Common knowledge within the psychology field suggests one of the greatest factors in maintaining good mental
health is the way people talk to themselves or self-talk. In other words, the internal dialogue we have daily, such as our most basic thoughts, beliefs, and subconscious mind has a huge influence on whether we develop mental illnesses like major depressive disorder (depression) or generalized anxiety disorder (anxiety).
Most negative self-talk begins at an early age, a period when our brain is underdeveloped and has a limited capacity to accurately process information, especially information that is damaging like excessive criticism, trauma, or serious adversity. Not only is brain development a significant factor in the development of negative-self talk habits, environmental influences like negative peers, unreliable parents, or poverty can also truly distort a person's perspective of themselves and the world in general. On top of all that, during childhood, most people simply don't have enough life experience to develop a frame of reference to not accept negative feedback from society as the gospel.
Learning to effectively process our thoughts will help us cope with life's adversities. Below are 5 tips that can improve your self-talk and transform your life.
Thoughts are opinions not facts
When you've been thinking a certain way over an extended period of time, it's easy to fall into the trap of looking at that thought as a fact, instead of an opinion. I mean I get it, you've thought that way for so long. And it makes perfect sense to you, keyword: YOU. So of course, it's hard to not look at that thought as undisputed truth, rather than simply an idea. But just because something makes sense doesn't make it true. Much of the time, we treat our strongly held beliefs like they're facts, and never really acknowledge any other thoughts that contradict those thoughts. Not everything you think is entirely accurate. Learning to determine opinions from facts will work wonders for your mental health because you give yourself an opportunity to explore different meanings behind situations rather than assuming what you believe is the only valid way of looking at things.
Be kind to yourself
If someone criticized you for every mistake, never gave you the benefit of the doubt on anything, body-shamed you, and doubted you in every way possible, how would you feel about that person? I'm not a betting man, but if I were, I'm willing to bet you wouldn't like them. Yet, people treat themselves in this way every day. People tend to be so unkind to themselves. I've never seen anyone benefit from beating themselves up. It's a big difference between self-accountability and self-criticism. Self-accountability means taking an honest inventory of your behaviors to make changes on the issues that are important to you. Self-criticism is an unconstructive inner-dialogue that lacks compassion and has no value.
When you talk to yourself, make sure you're being kind. Treat yourself how you'd like to be treated by others. The best kind of validation is self-validation. When you're able to be kind to yourself, you exude confidence, which manifests into prosperity and success.
One of the easiest ways to convince yourself that you have a bad life is to only focus on the bad parts of it. Practicing gratitude allows you to put your thoughts into proper perspective. Not paying attention to your life, the good and the bad, will cause you to gravitate towards focusing on the negative parts of your life, which will in turn welcome negative self-talk. Negative self-talk can be very persuasive because it's extremely biased. You completely ignore all the aspects of your life that are going well and become hyper-focused on the negative parts, which seemingly confirm the negative thoughts that run through your mind. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Negative things happen, you think negative thoughts, more negative things happen, and this cycle repeats itself over and over until you're entrenched in a pattern of negativity. That's why when negative self-talk sets in, it's good practice to express gratitude for the parts of your life that are going well; that may be your health, a great career, or maybe even something as simple as being grateful that your loved ones are alive and safe. I don't know what you have to be grateful about but if you think hard enough, I'm sure there is an aspect of your life that could be much worse. At first glance, expressing gratitude may seem a lot like toxic positivity, but it really is shifting your focus to the positive areas of your life than dwelling on negativity.
Remember the old axiom "this too shall pass"
Although it may not seem like it in the movement, one thing I've learned through my life is that tough times don't last. Every tough moment, bout of depression, or unfortunate situation, at some point passed; many of which have passed to the point where I can't even recall them today. I say that not to minimize my own or anyone else's troubles but to make the point that nothing lasts forever, especially not negative thoughts. When life gets rough, beating yourself up is never a viable option, that only makes the situation worse. You really only have a few options: change your perspective; meaning try to look at the situation another why that produces the result you'd like to see. You can take action and actively try to change your circumstances, which will ultimately change your self-talk. Or you can endure the situation and allow the feelings to pass. Neither of the options is better than the others, and it depends on the situation at hand. But I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, negative self-talk will never produce positive results.
Feel your emotions
Acknowledging your emotions is one of the most powerful things you can do to silence negative self-talk. Why? Because so often, instead of dealing with our insecurities or flaws we try to deflect or repress them which just makes the negative voice in our head much louder over time. Not acknowledging negative self-criticism can be helpful short term because it may give you the confidence you need at the moment to carry out the task at hand but it doesn't address the deep-rooted issue that brought about the thoughts in the first place. It just puts a band-aid on a problem that needs comprehensive surgery. When you don't allow yourself to feel your negative self-talk as it comes, you side-steps the responsibility of dealing with the emotions or issues that bring about the problematic thoughts. When you acknowledge your thoughts and emotions you begin the process of self-empowerment. You're no longer allow those thoughts to dictate your life. You no longer run from them. You stand up to them. You put those thoughts on trial. Negative self-talk cannot stand the scrutiny of a good cross-examination. Negative self-talk is like a bully, once you stand up for yourself, it usually backs down.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer on how to resolve negative self-talk. But self-rejection is never a viable option. It makes a mountain out of a molehill. Even as a licensed therapist with all the emotional coping skills you can imagine still deal with this problem at times; it's part of the human experience. Even the most confident people experience negative self-talk; the question is not whether or not you experience it, that's a given. How you respond to negative self-talk is what's most important. Remember this: when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.