Identifying negative self-talk
Our self-talk, that is, the stream of thoughts that continually run through our minds, is so automatic that we aren’t aware of a good portion of it. If you have had trouble attaining your goals, more than likely you have some sort of negative self-talk.
It is only when we slow down, calm down and pay attention, that we can really catch it. Knowing our negative self-talk is an important part of smart self-discipline. It may seem like too much effort at first but we are building a foundation. Once built, it will be easier to accomplish whatever goal we wish with less effort, like investing in a map when we are travelling in unfamiliar territory.
We human beings are complex. We believe ourselves to be one person but in actuality, we have what modern psychology calls sub-personalities. This is a great tool to use for self-awareness. It helps us target more specifically what we keep repeating to ourselves that sabotages our efforts. Remember, smart self-discipline is about ‘informed effort’.
Negative self-talk generally falls under one of four categories as described below. Read through them and see if you can recognize anything about yourself.
The Worrier: If you are prone to being anxious, you probably have a worrier sub-personality. Your self-talk will include worry statements such as “What if the worst happens?”. You anticipate failure or catastrophe. Or maybe you are afraid of something embarrassing happening to you.
The Critic: If you find yourself constantly judging or criticizing yourself, always focusing on your flaws or limitations, you have a Critic sub-personality. Your self-talk will include harsh judgments such as: “I’m so stupid.”, “I could have done better.”, “Can’t I ever get it right?”
The Victim: If you have a tendency to feel helpless or fall into discouragement and feeling easily defeated then you may have a Victim sub-personality. Typical statements that you might repeat to yourself are: “I can’t do it.”, “What’s the point of trying, I won’t succeed.”
The Perfectionist: This sub-personality is a close relative to the Critic. Rather than put you down, like the Critic, it is extremely demanding and has overly high expectations of you. There is no room for mistakes or failures. Your self-talk, when driven by the Perfectionist often has a should or have to: “I should do better than that.”, “I have to be on top of things.”
We all have a subconscious mind which is essential for our functioning. Without it, we would not be able to perform basic tasks. Every time we walked across the street, for example, we would have to learn how to take each step, much like a baby learning to walk. As adults, our walking ability is automatic and efficient because it is performed by our subconscious mind.
Our subconscious – helper or saboteur?
The trouble occurs when we, as children, are either treated poorly by our parents or family members or have traumatic experiences that cause us to feel badly about ourselves. This gets registered in the subconscious as truth and begins to operate automatically.
Our negative self-talk happens in both our conscious mind and our subconscious. This is an important aspect to understand. If you have found yourself doing the opposite of what you intended, very likely, lodged in your subconscious, is an opposite message or tendency to what you consciously wish for. For example: “I wish to eat less” is your conscious desire. Yet you may have in your subconscious a tendency or belief that says: “Eating makes me feel better, it calms my nerves.“ So as soon as you try to eat less, it triggers your subconscious to react against it.
The good news is, our subconscious, being like a computer, can be reprogrammed. We can input a different and positive message or belief into it. The trick is to be strategic, what I call, ‘going in through the back door’.
The smart self-discipline basic steps to follow:
1) Calm down and relax just 5 minutes a day. If anything, it will at least be a good investment in your health and well-being.
We live in such a frenetic, productivity-based culture and, unbeknownst to most of us, have become so accustomed to this as the ‘new normal’. We are not built to be constantly on the go, constantly stimulated. This actually wastes valuable energy, like going on a shopping spree and buying clothes without trying them on. The only difference is we can return clothes but our energy only gets spent. We can’t call it back.
Being busy all the time means we don’t have energy left over to observe our negative self-talk. So slowing down is essential, like our Far Side cartoon school boy who finally stops to see that he needs to pull rather than push to open the door.
2) Observe your negative self-talk:
a) Write down in a journal anything you are aware of about this. Ask yourself “What do I think or believe about myself or my attempts to achieve my goal?” e.g. “I failed.” When I was training to be a psychotherapist I was taught a saying to help with the fear of making mistakes: “There are no mistakes, only consequences.” To some of you, this may sound negative but for me, it was liberating. I later came to realize that it wasn’t my mistakes that were a problem, because mistakes in life are inevitable, but rather how I dealt with them.
b) Meditation can be a valuable tool for observing our thinking mind and the constant stream of thoughts running through it. It can also help us to relax and calm down. Most people don’t value meditating either because it seems like a waste of time or because it is uncomfortable to be confronted with how we really are, rather than what we imagine ourselves to be. To help people get started, I created a guided meditation CD based on the Ayurvedic body types. All the meditations are under ten minutes. There is even a lying down one for when you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed. The program, included the guided meditation tracks, are free of charge. Go to: louisegabriellelake.com/meditation
3) Reset your goal:
We often focus on what we need to change or fix rather than where we want to get to. For example, the goal of losing weight means we are focusing on the problem. We weigh ourselves daily to see how much weight we lost – or didn’t lose. If, instead, we enlist the help of our subconscious, we can simply spend a few minutes each day, imagining ourselves thinner or healthier. Doing this before bed every night is a good time. We are tired and our subconscious is more receptive and accessible. It’s important not to push it but rather make it a soft, receptive attitude towards yourself.
If you want to use an affirmation, it’s best to make it permissive rather than definitive. For example: “I’m learning to eat only what my body needs.” or “I eat less by attending to my anxious feelings.” rather than “I now will eat less.” which will almost certainly trigger a negative reaction in your subconscious.
4) We can’t do it alone
We are social beings and rely on others, perhaps more than we realize. If you’ve been struggling with a particular goal repeatedly, why not enlist the help of a therapist or life coach. There is an old Sufi teaching: “You can’t see the back of your head no matter how quickly you turn around to look at it.” Let’s not reinvent the wheel, so to speak. There are professionals who have studied and understand how the human psyche operates. Most of us seek the help of a financial adviser to safeguard our investments. Why not do it for yourself?
Another possibility is to work with a “buddy”. Find someone with a similar goal and team up. Agree to check in with each other once a week for help and support. As long as each of you stays out of advice giving or judging the other, it will work to keep you moving forward in attaining your goal.