Most of the time you don’t even notice it but there is a pretty much constant internal dialogue going on inside your head. This internal dialogue is rating, judging, assessing, monitoring and critiquing your every move and the environment and people around you.
Any time you think about something, which is most of the time unless your mindfulness meditation is going particularly well, you are in essence taking part in an internal conversation.
In times of stress or elation this internal conversation can become an external conversation as people vocalise their inner thoughts. We have all heard the person in the office who every now and then launches a verbal attack on themselves. “IDIOT!! Sorry, not you, I was talking to myself…” or in the immediate aftermath of a monumental personal achievement a triumphant roar is released “YESSS!! I ROCK! I just completed level 386 in Candy Crush!”
This internal conversation can also be described as Self-Talk.
Self-Talk helps us to make sense of the world around us and our place in it by labelling and categorizing everything we say, do and experience and can serve to help us to process our response to certain events.
These internal judgements and labels are defined by beliefs we have about ourselves and the world around us. If these beliefs are untrue or even outdated they can skew our perceptions of ourselves and our place in the world.
They can play in a seemingly endless loop repeating and reinforcing our beliefs about our abilities, attitudes and performance. When you take this in to consideration you can begin to see the impact this internal conversation can have on self-esteem and self-confidence.
Imagine what it would be like to have a person following you around telling you how useless and stupid you are every waking hour of the day. How would that effect your perception of yourself and your abilities? Now imagine what it would be like having your own personal motivator consistently encouraging you and telling you how great you are.
Which one would you choose?
For the most part self-talk is an unconscious process but by bringing a little awareness to it and consciously managing the tone of our internal conversation we can transform how we experience life events and how we learn from them.
Here are 8 tips to taking back control of your internal conversation;
1. Identify the situations where negative self-talk is holding you back the most.
At the beginning it is better to target those internal conversations that are having the most negative impact on your performance or experience. If your self-talk is positive and motivating then you are probably happy to let it be but if it is negative and limiting then it’s probably a good idea to start challenging it.
2. Notice and record the tone and content of your internal conversation.
If you’re anything like me you will be shocked by the way you speak to yourself when you feel that you’ve done something wrong or made a mistake. When I began looking at my own self-talk I was taken aback by the level of judgement and negativity in how I labelled myself and my abilities. I was even more shocked when I began to notice how often I did it. I was criticising myself and putting myself down HUNDREDS of times a day! Keep track of your negative self-thoughts and how often they occur, this can be used to motivate you when you begin implementing more positive, conscious self-talk.
3. Ask yourself if you’d speak like this to someone you cared about.
Once you have recorded a sample of your negative self-talk ask yourself if you would speak to someone you cared about that way. Sometimes we reserve all of our compassion and empathy for others while judging ourselves harshly for every error or omission we make. Consciously give yourself permission to be less than perfect and make mistakes. Mistakes are opportunities to learn and improve. Identify the positive learning you can take from them, plan for what you will do differently next time and move on.
4. Script out your new positive self-statements, keep them real and relevant to you and your strengths.
Your subconscious mind can be pretty resistant to change and will push back if you try to change things too much too soon. When you are writing out your new positive self-talk statements keep them relevant to you and what you want to achieve. Take some time to identify your strengths and incorporate them into your positive self-statements, if you are low on self-confidence and are struggling to identify your strengths ask a friend who you trust to help you out. Look for evidence of the positive in your life, if your friend tells you that you that they experience you as strong and driven and you are having trouble believing it don’t just shut it down, look for examples of times when you displayed these attributes and give yourself credit for them. Pick five or six core statements that identify your strengths and abilities and use these regularly every day.
5. Focus your new affirmations on yourself and the process rather than on results.
While using positive self-talk to focus in on goals is a powerful tool, at the beginning it is best to focus on the process and your approach challenges rather than on results. For instance if you are learning to swim telling yourself “I am going to win Olympic Gold!” might be a bit of a stretch but “Every time I swim I feel stronger and smoother in the water.” will help to reinforce your practice and technique. You could also shorten this into a mantra that you use while you swim, such as “Smooth and strong!” As you get better and more comfortable you can begin to introduce goal-focused self-talk but even then the bulk of your self-statements should be built around your strengths and your approach to the challenge.
6. Consciously challenge negative self-talk when it comes through and replace it with your new, positive and motivating script.
As your awareness grows around your internal conversation you will begin to catch the negative statements earlier and earlier, when you do notice them don’t give yourself a hard time that they have come through. Challenge the beliefs that they are arising from and replace them with your new more positive beliefs and statements. For instance if you are struggling to learn a new skill and you notice that your self-talk is becoming critical and negative with statements like “You’re useless at this, better to give up now, you’ll never get it!” you can challenge this belief by telling yourself that learning a new skill is always difficult and that you are improving as you practice. You could use a motivating statement like “I am getting better and better every time I practice! Every mistake I make is an opportunity to improve!”
7. Introduce an element of mindfulness practice into your routine.
Regular mindfulness practice has been shown to reduce circular and repetitive thinking and increase your ability to let go of negative thoughts. As little as 10 minutes of mindfulness practice a day can help you in breaking the cycle of negative thinking, increase your awareness and give you space to introduce your new positive self-statements.
8. Practice, practice, practice!
Introducing positive self-talk can be challenging for some people, especially if their self-confidence is low, but through regular practice you will become more comfortable using them. It can be helpful to remember that you are trying to loosen and release negative scripts that have been active for years. When I began using positive affirmations I felt self-conscious and a bit ridiculous, when I felt like this I just reminded myself that if I criticised and berated myself hundreds of times a day then it was only fair that I try to balance out the scales! Repeating your core affirmations five or six times a day will help to bed them in and shift you in to a more positive mindset.
Taking control of your internal conversation and shifting to a more positive and motivating focus will set you on a path to higher levels of self confidence and self esteem as well as motivating you to reach your potential.