“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”- Albert Einstein
If you have ever experienced any level of anxiety, depression, or worry, then you are probably aware of the role self talk plays in your perception of these emotions. All of us have voices in our heads that make running commentary as an almost constant stream of consciousness. The voices comment on what we should do, should have done, might do, or need to do next. Research indicates that the quality and content of this internal commentary plays a huge role in how we function in the world, the way we feel about ourselves, and our ability to navigate our day to day affairs. There also tends to be a consistent pattern to the content of most people’s self talk, with confident, successful people enjoying an ongoing positive pep talk while those who struggle are berated by a harsh and critical committee before, during, and after their every move.
Do you hear any of these from your committee?
“That was dumb.”
“I’m such a loser.”
“I should have known.”
“There’s nothing I can do.”
If any of these sound familiar, then you may be one of those people who, unfortunately, has a committee running the show that does not have your best interest in mind, a negative team of bullies that cause you to experience self-doubt, hesitation, guilt, shame, and a lack of confidence. An unruly mob of nattering nabobs of negativity. Of course, you believe your committee, after all they have been running the show for some time and they are usually right, or at least it seems that way.
Where does this internal dialogue come from? As children growing up we all receive instructions from parents and teachers. Some of this stays with us for the rest of our lives and becomes part of our internal dialogue. Some of their instruction is helpful, creating morals and values. Some of the negative things we are told, however, can linger for years doing damage while after the initial damage was done. For example, that time your father told you you were stupid may continue to be the way that you still view yourself. That teacher or coach that told you you’d never amount to anything continues to tell you that today.That bully who teased you in middle school is still there and that boy who called you fatso freshmen year in high school is, after all these years, still doing damage to your psyche as part of your committee.
The first step in getting control of this unruly mob is to recognize the nature of your self talk. Spend a few days noticing what the committee tells you. What are they saying? What are you believing, how does this impact the way you feel about yourself, the choices you make, and the risks that you take with your life?
The second step is to begin to challenge your internal dialogue, learning to ask yourself some questions that put these dysfunctional thoughts in perspective. A great question to ask yourself is, “Where’s the evidence?” Albert Ellis, one of the founders of cognitive behavioral therapy, used to tell his clients that they should question this negative self talk as if they were a prosecuting attorney in a court case. Really grill yourself on this. If you think that you are a failure, come up with a list of times in your life you have been successful as countering evidence. Zero in on words like always, never, seldom, and usually. Question these words in present evidence to the contrary. If need be, write these thoughts out or get a supportive friend, therapist, or coach to help you with it.
Another method that is very effective is to talk to yourself, about yourself, as if you were talking to a friend. I often tell my clients that, “You’d never talk to someone else as negatively as you would talk to yourself, would you?” Inevitably, they agree. Why would you inflict damage on yourself by negative self talk? Be supportive of the most important person in your life, YOU. Give yourself a supportive pep talk now and again. Initially, positive self talk will seem a little foolish and foreign to you. Don’t worry, do it anyway. It will soon become second nature.
Begin to think in shades of gray. For example, instead of viewing it as an event as all good, or all bad, think of it on a continuum of 0 to 100. That job interview wasn’t a total disaster, give yourself a score. For example, maybe it was in 85 on a scale of 0 to 100. That just might be good enough for you to obtain a job. By categorizing convention this way you are teaching yourself that everything is not “all good” or “all bad,” rather it is our thoughts that make them seem that way.
Get clear on what your words mean to you. For example, if you call yourself a “loser,” then define what a loser is. What do the words fat, stupid, dumb, and other self-deprecating words mean to you? You may find that these words don’t apply to you after all.
Try the survey method. Try polling a group of friends, or even acquaintances, and ask their opinion on some of the thoughts that you have. Of course, don’t use your name or make it personal unless you want to. You may find that some of your long held opinions may not necessarily be accurate, and maybe just that- your long-held opinions. You may find that your thinking patterns may be way out of mainstream thought.
Learn to blame something else or someone else occasionally. Yes, the cashier may, in fact, think you are ugly, but that’s not necessarily always the case. That sour look on his face may be because he just had a problem with previous customer, is having marital problems, or that just may be the way his face looks. The committee tells you that virtually everything is your fault. Realize that sometimes, and perhaps most of the time, these events in your world have absolutely nothing to do with you.
Learn to identify the role which your ego plays in your dysfunctional thinking. Most people think of ego as a self-centered and prideful part of a person’s personality. People who have a negative committee directing their lives also have an overdeveloped ego. The problem is, their ego is responsible for everything bad around them. Realize that you’re just not that special. You are nowhere near as bad as you think you are. You’re not worse than other people, you are average to above-average at minimum, and may just be a lot better than you realize. Face it, your ego makes you think you are worse than you actually are. Your ego is the chairman of that negative committee. Vote him out and elect a new one!
“Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”-William Shakespeare
Learning to identify and challenge your dysfunctional thinking patterns is a process, not an event. It does take time, but is not difficult to do. Cognitive behavioral therapy is designed to be a self study with carryover value almost immediately to many areas of your life. Give it an honest try and see if it gets the committee moving in the right direction.
If you found this article helpful, you may want to check out my e-books on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for life improvement available here: http://mindbodycoach.org/products-2/ and also on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00LRJF0W6
“Cogito ergo sum. (I think, therefore I am.)” – René Descartes
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