All of us have a little voice in our heads. A voice that is always there, to guide us and sometimes fight us. This “inner speech” or “internal dialogue” is what shows us the way, drives our rationale, and even helps us avoid rash decisions. As we grow up, this sub-conscious internal speech, helps us visualize scenarios that eventually help us in navigating life.
However, sometimes, this self-dialogue can blur the line between reality and illusion/ good and bad/ truth and false. It can trump over the positives, misshape our beliefs and lead to deprecating thoughts that break our confidence, if not monitored.
In general, all of us have 3 types of internal dialogue- Positive (motivates us- “I can do this”), Negative (causes fear or doubt- “I can’t do anything right”), and instructional (helps us navigate a particular task - “Relax, just need to take the next exit here”).
Self-talk can be positive or negative and very often, we remain unaware of its nature. Here’s a simple exercise to check in with your inner voice -
Step away from whatever you have going on right now. Take a moment. On a piece of paper or on your phone, write down all the things that you most often find yourself thinking about. Note down all that you’ve thought of since you’ve started the day. Don’t try to reflect or word-perfect them too much.
Do this exercise for a few days, especially when you’re feeling an emotion (not just sorrow but happiness, too) or having a tough day. When you read through these thoughts, you’ll be able to distinguish a pattern of your thoughts. You’ll also realize that these thoughts affect your mood – a clear sign that our thoughts affect our overall wellbeing and the things around us.
Our thoughts influence our actions, essentially creating our physical reality. In certain ways, our thoughts are windows to our future. A 2011 research article analysis reveals that behavioral and emotional factors have a consistent relationship with self-talk. Our brain has the ability to train itself about the world around us, using repetitive patterns and activities. Our most common thoughts become a part of our personalities and crystalize into our realities. Consistent exposure to information (whether good or bad) can shape our perception of things and their validity.
Illusory Truth Effect explains that even incorrect information is believed to be true if repeated constantly to people. Another psychological research article also showed that our subconscious interprets every bit of what we hear. This exemplifies why it is important to monitor our extrinsic AND intrinsic thought fodder.
The way we speak about ourselves in front of others is also a reflection of our own thought processes. Ever notice how some of us keep apologizing for everything? (“Sorry I can’t work this weekend”), or how some of us criticize ourselves for everything (“I’m so overweight”/ “I’m so stupid, I can't understand this”). Sometimes we do this to protect ourselves from others’ judgment or societal pressures, sometimes to hide our insecurities (by mocking our flaws as a defense mechanism).
Be that as it may, the way we use words to convey our feelings has a lasting impact on our self-image. It is, therefore, essential that we check our thoughts before projecting them onto others. We’re not asking you to shy away from conveying all your thoughts, vulnerability makes us stronger. Instead, we are asking you to treat yourself with kindness and love. While we may not be able to control a few dark clouds now and again, we can surely try to replace them with better ones. It is not as simple as it sounds, but with conscious effort, we can train our minds to quieten the inner critic and strengthen our inner optimist with words that help. 😊
Negative self-talk & its effects on our wellbeing
“I do not look good in this dress.”
“I’m not moving ahead in life”
“I don’t think I'm good enough”
“Nothing ever goes right for me”
“Everything I do turns into a mess”
“I hate myself”
If you’ve ever noticed yourself thinking any of these, then don't beat yourself up for it, we have all been there. It also means that your thoughts and words have been sabotaging your desires and aspirations, unconsciously. A study estimated that a person thinks about 50,000 - 70,000 thoughts a day, out of which 80% are negative (crazy, right?). We have a tendency to assume the worst about a situation, it comes from our innate fight or flight response to safeguard ourselves from any potential harm.
But negative self-talk could prove to be damaging to our confidence, trigger feelings of shame, or self-blame, and even have physical effects like increased stress levels, anxiety, and depression. We tend to spend so much time ruminating and self-critiquing ourselves, unknowingly shattering our self-love and hampering our growth. Not to forget, these pessimistic thoughts start becoming a part of our thought process and manifesting themselves through our lives – like low self-esteem, lower physical and mental wellbeing, inability to form or sustain relationships, etc.
Types of Negative self-talk:
Just like most things, self-talk also occurs in various stages and has different kinds. Knowing the difference between these thoughts is the first step towards gaining control of them and choosing how much energy to give to them. Here are the 4 most common kinds of negative self-talk we usually go through:
- Personalizing: Blaming yourself for everything (“It’s all because of me”)
- Catastrophizing: Anticipating the worst of everything (“Oh I’ll be stuck in this traffic jam forever!”)
- Polarizing: When things just seem either good or bad, there’s no balance or middle ground between them (Between "I cannot believe I ate the entire cake, I hate myself” and “I’m the best, I got in a workout”- there is no “Oh darn, I missed today’s workout session, maybe I’ll go in tonight after work”)
- Magnifying: Ignoring the good and exaggerating the bad (“I cannot believe this deal didn't go through, it must be because I'm unlucky and don't deserve success.”)
Instead of being ignorant to these thoughts, trying to categorize them helps in realizing their nature, and closes the gap between our awareness and subconscious.
The power of positive Self Talk
We internalize every word we speak, read, hear and write, sometimes consciously and other times, subconsciously. If left unchecked, our insecurities and anxieties can overspread to our thoughts, and creep into our daily life. On the other hand, positive self-talk has the immense power of attracting good energy to us. Once we start realizing the nature of our thoughts, there are a few things that we can practice turning negative thoughts into positive ones and strengthening our minds to manifest them.
We are our true confidants, our true supporters. We need to remember this and nurture our inner voice with compassion. Not only because it needs to be a priority, but because positive self-talk can open new pathways to inner peace and success for us. A recent research study showed that athletes that motivated themselves with positive self-talk before a game, performed better than the ones who did not. Most emotions that we experience are influenced by the thoughts and the words we say to ourselves throughout the day.