”
Disqualifying the positive
Recognizing only negative aspects of a situation and ignoring the positive aspects. Oftentimes, we can hear several positive comments about our performance, but focus on the one negative comment. Especially with our social media culture, it is easy to fixate on and sponge in other people’s negativity.
Seeing only the worst possible outcome of a situation. Some people say they expect the worst in attempt to minimize the pain and disappointment if something bad happens. But, does it actually take away the pain?
Jumping to conclusions
Interpreting the meaning of a situation with little or no evidence. We often base our conclusions on previous experiences, emotions, or assumptions.
How to stimulate positive self-talk patterns
What could you try instead?
Instead of “Should” statements try…
Take the shame away, it has no place here. Small changes in language can have big changes to our perspective. Instead try saying (in coordination with statements above). These statements show acknowledgment of the error and a plan for next time. We are building towards hope.
- “I missed that, but this will make me better next time.”
- “I aim to be friendly most days, but I understand that sometimes it’s OK if I’m having a bad day.”
- “We all make mistakes, but I will strive to be more careful.”
Instead of disqualifying the positive try…
We often painstakingly describe bad experiences but are concise with positive experiences. “How was your day?” “Good.” Versus “How was your day?” “Awful! I was late for a work meeting, I forgot to charge my phone, I spilled my coffee, and my boss was super rude about it!” Even when things are going bad, I challenge you to find little windows of positivity as well and detail it. They may be hidden, so sometimes we have to look really hard!
Instead of catastrophizing try…
It’s OK to acknowledge that a bad outcome may occur, but then include all options in the spectrum. Our perspective is important to our emotions and behaviors. If we always anticipate the worst, it could negatively impact our health (high blood pressure, high cortisol levels, fatigue, sleep disturbances) and mood (anxiety, irritability).
Instead of jumping to conclusions try…
Get all the facts first. Assuming cuts corners and does not give us the quality we deserve when in a situation. Take a moment to take a few breaths and clear your mind. I like the illustration of a jar with water and dirt. It is cloudy and fuzzy when shaken up. However, after a few seconds once the dust settles, it is much clearer. Let yourself settle before acting.
And, finally, externalize that negative voice.
I like to call it your positive inner coach. Externalizing your negative thoughts can help you challenge them.
Most of us would not tolerate if someone spoke to us the way we speak to ourselves. What would your positive inner coach say? Keep going! Try again! You’re almost there! You got this! The power of that encouragement and belief can be life-changing.
What is your positive inner coach telling you today?
Diana Ro, PsyD is a Doctoral Limited Licensed Psychologist at the Pine Rest Traverse City Clinic. Diana earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Social Behavior from University of California of Irvine. She received her Master’s degree in Psychology and Christian Leadership as well as her Doctorate of Psychology degree from Fuller Graduate School of Psychology in Pasadena, California.