Are You Talking to Me? Two Strategies for Positive Self-Talk
Our minds are similar to a sporting event being broadcasted on television. There is a voice that likes to give its views and reactions to what is going on. This can be a beneficial thing, what would the Super Bowl be like if there were no commentators? The commentators can greatly improve our watching experience and add some depth to what is going on. However, have you ever watched a game with announcers that were less than decent? It can take away from your viewing enjoyment and impacts whether or not you want to watch that particular channel again!
In our lives we have something similar going on to these commentators. In our minds is a commentator that likes to express its views and reactions to what is going on in our lives. This ongoing commentary in our heads can be similar to those during a televised game, they can contribute to a positive viewing experience or it can make it downright awful.
An obvious difference between the commentator in our head and the one on television is that it is our own inner-voice in our heads. This is the voice we use to talk about ourselves and what we believe our abilities or sense of worth is. It gives us regular feedback on our behavior and situations, attempts to make sense out of what others are doing around us, and is integral to the ways that we view ourselves. Unfortunately, when this commentator is less than stellar, we cannot just change the channel like we can on television.
We can learn, however, to change what the commentator is saying. It is not always an easy thing to do, but whether this commentator lets you believe it or not, you can do just that. The question that might be asked is whether or not it is worth the effort, and the answer is an absolute yes! This inner-commentator has a powerful influence on us and how we see ourselves in the world. It has the power to lift us to new heights or bring us down to the lowest of lows.
A quick question to ask yourself is does your thinking tend to lift you or bring you down? Does that inner-commentator like to highlight your strengths and abilities or highlight and zoom in on areas of challenge? In our social circles, we tend to see fault-finders as being those that take away from people’s batteries rather than recharge them. However, when our inner-commentator is the fault-finder, we can get in the habit of believing it.
This automatic believing without challenging is where the Auto-pilot Mindset comes in. This becomes especially damaging and dangerous when that inner-commentator likes to dig in hard on its criticisms of us. Unfortunately, the more we let this inner-commentator run wild without any challenge, the more we let what it says sink in as truth. That does not make for a very uplifting or empowering experience in life!
When our inner-commentator begins to regularly point out our flaws and try to bring us down, it is time to flip the switch and change what is being said. While this is easier said than done, it is not impossible. It will take time, practice, and patience on your part. Depending on how long the inner-commentator has had free-reign will also impact the amount of healing and belief changing will need to occur.
Before we get to two strategies that can start the process of changing what is being said, let’s take a quick moment to explore the origins of the inner-commentator. While the voice in our head is ours, a lot of the time it forms from external sources at the beginning. The way our parents, siblings, teachers, peers, or anyone else talked to us in our early years has a dramatic impact on the tone our voice takes. Whenever we have acted in ways that are contrary to our values and beliefs, we can fuel the critical tone of our inner-commentator. Unfortunately, these sources can also be the same when we are older, including partners from failed relationships and bosses.
When our inner-commentator has taken on a nearly entirely negative countenance, it is working with flawed software. Its settings have been switched to find only the evidence that supports the negative view. It can take on the voice of some of our external critics, even if it was years and years ago. Our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are only pointed out to us when there is any indication that they are “wrong” or “bad” or any other variety of labels along those lines.
Basically, if our inner-commentator has comments that focused only on one end of the spectrum, namely overly negative, then there is some flawed thinking going on. We are only looking at one part of the story and making entire calls based on minimal information. At first, our inner-commentator will do this only now and then. Soon, it becomes instantaneous and we go with it, even if it takes the color out of our lives. It can be a tough thing to admit that we bring ourselves down, but it is empowering to realize that if we created the problem, we can create the solution.
While it would be much easier if we could just change the channel on our inner-commentator, easy things are rarely worth it. Taking the time to change the pattern of our thinking and change the statements of our inner-commentator will truly transform our lives. If you think it is impossible or are questioning your ability to do this without even knowing what will be done, that is an indicator your inner-commentator has too much power and needs to change what it is saying.
If you change the way you think, you will transform your life. Taking accountability for our inner-commentator empowers us to view life more realistically and keep our perceptions in control. We have a choice: let our inner-commentator run with the Auto-Pilot Mindset and run off negatively flawed and biased assumptions, or empower your inner-commentator by changing what you say to yourself. If you choose to take control, here are two strategies that can help start this process.
