Changing self-talk is a crucial part of making gains in changing poor self-image, managing anxiety, and almost every other aspect of our lives. It is important to stop and take note of what it is you are telling yourself. This can be a very difficult thing to change, so here are two important ideas to keep in mind about making changes in your self-talk.
Facts and Feelings
Many times negative self talk will be triggered by someone feeling bad about how they feel. Feeling bad that they struggle with feelings of anger, anxiety or depression for example. Avoid judging yourself and focusing on why you shouldn’t feel a certain way and try to refocus on healthy changes you want to make instead. When you tell yourself “I shouldn’t be feeling this way”, “I am letting everyone down”, or “there’s something wrong with me” it is easy to get discouraged. The truth is, feelings are not good or bad, they just are. However, the way you interpret them can be very negative indeed. It is better to just acknowledge that you feel what you feel. Tell yourself “I feel really anxious” or “I am very angry”, or “I am feeling uncomfortable” rather than “I am losing it, what’s wrong with me”, or “I am so weak (stupid, pathetic, choose your own adjective)”. You get the point, a feeling isn’t wrong but the context you put it in and the choice you make about responding to it can be life altering. Give yourself permission to feel what you feel, and also the autonomy to decide what choice you want to make in response to this feeling. Rather than talking yourself into feeling powerless about your feeling, tell yourself something encouraging and helpful. “I am feeling overwhelmed, but I can reach out for support” or “I can get through this, I am strong”. The point here is, tone down the self-judgment and turn up the self-empowerment.
Forecast: More of the Same
Stop predicting terrible future outcomes. Human beings love to predict the future. We make all sorts of guesses about how things will turn out in the future. Here’s the problem, we are not great at this kind of forecasting. Mostly because we tend to be saturated in the emotions of the moment. Whatever we are feeling now tends to color our crystal ball and tints our future with the deep blues of sadness and depression or the fiery reds of anger and frustration. If I am feeling down and hopeless, my future often seems inevitably tied to this. I predict more of the same in the near and distant future.
I remember hearing a prominent psychologist illustrate this in the extreme case of those who have been seriously injured and have lost some physical function. For example, someone who becomes paraplegic due to an accident. In this situation the person will often initially report feeling hopeless about ever being able to enjoy life again. However, when asked a year later they are much more hopeful about continuing to live and being able to enjoy life again. So do yourself a favor, leave predictions to carnival side shows and irreverent comedians and be willing to recognize that you can’t say with any accuracy just exactly what the future holds. Instead of worrying about what future might “happen” to you, work on making a better future happen.