Were you aware? Most of us aren’t or choose to ignore that fact much of the time. I’m talking about your brain-the gray matter between your ears. Why is it important to know and harness this information about ourselves? When we don’t take the time to acknowledge and understand the power we have in our brain, we won’t use it properly not just day to day but particularly under stress, in times of severe anxiety or other difficult situations. Its like owning the latest and greatest smart phone and just using it to make phone calls.
So lets talk specifics: If I tell myself something negative, i.e. “negative self talk”, it affects how I feel about myself, others and how I cope. This is allowing thoughts such as “I’m not good enough” to stand unchallenged. This is bad enough on a run of the mill day under normal circumstances. This kind of thought has a negative impact on how you feel, how you manage yourself, manage relationships and a myriad of day to day situations. In periods of high stress, high anxiety or difficult/painful circumstances this loop of negative self talk will reek havoc on you, increasing stress and anxiety and decreasing your ability to function.
Perhaps this your life story, the negative self talk is such a part of you or who you are that its hard for you to even realize the degree to which it impacts your life. Maybe you’ve never been one to struggle with negative self talk until your life hit a speed bump so big it has you reeling and all you hear in your head now is destructive self talk that you can’t stop. Maybe you fall somewhere between the extremes. No matter if this has been a constant pattern in your life or born of a specific stressor or hardship , the good news for all of us is that we can change the talk looping in our brains! We can train our brains to recognize the negative, self defeating thoughts that are plaguing us and with practice, learn to replace them with healthy thoughts.
So how do we do this? First we have to recognize the thought(s). This may sound easy but if this pattern is ingrained as the default loop playing in your head, you may not even realize the degree to which your thinking is self defeating. Some thoughts are so insidious and sneaky you may not even realize its self defeating. Maybe it looks like comparing yourself to others. Ex: “She has it all together, I wish I could be that way.” That’s about someone else right? Actually the underlying message here is that compared to others, you don’t measure up. Other thoughts are easier to recognize because they are so big and encompassing but maybe still hard to pinpoint as self defeating if you feel its true and a devastating reality that you are facing. Ex: “My life is over.”, if you find yourself getting divorce or having just lost your job, it may not feel self defeating as opposed to the reality you feel you are facing.
To change the negative thoughts really listen to what you are telling yourself. This brings me to step two. Examine the thoughts with the thoroughness of a detective. Remember thoughts do not equal facts! Hold the thought up to the facts that you know to be indisputably true. Ex: I may not be as organized as she is, but I operate in a way that makes sense to me and I have family and friends that like me how I am.” Ex 2: It feels right now that my life is over and it may never look the same but I do have these people, place, things, that I can hold up as positives in my life that are good and something I can hold on to at this awful time”.
Step three requires you to be alert. Keep yourself aware so that the moment negative or self defeating thoughts/self talk pop into your brain (remember they can be sneaky!) you can tell yourself “stop” or “no” and replace the thought with a neutral, fact based or positive thought(s) born of your investigative work. Again just because you have a thought, doesn’t mean its a fact.
Finally, practice, practice practice and don’t give up! This is hard. But with practice you can train your brain to operate in a way that gives you comfort and encouragement and an enhanced ability to mange stress and anxiety rather than exacerbating stress, anxiety and doubt. But if you feel you need help to accomplish this, reach out and we’ll do it together!