“I’m not good enough.”
“I’m so stupid.”
“Nothing good ever happens to me.”
“Of course they backed out of our plans, I’m no fun.”
“Great, this is going to ruin my whole day.”
“I’m a total failure.”
Retraining Your Negative Inner Voice
Unfortunately, the quotes above are the negative things many people say to themselves on a daily, if not hourly, basis. This negative self talk does more than effect one’s self esteem, it also has an effect on the mindset, language and behaviors that one exhibits. Negative self talk prevents people from taking any steps that aren’t a guarantee. Risks, regardless of level of chance for success, are not an option for a negative self talker. Leaving the comfort zone is not an option, even if the comfort zone includes negative self talk.
How do we change this behavior that is rarely visible to others? First, we need to identify when we are thinking and even saying these things to ourselves. Second, we then challenge that statement, prove to ourselves that in some or in total that it is not true. Third, using daily affirmation statements will work over time to change our mindset, language and behaviors towards a positive self view. Finally, hold yourself accountable for a more positive approach to life.
Types of Negative Self Talk
The first step in retraining your negative inner voice is to know the different types of negative self talk. Knowing what they are helps to stop it in its tracks before you even complete the thought or statement. There are many types of self talk, but we are just going to focus on the four most prevalent; filtering, personalization, catastrophizing, and polarization.
- Filtering: A person proficient at filtering focuses only on the negative, filtering out any positive from the situation. In fact,they not only focus on the negative, but they also magnify it, intensifying the negativity and its effects. Take for example someone who wins a $350 Million lottery. A filterer focuses on the taxes, fees from financial advisors, and requests for loans and handouts from the people, family and friends who will come out of woodwork because they won. A positive person focuses on the final amount that they end up with, glad that they now get to work with a financial expert to help them save and invest the money so they can continue to help those that they want to.
- Personalizing: A person who personalizes makes all the bad things that happen to them all about them in the most negative way possible. This often shows up as a statement like,”Of course Sally cancelled plans with me, I’m no fun to hang out with,” or “My favorite team lost because I was watching.” We see this often in children because they are naturally ego-centric, believing that everything is about them (positive and negative). In cases of divorce, children will personalize their parents’ marital difficulties saying, “If I had just been better, they’d still be married.” And they honestly believe it.
- Catastrophizing: Someone who catastrophizes well takes the negative, or even expects only a negative outcome, despite ample evidence to the contrary. For example, one might have a really great lunch out with their best friend, return to their car only to find a parking ticket fluttering on the windshield. “Great! This ruins the WHOLE day.” Taking a small inconvenience such as a parking ticket and allowing it to effect their perception of the flow of the whole day is a hallmark of someone who is awesome at catastrophizing. “Mountains out of molehills” is their mantra.
- Polarizing: Those who polarize take a complex situation and simplify it into a dichotomous one of “good” or “bad” with no room for anything in between. You know this person because they are “total failures.” Because they only see life life in black and white, perfect or failure, good or bad, and they have a negative mindset, perfection is not possible, so logic flows to prove that they are a failure.
How Do We Change Negative Self Talk?
Now that we know the four most common types of negative self talk, how do we change it?
First, we identify it as it is happening and stop it in its tracks. Even if you can’t recall which type of self talk you are experiencing, just knowing that you have either said or thought something less than positive will begin the process to positive. Literally stopping the thought mid-sentence is necessary to jolt the brain out of that thought pattern.
Second, we must challenge the thought. Identify what about the statement is untrue. Let’s go through the four types of negative self talk and figure out how to challenge each statement.
- Filtering: Keep in mind that a filterer ignores the positive, so the best way to challenge a filtering thought is to search for the positive in the situation. In the example of the lottery winner, the challenge would be to focus on what the winner could do with the $100 Million that they didn’t have before the lottery selection.
- Personalizing: In this case, take yourself out of the equation. Ask the friend if they are okay, how can you help? Often, the reason for cancelled plans has absolutely nothing to do with the negative self talker and everything to do with the other person and what is going on in their life. As I taught this at a women’s group today, we ended up realizing how much power the Personalizer gives them self and yet they feel completely powerless.
- Catastrophizing: Asking the true impact of the “bad” event and assessing the actual level of inconvenience that will be cause by the event. Often when the Rule of 5 is applied, they’ll find there is no reason to make a mountain out of this molehill. (Rule of 5: Will this matter in 5 minutes? 5 hours? 5 days? 5 weeks? 5 months? 5 years? If the answer to any of these is “NO.” no big deal, you can deal with the consequences.)
- Polarizing: Identifying that there is a spectrum of options and it’s not just black or white, good or bad, perfection or failure.
- Ask yourself, “Would I say this to a child or my best friend?” If the answer is “NO” then don’t say it to yourself!
Third, daily affirmations will work to not only counteract negative self talk that has formed who you are for the past 20, 30, 40+ years, but it can also build a positive self view that allows you to be more successful, identify your successes and actually feel more successful. Some tips for effective daily affirmations:
- Daily affirmations are stated in the present tense. This tells the brain that this is currently true, rather than will be true in the future.
- Daily affirmations are most effective when they are said out loud, to a mirror while looking into your own eyes. This adds emphasis to the brain that these statements are about YOU.
- Daily affirmations use only positive language. i.e. “I am debt-free” is not as effective as “I am financially free.”
- Daily affirmations are said DAILY to be most effective. Even if you only say them a few times a week, that is better than not at all. Implement imperfectly, then tweak to get better!
Finally, hold yourself accountable for being a more positive thinker.
- Announce your efforts to think and speak more positively. Ask family, friends, co-workers, and your coach to gently point out to you when you could adjust your language to be more positive.
- Surround yourself with more positive people. Being around others who build you up will support your efforts to be more positive.
- Give yourself grace. One does not simply go from being Eeyore to Mary Poppins overnight! It is a process that will take time and effort. You are worth it!