Can I ask you a question? Would you talk to your friends the same way you talk to yourself in your head?
Too soon? Well, that’s exactly how I felt when I had this question posed to me in therapy, and boy howdy, was it uncomfortable.
I think it’s fair to say that our internal dialogue is harsher than the way we’d otherwise speak to others. I noticed that mine was unnecessarily strict and demeaning.
Your Inner Dialogue: How do you talk to yourself?
“You need to get this project done Jackie, God, why are you always slacking off? Seriously, it’s pathetic, just get it done!” my brain would say. “Seriously, you’re so lazy. Everyone else is working so much harder than you, you’re not ever going to be successful like this!”
I’d start to feel tense, guilty, and ashamed. I’d go on and on inside my head about everything that was wrong with me until…
I continued to procrastinate by guilt-watching Youtube videos and ignoring my problems.
But was it truly my lack of willpower that led to me that spot? I used to think so, until I had the chance to talk it out with a professional.
The effects of negative self-talk
“What you’re doing is what we call black and white thinking. It’s a negative self-talk pattern that uses really ‘all or nothing’ thought processes. If you don’t do your project right away, you’re BAD. There’s no room for grace. You either do the project right now, do it perfectly, or you can’t be GOOD. That thinking can be crippling.” – I’m paraphrasing here, pretend I'm a therapist.
OH! So that’s what that is! Turns out if you’re mean to yourself, it’s really uninspiring. Who knew? Not me!
Jokes aside, negative self-talk is a real problem, and there are multiple patterns that people use. I won’t go through them all, but recommend you look them up.
What it can lead to is what’s important: self-limiting, believing you simply CAN’T do something. Over-stressing, panicking and hyper-fixating on perceived lack of success. Sadness, depression, self-isolation, lack of self-esteem or worth.
You literally create a reality in your mind where you feel you can’t succeed.
Negative Self Talk: Why do we do this to ourselves?
The thought processes of negative self-talk can come from depression, anxiety, low self-confidence, or other mental health issues. It might be something you learned or something you developed over time.
According to verywellmind.com, rather than the harsh critic inspiring us to do better, it actually limits our ability to see and seize opportunities. It creates a heightened sense of stress and feeling as though success is unobtainable.
What’s the alternative to Negative Self Talk?
I’ll bring it back to my original question:
Start talking to yourself like a friend who came to you with the same problem and reframe your thoughts. It might look something like this:
Your friend may ask: “Jackie, I’m feeling unmotivated to do my project. What do I do?”
You could say: “I understand, I’ve been there. Why don’t you set a timer to see how much you can get done? When the timer is up, take a break and repeat until you’re finished. I find it really helpful. Also, make sure to do some self-care afterwards.”
Notice how much more productive that was? By changing the language, being gentler and finding solutions over finding flaws, we create a more productive dialogue.
Take that advice serious too – self-care is a big part of eliminating that inner critic who thinks you don’t deserve a break. Lucky for you, Flowjo’s Self-Care Bucket List has more ways to bring back belly laughs and self-love than you could imagine. It has 100 activity and challenge cards for healing, resting, and living a more joyful life – I couldn’t recommend it more.
With peace and love,