Most of us have an inner voice that helps us to process and understand our experiences, and while this voice can often be positive and supportive, it can also become our own personal inner critic. This so-called inner critic can have a tendency to switch into overdrive, and when it does, this negative internal soundtrack takes its toll on our mental health, affecting our confidence, self-belief and even standing in the way of the goals we set our sights on.
If you’re trying to make a change in your life, whether it’s cultivating new habits, setting new fitness challenges or throwing yourself into new hobbies, negative-self talk is often a barrier to progress, leading us to believe that we’ll fail before we’ve even started.
Shahroo Izadi, Behavioural Change Specialist and author of The Kindness Method and The Last Diet, believes that treating yourself kindly is the only way to make changes in your life that last. Her revolutionary Kindness Method highlights the importance of positive self-perception and embracing self-kindness and self-respect. Here, Shahroo explains how to address that negative inner monologue, and shares an exercise designed to help you stop negative self-talk and focus on positive internal messages.
In order to address negative self-talk, it’s important to first gain an understanding of how you’re currently speaking to yourself as well as some insight into what may have contributed to you ending up with the internal soundtrack you currently have.
Doing this can be as simple as choosing to ‘turn up the volume’ by non-judgementally, curiously and compassionately listening-in on your internal soundtrack the next time you face one of two challenges:
1. Disappointing yourself
Perhaps you’ll say something you regret to a colleague in haste, or you forget a friend’s birthday. Notice how you speak to yourself about it. Of course, it’s important to apologise and be accountable for your mistakes. That said, once you’ve done what you can to rectify the situation and you’ve acknowledged what you might do to avoid it happening again, then there is no value in beating yourself up about it. Notice whether it’s taking you a long time to forgive yourself and whether you’re internally hearing yourself reinforcing unhelpful, negative beliefs about the kind of person you are. When you notice this happening, simply ask yourself ‘would it take me this long to forgive someone else?’ If the answer is no, ask yourself why you should be an exception and commit to taking the advice you’d give someone else in the same situation.
2. Attempting to do something difficult
Whether it’s creating a new routine that involves waking up 20 minutes earlier, or trying to stay on track with a challenging piece of work without procrastinating, make a conscious decision to listen-in on how you speak to yourself when you’re most in need of a motivational pep-talk. In those moments when you most want to give up, consider the messages you’re giving yourself. Are you hearing the motivational, encouraging script that you’d use to help someone you care about to stay on track and believe in themselves? If not, ask yourself why. Then, attempt to adjust your soundtrack to a more helpful and kind one. Not just because you deserve to hear nicer messages, but also because you know it’s the most effective way to get difficult stuff done!
The next time you experience either of the situations mentioned, if you do notice negative self-talk, take a moment to write down the messages you’re hearing. Very often core beliefs carried over from childhood can continue to guide our internal soundtrack because we haven’t stopped to question them. They can even become self-fulfilling prophecies, for example, if a teacher at school told you that you’re ‘the kind of person who starts things and doesn’t finish them’, then you may carry that belief into your professional life, and tell yourself that when you’re met with a challenging section of a piece of work. For each outdated, unhelpful or unkind message, consider where it may have come from and when you might have started believing that about yourself. Then, commit to creating a new message you will give yourself the next time you hear it. For example, the next time you hear ‘I’m just weak’, you can notice it as an opportunity to debate with this statement and put it right with all the times you’ve demonstrated your strength and resilience.