Have you ever felt self-conscious about your appearance? Or dreaded your workday? Maybe the fear of failure before a sports competition, an interview, or first date made you question whether it was even worth showing up?
In each of these situations, the real cause of your distress is the same: your own thoughts.
Our fears and self-doubts can have dramatic effects on our behaviour, and as a consequence, our lives. When you give into negative beliefs about yourself you may be less social, be less likely to pursue your goals, and give up sooner.
These behaviours and their outcomes can reinforce your negative views, and the cycle continues – you become less and less resilient to mistakes, set-backs, and criticism.
One highly effective way of breaking this cycle is to practice positive self-talk.
What is self-talk?
Self-talk is the running narrative you have in your head, or your inner voice. It’s something you do constantly throughout the day, whether you are consciously aware of it or not. Self-talk can influence our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours in major ways.
Negative self-talk includes the doubts and biases you hold about yourself and the world around you. Negative self-talk is when you tell yourself things like “I can’t do this,” “This is impossible,” “Everyone is going to laugh at me,” or “I’m not good enough.” Perhaps it’s not surprising that negative self-talk has strong links to depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
Positive self-talk is about showing yourself love and understanding. It creates a mindset for viewing your life and your environment in a more optimistic way. When you’re able to reframe how you look at stressful situations, you’re more likely to use coping strategies and persist in finding solutions.
Positive self-talk has many benefits including:
Reduced stress and anxiety
Enhanced learning performance
Improved immunity and faster healing time
Identifying negative thinking
There are four kinds of negative thought patterns to look out for:
Black or white thinking
You may separate things into “all good” or “all bad,” or say that things “always” or “never” happen to you.
You may think of things in terms of winning and losing, or succeeding and failing. In truth, even if you didn’t achieve a particular goal, you probably still made some progress worth celebrating. As Nelson Mandela once said, “I never lose. I either win or I learn.”
When in doubt, you blame yourself or make it about you. You decide that the people who laugh as you walk by are probably laughing at you.
When your friend takes two days to return your phone call because she’s really busy, you assume that she’s mad at you.
When you catch yourself personalising thoughts, ask yourself if there are any other possible explanations? Do you have any evidence to back up your assumptions?
You magnify the negative aspects of an event and filter out the positive ones. For example: you receive several compliments and one criticism from your co-workers, and find yourself dwelling only on the criticism.
Expecting the worst or exaggerating the impact that a small set-back will have. For instance, “If I get dumped, no one else will want to date me and I’ll never find love again.”
Five ways to encourage positive self-talk
1. Identify situations that lead to negative thinking
Are there some areas of your life that lead to negative thinking more than others? Whether it’s your love life, your fitness, or your job; try to focus on bringing more positivity to just one thing at a time.
You can break this down into smaller steps if needed. For example, if you feel like you hate your job but you have a couple of coworkers that you get along with well, you can start by focusing on that. Over time, you’ll probably notice other things about your job that you enjoy.
2. Surround yourself with positive people
Some people are like walking, talking, positive affirmations; constantly reminding us what is good about ourselves and the world. When we are surrounded with people who always look for the positive, it’s easier to adapt this mindset ourselves.
3. Flip the script
How can you reframe a negative thought into a more positive one? Here are some examples of how you can shift a negative thought into a positive:
“I’m bad at this.” — “This is a new challenge for me, but I’m figuring it out.”
“I have the worst luck.” — “I’m well prepared for whatever happens.”
“I never…” — “Up until now…”
“I can’t.” — “I’ll try.”
4. Speak as kindly to yourself as you would to others
If you went clothes shopping with a friend, you wouldn’t scrutinise their body after everything they tried on. Is the same true for how you talk about your body when looking in the mirror?
Would you encourage a friend to pursue their goals, or tell them that there’s no use in trying? When you catch yourself participating in negative self-talk, ask yourself, “Would I say this to someone I care about?”
5. Practice daily gratitude
In the evening, think of three things that you were grateful for that day. Write your list down or share it with a loved one. If you feel stuck for ideas, remember that little things are worthy of gratitude too.
Your day doesn’t have to be exceptional to find something to be grateful for. A hot shower, a delicious breakfast, or a pretty sunset are all worth taking a moment to appreciate.
Today’s action steps
Think of one area of your life that can trigger negative thought patterns for you (for example, your job, your relationship, or your physical appearance). Name at least one thing about this part of your life that you enjoy or appreciate.
Today, when you catch yourself using negative self-talk, challenge yourself to reframe your thoughts in a kinder, more positive way. Are you speaking to yourself the way you would speak to a loved one?
Tonight, write a list of three things you’re grateful for. You can even share your list with someone you care about (especially if they happen to be on it).
Our world-class coaches on Hello Coach can help you cultivate gratitude and positivity in your everyday life.
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