Why the Way You Speak to Yourself Matters
Did you know that the average person has more than 6,000 thoughts in a single day? Interestingly, many of these thoughts arrive in the form of self-talk. At its most basic, self-talk, also known as our inner voice, is our internal dialogue. Together, we will explore why the way we speak to ourselves becomes our truth, and more crucially, why the way we speak to ourselves matters.
What Is Self-Talk and How Does It Work?
Self-talk is an internal dialogue or a steady stream of on-going thoughts that runs through our minds continuously, whether we are aware of it or not. Our self-talk is incredibly powerful because it can influence our moods and emotions, which then directly impacts our behaviour and actions. Overall, the way we choose to respond or act in any situation relies not only on how we perceive the issue at hand but also on the way we view ourselves.
With that said, self-talk can be divided into two categories: negative and positive.
Have you ever found yourself lying awake at night, dwelling on an insult, or obsessing over a past mistake? Has your inner critic ever said, “You will never be smart enough.” “Why can't you be pretty enough?” Or, “Give up. Why bother trying if you always fail?” Has your mind ever convinced you into believing that you are simply not good enough, even when all suggestions may indicate otherwise?
As demonstrated, negative self-talk can become extremely detrimental and harmful, especially when it prevents us from realizing our true worth and embodying our full potential. However, eliminating such thoughts may not be as simple as it seems. According to researchers, the human mind is well-known for clinging to negativity, with studies showing that over 80% of our thoughts are negative. The reason being is negative events leave a more significant impact on our brain compared to positive ones. It explains why we tend to ruminate over bad experiences for lengthier amounts of time, why criticisms often hold greater power over us than compliments, and why past traumas are likely to weigh more heavily on our shoulders.
This phenomenon is known as the negativity bias, and it can have a substantial effect on our behavior, decisions, relationships, and our overall outlook on life. In several cases, the negativity bias causes negative self-talk to become downright self-destructive because when you create inaccurate conclusions about who you are and what you are capable of doing, you end up limiting your potential.
Take, for example, a woman who tells herself that she is a failure and will never be able to complete things correctly. This false conclusion damages her self-worth, causes her to feel discouraged, and as a result, makes her less inclined to put in efforts towards her goals. Ultimately, her negative self-talk led to a lack of drive and motivation, which prevented her from fulfilling plans and pursuing her passions successfully.
In this example, we see that the words you repeat to yourself daily matter. More often than not, it is not an absence of talent or skills, but it is the mistaken beliefs we hold about ourselves that hinder us from becoming the people we want to be.
How to Rewrite Your Inner Narrative
When your inner critic rears its head, a great technique is using S-O-S, which is an acronym that stands for stop, observe, and shift.
S-top: When a negative thought enters your mind, mentally tell yourself, “Stop!” If we are unable to acknowledge the root of a problem, it is impossible to solve it. By saying stop, you provide yourself with the opportunity to consciously address a negative line of thinking and interrupt what could become a never-ending train of negative thoughts.
O-bserve: Next, observe and reflect upon what you are saying to yourself. Ask: How truthful and accurate is this thought? Am I labelling myself harshly? Am I coming to a conclusion based more on an opinion or experience rather than facts? Would I say or think this about a friend?
S-hift: Lastly, shift your instinctive cognitive, emotional, or behavioural response by using positive coping skills or methods, such as the one mentioned below.
In contrast to negative self-talk, positive self-talk involves using affirming and supportive phrasing within your thoughts, and it is an excellent method for managing your inner critic. By engaging in positive self-talk, we build confidence, gain self-esteem, achieve our goals, and learn to view the world with a more optimistic outlook.
To get you started, here are some positive statements to keep in mind:
I have the power to change my mind.
Attempting to do this took courage, and I am proud of myself for trying.
Even though it was not the outcome I hoped for, I learned a lot about myself.
I might still have a way to go, but I am proud of how far I have already come.
I am capable and strong. I can get through this.
Tomorrow is a chance to try again with the lessons learned from today.
This is an opportunity for me to try something out of my comfort zone.
I can learn from this situation and grow as a person.
Bear in mind, using positive self-talk does not mean that you will never have negative thoughts. Instead, it means that when your negative inner voice springs up, you retrain your brain to see the silver lining. It means that even on hard days, you acknowledge better days are coming. It means that although we cannot choose most of our circumstances, we have the power to control the way we react and respond to them. To sum up, the SOS technique and positive self-talk will not directly put an end to negative thinking. Alternatively, they allow us to develop a better awareness of our thoughts, put them into perspective, and replace overly critical ones with more accurate statements.
In closing, real change and transforming the way we think will not happen overnight, especially considering that our brains are hardwired towards negativity. Yes, there will be times when we fall, make mistakes, and when our inner critic gets the best of us because, after all, we are human. What matters, though, is the way we rise from our falls, the way we learn from our mistakes, and the way we go about shifting our thoughts to more positive ones. In the end, it is not what we say out loud that determines our lives, but it is what we whisper to ourselves that has the most power.