Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own unguarded thoughts.
We all have an inner dialogue that begins the moment we wake up in the morning and continues until the second we fall asleep at night. This conversation we have with ourselves assists us in organizing our day and making sense of the world. It often includes a running mental list of things we need to do, things we didn’t do, and things we could have done differently. Unfortunately, this internal commentary isn’t always helpful or kind, and for many, it ends up distorting our self-concept and view of the world. For example, if you criticize yourself for doing a less than perfect job or for not making it to the gym today, the meaning you attach to these thoughts may be “I’m not good enough” or “I’m a failure.”
Neurologist, Robert Burton’s research shows that our brains reward us with dopamine when we recognize and complete patterns, regardless of whether or not they’re correct or accurate. Burton explains, “Because we are compelled to make stories, we are often compelled to take incomplete stories and run with them. Even with a half story in our minds, we earn a dopamine ‘reward’ every time it helps us understand something in our world. It does not matter whether that explanation is incomplete or wrong.” So if we’re in the habit of thinking, “I’m not good enough,” “I’m unlovable,” or “bad things always happen to me,” this type of thinking may become integrated into our personal narrative. Ultimately, it can deter us from setting and achieving goals, rob us of our creativity, sabotage our interpersonal relationships, and cause us to doubt our abilities as professionals, partners, and parents. In extreme forms it can become so insidious that it manifests in debilitating depression or anxiety.
Here are some ways you can combat negative self-talk:
Begin to notice how you are speaking to yourself and when you are engaging in negative self-talk. What is the story you tell yourself? Maybe it’s that you’re not good enough or you’re unlovable? Challenge this thinking by reminding yourself that thoughts are not truths and replace them with positive affirmations. Some examples are: I am lovable, I deserve to be happy, I am good enough, I work hard, I am beautiful. Even if you have a hard time embracing this new thinking, fake it ’til you make it. Research shows that changing your behavior first can create a shift in your thinking.
Start a meditation practice
Meditation and mindfulness techniques will help you to detach from your thoughts in order to create space for a healthier self dialogue. If you are new to meditation this may seem like a daunting task, but don’t get discouraged! You can reap the benefits by practicing just a few minutes a day. Try downloading a meditation app or attending a class to help you get started.
If you often find yourself focusing on the negative or what’s wrong in your life, it might be time to introduce some gratitude into the mix. Start to think about what you are appreciative of. Perhaps it’s something beautiful that you saw or something that brought a smile to your face, like a kind gesture by a friend, lover, or stranger. People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they’re thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems. Try writing a gratitude list in the morning or before you go to bed. It’s amazing what a little perspective can do!
Limit exposure to social media and time spent on internet
We are constantly bombarded with messages from the internet to our inboxes, reinforcing the idea that we are in some way deficient or not good enough as we are. As if that weren’t enough, how many moments of our day are we judging and comparing ourselves to others on social media based on our physical appearance, marriages, child-rearing, finances, and professions? With the constant judging and comparing, we strip away our ability to be loving and kind to ourselves, which creates more space for negative self-talk.
Talk to a professional who can guide you in the process of developing a healthier relationship with both yourself and others.