8 Tips for using Positive Self-Talk to build confidence!

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.

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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 If these beliefs are untrue or even outdated they can skew our perceptions of ourselves and our place in the world.

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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.muhammad_ali_quote_affirmations

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.

10 Minute Mindfulness to Combat Stress.

You’re facing a tight deadline or a high workload at work, you’ve got a big game coming up and it’s playing on your mind, you’re having some problems in your relationship or your finances are tight and it’s beginning to cause you concern.

Stress can arise in many different situations and in many different guises. Most people I speak to see stress as something that happens to someone else or don’t like to admit that they are feeling stressed themselves. Even when I point out that they are exhibiting some classic symptoms of stress they are reluctant to admit that they might be stressed.

So let me get this out of the way early on.

Stress2Being stressed does not mean you are weak, incapable, incompetent or disorganised. It can though be an indication that you are pushing yourself too hard, not taking enough time to recuperate or rest, or just experiencing a difficult period in your life where you have very little control or influence over the outcome.

Stress can present as agitation, illness, lack of energy, insomnia, loss of focus, headache, fatigue, gastro-intestinal issues, anxiety or social withdrawal.

For myself, often the first indication I have that I am stressed is my scalp becomes dry and itchy. I can now recognise this as an early indicator that I am stressed and take action to bring my stress levels back down. In the past it has manifested as IBS, headache, anxiety and insomnia, I rarely reach the kind of stress levels where I end up with any of those particular stress symptoms anymore because I pay much better attention to looking after myself these days.

If you are having trouble sleeping it’s a pretty good indicator of high stress levels, and the lack of quality sleep exacerbates the situation. Stress can cause us to develop tunnel vision; we can become totally focused on the cause of our stress (an evolutionary throwback which at the time served a pretty valid functional purpose, if you are being chased by a tiger you don’t want to be distracted by the beautiful sunset) to the point where it is all we can think about. We ruminate and recycle the same thoughts over and over while never coming to any solution.

121167638No wonder you feel tired! The brain uses up 20% of the body’s energy, a much higher percentage than most people would have imagined I’m sure. With that in mind then consider that stress ramps up brain activity as stress hormones kick your brain into overdrive to deal with the stressor you are facing and you can begin to see why people feel ‘wiped out’ when they are stressed or working too hard.

This can cause over tiredness and also make it difficult to sleep as the build-up of stress hormones keep the mind in a hyper-vigilant state to cope with the perceived external threat.

Even in the best of situations we rarely get everything we want so most of the time we are negotiating that space between getting what we want and being ok with what we get. At times though the situations we find ourselves having to negotiate are so far from where we would like to be that that dissonance is enough to lead to prolonged and elevated levels of stress.

Let’s say that the demands placed on you at work might have increased over time. This can often be the case when someone is particularly good at their job but finds it difficult to say no or draw a line in the sand that says “Ok, this is the limit at which I can function at a sustainable level”.

big_stressImagine that you measure stress levels on a scale of 1 to 100. As workloads increase, expectation levels rise and you find it increasingly difficult to deal with the demands placed on you your stress levels at work might climb to 90. They might drop off a little when you get home and try to rest but as your brain is still trying to figure out a solution you never really get back down the scale. You might get down to say 65 but still be unable to really let it go meaning that you never really get to rest. This can mean that when you go back to work, or whatever the stressful situation is, you aren’t fully rested and because you never really managed to get out of the stressed mind-state your levels quickly shoot back up to 90.

Mindfulness can help you to regulate those stress levels by allowing you to bring them down to a more manageable level.

Mindfulness, as I like to think of it, is really creating a space where you focus on bringing that level down as low as you can for a short while by consciously creating quiet space for your mind. This allows your body some time to recuperate, as the levels of stress hormones in your body decrease, and your brain to rest. It also means that the time it takes to get back up to 90% is increased as you are starting from 15-20 instead of 65. Over time and with regular practice it can slow down the onset of the stress response as the brain learns to regulate itself a bit better.

mindfulnessMindfulness practice has also been shown to improve focus, increase awareness and reduce mind wandering while also reducing the impacts of stress. Long term practice can even increase tolerance for stressful situations meaning that we are slower to become stressed in the first place.

