Negative self-talk – Changing the voice in your head

A few years ago, I was suffering from anxiety. If I’m honest, I remain prone to it and probably always will: the overwhelm I’ve talked about in new situations is pure anxiety. At one point though it became serious enough to affect what was going on in my life and so after a chat with my GP, he referred me to the local mental health team who happened to run a course for those suffering low level anxiety (high level being when you can’t even get out your home).

There are many things I learnt on this 6 week course, several aha! moments but two things stood out for me: negative self-talk and evidence.

Negative Self Talk
We all have negative self talk going on in our heads, all of us. In fact it is so prevalent we probably don’t even notice it’s going on. But that can be a starting point for anxiety to creep in.  To correct negative self-talk you have to acknowledge it and to do that, you have to become aware of it. That means being very present with yourself.

Think how many of us get up in the morning, look in the mirror and say to ourselves – in our heads – “goodness I look fat today” or “my hair is so grey, I look so old” or “you’re so ugly, no wonder no one loves you”.  We begin our day with negativity – what a great pep talk first thing to start your day!

Now imagine meeting a former colleague who left the business you worked for to set up on their own. You haven’t seen them for a while so they are full of excitement and dying to tell you how they are getting on. They might say something along the lines of “oh I’ve got the website built, a facebook page that is already getting a lot of traffic, I’ve got several new clients already so, yeah, it’s busy busy busy”.  You’re envious because you would love to work for yourself but that negative self talk is firing off all the while your colleague is chatting: “I could never do that, I don’t know how to set up a web page, I’d be frightened that my business idea wouldn’t work, what would happen if I couldn’t pay the bills” and so it goes on.

Another scenario that is common for many of us, being late. If, like me, you think being late for appointments is the height of rudeness, any delay, minor or otherwise, may well have you on edge: “what will they be thinking if I’m not there on time” or “I’ll never get that job if I’m late for the interview and I’m going to be late at this rate!!!”.

This is the important part of this. When that negative self-talk begins pinging round your brain, ask yourself this: What is my evidence for this?

Statement: goodness I look fat today
Evidence: what evidence is there that you are significantly bigger than yesterday? No one puts on massive amounts of weight over night. No one. Our weight fluctuates every single day by ounces or maybe at most a pound or two. So no one ever looks any different from the day before enough for that kind of harsh statement.

Statement: I don’t know how to build a website
Evidence: Yet. You don’t know how to do it yet. And maybe you won’t ever need to because there are plenty of people out there to do it for you. There’s probably even a friend who, if asked, would help you for nothing (except perhaps a bottle of wine or a box of choccies). Building a website these days doesn’t require knowing code, applications like wordpress make it easy for everyone and there are plenty of websites around that will teach you how in small easy steps.

Statement: I’m never going to get the job if I’m late for the interview
Evidence: Are you actually late at this moment? No. Well then the interviewer doesn’t know you are late so they aren’t thinking anything negative at all. And remember this, they may be just as anxious as you about the interview, no matter how experienced an interviewer they are. Most people are very reasonable and understand that, despite leaving plenty of time to get there, life gets in the way, accidents happen, roads are suddenly closed, buses don’t turn up, trains are late and it feels like the world is conspiring against you. It isn’t of course, and they know that. You most likely have a mobile phone so ring them, let them know you’ve encountered difficulties, check if they want to re-arrange or will wait until you get there. Doing that will take the weight off your mind.

These are a few examples out of many I could present, where negative self-talk impacts our lives and yet, we probably don’t even notice we are doing it. Being aware of what you are saying to yourself, choosing your words carefully when talking out loud  – eg “that was a silly thing to do” rather than “I’m an idiot” – will stop you being so hard on yourself.  Changing to a more positive self-talk will prevent you living in fear of making mistakes, not trying in the first place which all keeps you from being who you really are and are meant to be in this life.

For years I wanted to be a shopkeeper. I had a play till when I was a little girl which was a much adored toy but my father, who’s parents were shopkeepers, had other ideas. He filled my head with nonsense about shopkeeping being beneath me, that I should aim higher, be a professional etc. I let that negativity rule my head for decades until I realised, long after his death, that it was all bullsh!t.  Why was I allowing this negative self-talk to prevent me from doing what I really wanted to do?

So now, I am a manager of a shop, a clothing shop. I love it and am really happy. But for years I told myself that I couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t be any good at it, that it wasn’t a good enough career and a whole host of other rubbish. I’m good at what I do, it’s a totally natural environment for me and had I not had such negativity whizzing round my brain, I’d have been doing this years ago.

Be kind to yourself in what you say and do, it impacts your life in far greater ways than you can percieve at times. Don’t live in fear of living, truly living; if you have to have fear about anything, have fear about not trying.


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