by Jeff Bentley, TLC Counselling
I hope you have enjoyed your Christmas and had a jolly and ‘jolly careful’ time. We enter this new year with hope that the vaccines are successful and that we can all eventually return to near normal lifestyles. It is also a time when many of us make new year resolutions. I am suggesting a resolution that, I believe, is worth sticking with. A resolution to be kinder to ourselves by improving our self-talk.
Our self-talk [ … ] has a big influence on how we feel about what we experience.
Self-talk is our inner voice that provides a running commentary on our lives. We often don’t even realise that this is going on but our inner voice is combining our conscious thoughts with those unconscious beliefs and biases we carry in order to provide us with an interpretation of our daily experiences. Our self-talk, therefore, has a big influence on how we feel about what we experience.
When positive, our self-talk can calm our fears and help us to build confidence. Unfortunately, our human nature tends toward negative self-talk. This includes statements like “I can’t do anything right”; “I’m a complete failure”; “I’m a phoney” “I’m such an idiot”; “I will never succeed”. These statements reduce our confidence and bring about an experience of shame which can limit our personal growth.
Our inner critic isn’t harmless. It limits us, it robs of us of our peace of mind and emotional well-being.
Our inner critic isn’t harmless. It limits us, it robs of us of our peace of mind and emotional well-being. If it is left unchecked, it can even lead to mental health problems like depression and anxiety. In short, it can stop us from pursuing the life we truly want to live. Negative self-talk is never in our best interest. But there is a kinder way to treat ourselves that doesn’t involve negative labels and self-destructive mindsets. In any situation, we can focus on what we did wrong or on what we did well and what we can do better the next time. The next four steps may help us to stick with our suggested New Year’s resolution.
1) Notice your critic
Much of our thinking is so automatic that we barely notice it before we move on to the next thought. On purpose, slow down and pay attention to your thoughts. This will help you notice when the critic is present. Keeping an inner critic log every time you notice yourself being self-critical will help you identify just how active your inner critic is and provide an opportunity to stand up to it.
2) Distance yourself from your critic
Your critic is a voice that you have internalised over time. Your critic’s vocabulary is based on outside influences and learning which includes other people’s criticisms, their expectations and their list of ‘shoulds’. Shoulds that include, what you should be achieving, should look like and how you should be behaving. One way to help distance yourself from your critic is to give it a name. Any name will work but perhaps using a name like ‘The Old Nag’ or ‘Old Misery Guts’ may add a touch of lightness for you. What is important is that by distancing yourself from your inner critic you will be on your way to freeing yourself from its influence.
3) Talk back to your critic
Challenge your critic’s negative thoughts. Talking back to your critic or, if you like, ‘Old Misery Guts’, is an important part of taking away its power. Tell it that you don’t want to hear what it has to say. This presents you with a sense of choice in the matter and puts you in control. When you hear ‘Old Misery Guts’ start to talk, tell it to go away, refuse to listen. Tell it that you know it is lying and you are choosing instead to be kind to yourself.
4) Replace your critic
Developing an inner voice that acts as your own best friend will help you defeat your critic. On purpose, start noticing the good things about yourself. Make a deliberate effort to say something good about yourself such as, “I am doing the best that I can”, “I can achieve things”, “I am liked by people”, “I am not an idiot”. Search for evidence that these statements are true so that when your critic tells you otherwise you can talk back with examples confirming that it is wrong.
Remember, that whatever your inner critic tells you, you do have positive traits, so tell ‘Old Misery Guts’ to be quiet and continue sticking to this New Year’s resolution which is to be kinder to yourself.