Strategy #1: Recognize Exceptions to the Negative Inner-Commentator
One tool that a negative inner-commentator will use is making grand accusations with minimal evidence. Unfortunately, it is incredibly powerful, especially if we have stopped challenging it. What does this tool sound like in our head? Here are a few examples of self-talk we might have from our inner-commentator that let you know this tool is in action:
“I never get anything right, I’m such a failure.”
“Why even try? I’m always the one screwing things up.”
“I always mess up my relationships, I’m the broken one.”
“It’s all my fault because I never know what to do.”
Do any of those sound familiar? Does your inner-commentator like to make these kinds of grand accusations? Are some of your negative inner-commentators favorite vocabulary words never, always, and all? If so, then your inner-commentator needs to be challenged, because it is wrong.
Unfortunately, these statements from the negative inner-commentator create strong emotions within us. It is hard to say something along the lines of “I never get anything right, I’m such a failure” without feeling some hurt. Since these types of statements create an emotional reaction, one that our negative inner-commentator loves, it feels like further proof of what the negative inner-commentator is saying. Instead of unplugging the power source to the negative inner-commentator, we instead plug it in and give it a full charge.
This is where the power of Exception Finding comes in. As soon as we starting hearing the words always, never, all, or anything else extreme like that, that is our cue to start proving it wrong. As soon as we can find evidence contrary to what the negative inner-commentator is saying, we are starting to take away from its power. The truth is much of the arguments of the negative inner-commentator are like a big balloon. It looks huge and daunting, but really is full of nothing of substance. Once we poke a hole in it, away it goes. That is the goal of exception finding.
Let’s take a look at the first example, “I never get anything right, I’m such a failure.” How do we challenge this and start finding exceptions? Start with the first part of never getting anything right. In your entire life, there is not one time you were right about something? False. You have been right in your life, and it has been more than one time. If you can find a time you were right that is closely related to the event that triggered the negative thought in the first place, even better!
Start an exception finding self-dialogue in your head that goes something like, “It may feel like I never get anything right sometimes, but there was time A and time B and time C…” First off, this statement has some empathy in it. There are times in our life when we feel so stressed or worn down that it might feel like we never get anything right. Validate your emotion to disarm the power it gives to your negative inner-commentator. Then follow it up with your exceptions!
A bonus strategy to helping with positive self-talk comes from the second part of the statement, “I’m such a failure.” A lot of times a statement like this tries to push us down, and yet we do not even know what we mean by the term “failure.” To make your exception finding statements to this even stronger, try to define what is meant. What does failure mean in this situation? Is it truly what you are? Sometimes when we define something, we begin to talk ourselves out of it and notice that it does not apply. Now that is changing the what the inner-commentator is saying!
Strategy #2: Track the Negative Inner-Commentator
Information gives us power and can put things back into our hands. This strategy requires us to take time to track the negative inner-commentator and learn its ways. What types of situations often bring out our negative inner-commentator? What is our physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental state when it happens? Are there certain people, places, or stressors that tend to bring out the negative inner-commentator?
A lot of times the negative inner-commentator seems to be constant or to strike at random. However, if we take the time to track its movements and learn its ways, often we find that there is a pattern. Perhaps we tend to get down most on ourselves when we are hungry and exhausted and have a deadline coming our way. Maybe it is when our partners are trying to talk about our relationship and bring up an example that involves us. It could even be at a certain time of day or a certain person coming up to you. Regardless, learn the patterns of the negative inner-commentator.
What does having this knowledge do for us? It allows us to go on the offensive and prepare ourselves! One of the best strategies for changing the tone of the inner-commentator is to be proactive. If you know where the negative inner-commentator likes to attack, you can prep yourself. You can already be giving yourself self-affirmations, or true statements about yourself and your life that bring you up rather than pull you down. You can change the way you approach the situation to help change the pattern. Remember, the negative inner-commentator likes things to be the same way, with it in control. Change the situation, change the outcome.
Empower yourself by identifying what types of situations and circumstances bring on your negative inner-commentator. Do not assume that you know when it strikes, you might be surprised what you learn!
The way we talk to ourselves has a dramatic impact on our sense of well-being and quality of life. Our inner-commentary can bring excitement, value and wisdom to our lives, or it can tear us down. Begin the journey of empowering your life by changing your self-talk from a negative inner-commentator to the inner-commentator that builds and lifts you up. This is a journey worth taking, and you can do it!