We all have an inner dialogue. Thinking about oneself comes so naturally that it is difficult to recognize if we have a harsh inner critic.
Most of us don’t know that the way we speak to ourselves is crucial to our mental health. Recognizing this and turning those negative thoughts into positive thoughts can be very difficult, but with consistency and support, it is absolutely possible.
Dr. Alexis Custard-Mobley LPC-S, LCDC, ADS, and a Nivati counseling provider said that while she was in graduate school, she learned that the brain is wired to keep us safe. “The brain has a negative bias that is built in that causes us to pay more attention to the negative things. Although negative information requires higher information processing and energy vs positive information it [the brain] has an instinct to remember bad experiences and interactions more,” said Custard-Mobley.
Recognizing negative self-talk begins by starting to track your behaviors.
Cassandra Singh, MHC-LP and Nivati counselor says that “by tracking behaviors you may start to realize that your actions can lead to things such as putting yourself down, blaming yourself for everything, and dwelling on things that can start off as small but grow into bigger things.”
Why Is Positive Self-talk So Hard?
Having a positive inner voice is so difficult for many reasons. As mentioned earlier, our brain is programmed to pick out the negative for survival.
This kind of thinking is called a “fixed mindset,” or thinking about yourself and your traits as static and unable to grow or change.
In order to reverse negative self-talk, we have to transition to a “growth mindset”. A growth mindset is when a person believes that their abilities and traits can be developed through hard work and dedication. This way of thinking creates resilience in the brain and lends oneself to think in a more positive way.
However, it is not as easy as just deciding to change how you think about yourself. There can be a lot of obstacles that get in the way of positive thinking. Some common barriers to positive self-talk are:
- Past trauma
Positive self-talk can be difficult because positive thinking operates on the surface level of conscious thoughts and doesn’t go into the subconscious mind where negative self-talk and limiting beliefs live.
How to Cultivate Positive Self-talk
“Our brains are negatively biased; therefore, we must rewire our brain neurons to be trained to think in a more positive way as we would with any other tasks,” Singh says.
Trying to rewire the brain to think in a completely different way can be overwhelming. Luckily, there are a lot of tools and resources available to help. ”Even just taking a moment to pause to call out and label the negative thought can be helpful,” Dr. Custard-Mobley said.
Some of the most common ways to deal with negative self-talk are:
- Therapy (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Therapy, and Solution Focused Therapy are therapeutic approaches that attempt to reframe negative thoughts into positive ones.)
- Positive affirmations
- Deep breathing
These things can be incorporated into your daily life in a variety of ways.
Scheduling regular therapy sessions is a great way to start. There are many different kinds of therapy platforms available that make it easy to find one that works for you and your schedule. Check with your employer to see if they offer virtual therapy as part of your benefits package.
If the thought of therapy is intimidating, starting by saying positive affirmations while looking in a mirror can have a huge impact on seeing yourself in a positive light.
Some of these practices you can also implement while you are at work. For example, taking a 10-minute work break to journal, meditate, or practice some deep breathing can turn a negative thought spiral into a positive.
However, negative self-talk is normal, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Everyone does it. It is important to understand that most people have to make this adjustment and we are not alone on the journey.
If unaddressed, negative self-talk can lead to pessimism, depression, anxiety, and other clinical diagnoses. Because negative self-talk is not beneficial for us mentally, having tools and systems to work through the negative thoughts is how we can start to overcome them.
Negative self-talk is so habitual that we don’t realize we are doing it half the time. So being able to recognize a negative pattern is extremely helpful.
A way to do this is by observing if people close to you have eluded to you projecting negativity. Another method is to see if you can list 3-5 positive things that have happened to you that day. If you have trouble thinking of anything, you may have trouble with negative thinking.
Lastly, if you are a journal keeper, you can read through past entries and analyze if the majority are negative or positive.
Creating this kind of change may require you to implement more self-care into your life. You can read how to do that by reading our article on how to prioritize self-care.
Positive Self-talk in the Workplace
An area that isn’t as widely discussed is how to have positive self-talk while at work. Luckily, once you have established positive self-talk habits in your everyday life, it is simple to transition that thinking to work-related tasks.
Some common negative self-talk that happens at work is, “I can’t get this task done on time,” “my supervisor doesn’t like me,” and “I am in way over my head.”
When these negative thoughts creep in at work, a useful tool that can be used is the power of “yet.” Using “yet” in affirmations can help create a growth mindset. For example, “I don’t understand what I am doing, yet” or “I don’t feel like my work is up to par, yet”. This gives you room to acknowledge your fear as well as encourage your brain to keep working and not view any shortcomings so negatively.
“Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, Claude Steele, suggests that individuals with the ability to utilize positive self-talk consistently may have mental skills that allow them to problem solve, think critically, and be more efficient at coping with struggles and hardships. This can decrease the harmful effects of anxiety and stress. Positive psychology comes into play here because humans have an innate drive to change, overcome, and grow. Positivity, no matter the form, is a useful tool for instilling change and fostering success,” said Dr. Custard-Mobley.
Based on these findings, we can see that the more a person sees themselves in a positive light, the better they will be able to perform in the workplace.
Creating a more positive frame of mind helps in all areas of life. We can think of all the different facets of life as ships in a harbor and positive self-talk as a tide. When the tide comes in, it lifts all the ships, just as positive self-talk will lift us in all areas of life.
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