Do you find yourself avoiding the mirror, do you “make jokes” at your own expense, or do you find yourself one-upping when a friend says something not so kind about themselves? Did you know that these are all signs of negative self-talk? As a former negative self talker, I have done one or all of these at some point, and I know how hard it is to stop this habit, and how easy it is to negotiate with yourself that “If I just lose ____ pounds then I’ll be happy” or “If I just had that job/career, then I would be worthy”. These negotiations don’t work because it’s not the weight or the career that makes you worthy, you are worthy of it all, just as you are.
The truth is, you have created a habit of negative self-talk, and not unlike smoking or nightly desserts, it’s a habit that is hard to break, but not impossible. Not unlike those habits, there are negative effects of continuing to speak negatively to yourself about yourself. For example, you are creating more stress for yourself, both physically and emotionally. Think about when someone honks their horn at you or a boss comes down on you about something, you may feel tight in your shoulders, you may clench your jaw or you may slouch in your chair. All of this is also true when you speak to yourself in a negative way. Self-criticism can also create depression and anxiety, or if you are already prone to these, it can make it worse.
Through my own journey I have found that by changing my negative criticisms or diverting my attention, I have been able to create a more positive way of speaking to myself.
Here are 5 ways I found to help myself work through the negative self talk and learn to be a little more gentle.
- Thank your body parts, often: I don’t know about you, but I totally take my body for granted. My legs get me where I want to go, my eyes allow me to see where I’m going, and my hands help me to create, but how often do you, out loud, say thank you to these body parts. Showing gratitude to your body is a great place to start, there’s no real secret here, but showing gratitude for anything gives you a sense of happiness because you are focusing on the positive.
- Put it off until “later”: When you notice some negative criticism coming into your thoughts, acknowledge it by thinking “ok, thanks for that, but can we talk about that later?” the great thing is, later never comes. We are busy and that thought will be run over by your to-do list, the kids, your partner, or another thought.
- Change your words: If you are faced with a difficult task or a goal that feels too big, instead of saying “I can’t do this.”, change the thought to “I can do this, I just need a 2-minute break to regroup.” Take those two minutes away from the task to breathe and refocus your brain, step outside, or go get a cup of water. When you come back you will feel more capable of doing the task and you shut down that negative thought that you can’t do something and that makes you feel more successful.
- Have a real conversation with yourself: This one can be tough, but it is so totally necessary. Sit with yourself in a private place with a mirror; I prefer doing this in my car, parked of course, with the visor mirror. Look yourself directly in your eyes, and address the self-talk. Be your own best friend. Tell your thoughts that they are not helping you and that you are worthy of all of the things you desire today. This is a practice of creating boundaries with yourself. Looking into your eyes makes this process deeply personal and a bit emotional, but letting that emotion out is a positive step to creating new, more productive habits.
5. Be easy on yourself: Just like everything else in life, this is a process and a habit that needs to be formed. Creating the time and space, daily, weekly, or monthly to sit down and get real with yourself and show yourself the love and compassion you deserve will begin to create a kinder, happier, healthier you.
Remember, we are our own best friend and critic, it is up to you which you will be at any given moment. Choosing kindness isn’t always the easiest answer, especially if you have been living in the habit of negative self-talk, but being kind to yourself will reflect on how you see the world and how the world sees you.
Let me be your guide,