There’s a mobile app called Headspace which has short mindfulness meditations on it which lead in to longer ones if you feel like it as you progress.

Or there are many free mindfulness resources on the web where you can download guided meditations. You can easily find 5 to 10 minute body scan exercises to get started with.

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Doing that and making time where you can for self-care and exercise can make a big difference to how you experience stress.

Coping with Stress…

We all have different methods and strategies with which we navigate our journey through the challenges that we face in our everyday lives. We may utilise different strategies at different times or in the face of different problems but most of us will have a ‘go to’ style for dealing with our problems. This ‘go to’ style is how we predominantly deal with stress. It’s our primary coping strategy.

imagesAt the risk of making a sweeping generalisation, most people seek coaching because either their current problem-solving strategies or coping mechanisms are failing to deliver the results that they have in the past or they are insufficient to take the person to the level at which they want to operate.

Our coping strategies or perhaps more importantly our adaptability and flexibility when it comes to choosing which coping strategies we employ are an important factor how we deal with stress.

Poor coping skills can lead to elevated levels of stress and anxiety, drop off in performance at work or in sport, problems in our family or social life and can lead to lowering levels of self-esteem and self-efficacy both key factors in the onset of depression.

In the past the degree of success a person had in coping with stressors was thought to be fixed and linked to personality traits or styles. Now though we know that coping skills can be learned and the more and varied the coping strategies we have available to us the better prepared we will be to deal with the stressors we experience.

There are many tactics which people use to lower their stress levels in the face of a stressful event. We could ignore, avoid or accept the existence of the stressor by, postponing starting the assignment that is due next week, or passing by that ‘Final Notice’ letter that has been sitting on the table for three weeks or convincing ourselves that the girlfriend who just left wasn’t any good for us anyway and we are better off without her. These are examples of emotion-focused coping strategies.

Or we could engage, assess or influence the problem by sitting down to write the assignment, open the ‘Final Notice’ letter and try to figure out a plan of action for dealing with it or going out to try to meet someone new. These examples demonstrate problem-focused coping strategies.

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Obviously some of these strategies are more effective than others but they are all chosen for the same reason, to lower stress levels. Some do so by providing some kind of distance from the stressor to give some temporary relief and others by engaging with the stressor in a more proactive manner.

Problem-Focused or Instrumental coping strategies focus on engaging proactively with the problem with the goal of finding a viable solution or changing the relationship with the stressor. This might include strategies such as;

  • Gathering information to better understand a problem.
  • Finding alternative approaches or solutions.
  • Changing or adjusting goals
  • Developing new skills or standards of behaviour
  • Taking positive action aimed at resolving the issue.

Problem-focused coping strategies are generally seen as being more effective in dealing with stressful situations.

Emotion-Focused coping strategies are primarily concerned with changing our emotional connection with the stressor. These might include such strategies as;

  • Avoiding or ignoring the stressor.
  • Mindfulness practice.
  • Minimising the impact of the stressor i.e. “Ah, it’s not that bad really.”
  • Catastrophisation or imagining the worst possible outcome in order to prepare ourselves.
  • Psyching yourself up to deal with the stressor.
  • Distraction i.e. TV or eating.
  • Reappraising the situation i.e. “I’m probably better off if I don’t get it anyway.”

Emotion focused strategies are seen as being less effective than problem focused strategies but may be the only option available if the stressor is outside the person’s ability to influence or control.

As we face problems and challenges in life though it is rarely a case of picking either an emotion focused or a problem focused approach to dealing with what we experience. We generally end up using a mix of both as we try to find a way to deal with the challenges we face.

This makes it all the more important that we practice and explore different methods of dealing with the stress and stressful situations we experience.

The more we practice and explore the different coping strategies the more flexible and adaptable we become in how we manage the stressors and challenges we will inevitably experience.