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You make a mistake or cause a major foul up. What’s the audio loop that plays in your head? Does it include words like stupid or bonehead? Do you accuse yourself of always messing up or never getting it right? Given the choice between a benign spin on your actions or berating yourself do you inevitably choose to give yourself a couple of swift kicks? You’ve embraced negative self-talk.
You Cannot Control Your Thoughts
Despite all of the articles and blog posts purporting to teach you how to control your thoughts you can’t. Harvard University psychologist Daniel Wegner’s research has shown that trying very hard not to think about something almost guarantees that you will think about it. But you don’t need a Ph.D. to know this is true. Think about the last time your spouse or child criticized you. The harder you tried to forget it the more often it came to mind. Perhaps just reading this article has stirred a recollection of some regrettable blunder. Sorry about that.
Part of the problem is we talk to ourselves all day long. But most of the time we pay little attention to the dialogue going on in our heads. We focus on upcoming tasks or music. These drown out harmless daily musings.
We’ve been conditioned to reject positive self-talk. We fear that if we verbalized these thoughts, we’d be labeled conceited or narcissistic. So, like our neutral self-talk, we habitually discard the upbeat things we think about ourselves.
That leaves negative self-talk as the only inner voice we embrace. No wonder when something goes wrong you hear your inner critic loud and clear. It has an open microphone in your head and a captive audience.
Verbalize Positive Self-Talk
So if intentional thought control doesn’t work, what does?
Drown out the negative chorus chanting in your mind.
While general affirmations are fine, you’ll do better to write specific ones aimed at conquering the worst things you say about yourself. If your inner voice scolds you for lacking self-control, combat it by saying out loud and with conviction, “I am disciplined. I control myself and do not succumb to temptation.”
When recommending this to a woman who sought my counsel she felt saying such a thing would be dishonest.
So is it true you’re always the negative view of yourself? I doubt it. The best way to make positive change is to see yourself as already having accomplished it. In that light, positive self-talk is more honest.
You may feel uncomfortable or silly at first. If so find a private place where you won’t be interrupted. I’ve used the shower and my car. Just like singing, you get nice resonance in the shower.
You cannot turn off negative self-talk. But you can conquer it by replacing the impulse to self-criticism with the habit of self-understanding. Some of the skirmishes will be disappointing but it’s a war well worth winning.
How do combat negative self-talk? Please comment below.