When you’re giving advice to your best friend or your partner, you are usually careful about the words you choose. After all, you want to give them helpful wisdom, but you also don’t want to hurt them. You also see them through special glasses filled with love, which makes you care about how they respond and how your words make them feel. Unfortunately, most of us don’t extend that same common courtesy to ourselves. This is sad because a positive inner dialogue — or self-talk — is essential for our mental health and happiness.
When you’re mean to yourself, you’re literally wiring your brain to fail, says Dr. Shad Helmstetter, the founder of the Self-Talk Institute and the SelfTalkPlus app. “People who think negatively actually grow more neural connections in the right prefrontal cortex of their brain, making that area of the brain stronger and more active,” he explains. “That’s a part of the brain that increases fear, stops you from finding solutions, and causes you to run or hide.”
On the other hand, when we are our own greatest fan and silently encourage ourselves, Dr. Helmstetter says we grow more neurons in the left prefrontal cortex of our brains. This area helps you search for alternatives, find solutions, and take action.
So, how can you shift up your self-talk language? By trying these 7 tips from experts:
To better understand how you speak to yourself, you need to listen. And if you jot down every last hurtful or dismissive phrase you say to yourself over a day — you’ll likely be shocked. However, by first understanding how you’re speaking, you can work to change the dialogue, says Allison Chawla, a psychotherapist, social worker, intuitive counselor and healer, and certified life coach.
You may need some help to turn the mean words into kind ones, so start taking notes when you think something happy or someone pays you a compliment. You can also write down inspirational quotes that bring you joy and keep them close. “I like to keep a positive affirmation on my nightstand that I can look at upon rising. I keep one or two tucked away in my wallet next to pictures of my daughters,” Chawla says. “Try something that you can pull out of your wallet or purse, so you can quickly smile over it at any time or when you least expected to need it.”
Refrain from comparing yourself to others.
One habit that causes you to speak unkindly to yourself more than anything else? Playing the comparison game. If you actively look for it, you’ll always find someone who is ‘smarter,’ ‘more successful,’ or ‘more attractive.’ However, as Chawla reminds, jealousy is a wasted emotion since you can’t be anyone but yourself.
“Instead of trying to do something the way someone else does, and really trying to be anyone but who you are; practice on the things you feel good about and find discipline within yourself,” she suggests. “This will make you feel better than any comparison to anyone, or any attempt to be like anyone else will ever provide. Be your best you.”
Cry when you need to.
Though you may put on a brave face for your friends, family or partner, never allowing yourself to release emotion will only intensify your negative self-talk. Since you don’t experience relief from sadness or frustration, it’ll only build up. And while you may battle vulnerability, feeling pain is part of being human. “Forgive yourself for your trying and difficult moments, and remember that feeling difficulty only enhances joy,” Chawla says. “If you wouldn’t say something to your own child, loved one, partner, or closest friend, then you should never say it to yourself. You deserve to feel good about yourself, and you deserve love. Even from yourself.”
Gather your cheer squad.
Who is on your hype team? Maybe it’s your childhood bestie, your spouse, or perhaps even your brother. This is your cheer squad, and they can be instrumental in making you feel more confident and loved. As Dr. Thomas says, when you start to feel nervous, or you’re engaging in a cycle of downer thoughts, reach out to your cheer squad for comfort, feedback and motivation. This will speed up the time it takes to go from a poor state of mind to a happier, hopeful one.
Discover your triggers.
Not everything in our life will make us feel unworthy. And not everyone will experience negative thoughts from the same things, either. As psychologist Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D., explains, we need to know our mental triggers that result in negative self-talk. As you go through your normal routine, pay attention if certain people and/or actions at home or work make you feel on edge.“By knowing who or what can set off this unhealthy thinking, you can take actions to prevent or stop the negative inner dialogue faster and convert it into more positive thoughts,” she explains.
For example, suppose you notice that you tend to have a negative inner dialogue about traffic. In that case, Dr. Thomas suggests taking a different, less congested route if possible and recognizing that you are handling this situation in a way that is more healthy for you emotionally. If there is no alternate way to drive, leave earlier or later to minimize destructive self-talk. Be aware that you have been proactive in taking care of yourself by reducing the likelihood of a stressful situation.
Identify the facts in your case.
Much like a detective in an investigation, you need to gather facts before you can conclude who you are. However, many of us are so focused on the stories we create around the facts that we forget what the facts actually are, says Nick Pags, a mindset coach and the creator of Project Limitless. For example, he says, ‘I lost my job, and this is terrible’ is not a fact, but rather, it’s the story you have attached to the truth. The fact is that you don’t have a job. “There is no negative or positive when it comes to facts. The only energy that exists is the energy you give it,” he explains.
So when you start having negative self-talk, get down to only the facts, and then ask yourself if you want to continue to live the story you’re telling yourself. “If that story isn’t working for you, then simply stop. The stories are things you made up. They’re not the facts,” he continues. “The facts are non-negotiable. The stories are simply built by perspective.”
Practice deep breathing with mantras.
Sometimes when we’re engaging in a negative inner dialogue, it can feel overwhelming, resulting in doomsday thinking. We may feel like we will never feel better, stronger or more fulfilled. Rather than going from one extreme to another, it can be helpful to slow down, practice deep breathing, and create a mantra that helps you feel calm, says Dr. Deb Courtney, Ph.D., LCSW, a psychotherapist and author. She recommends some of these phrases to help ease your troubles:
- I am safe.
- Everything is working out for me.
- I can trust my process.
- I am supported by the universe.
- My feelings are valid.
- I can handle everything that comes my way.
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