I found this page in a notebook the other day.
It’s my daughter’s handwriting and, aside from the words “My parents are always saying”, the page is blank. (Lest you think I was digging around my daughter’s personal things, I’ll assure you that she gave me the notebook for scrap paper!).
What we say to ourselves — it matters.
Once I stopped wondering what my daughter might have written next, I started to think about the things I repeatedly say to myself. Sure, there are many good things I say to myself…but my curiousity was pulled to the statements that I say to myself and that may not be so supportive. Things like:
- I didn’t have time to…(or other variations that reflect ‘not enough time’)
- I wish I knew how to…
- How come I can’t get myself to do [X], when I say [X] is important?
What is self-talk?
What we say to ourselves is self-talk. You’ve probably heard about “self-talk,” that internal dialogue through which we interpret and regulate feelings/perceptions/experiences and via which give ourselves instructions and reinforcement (Rogelberg et al., 2013). It’s worthwhile noting that most self-dialogues take place at the unobservable level as we evaluate and reflect. In my experience, most of my self-talk is automatic.
Common advice and literature suggests that we can alter our self-talk to reduce stress, boost confidence, and augment self-esteem.
Does the term “positive self-talk” make you cringe?
For a long time, I cringed at the concept of self-talk because I thought it meant coming up with statements that captured an ideal situation. For example:
- I am completely energized to find my perfect job.
- I am calm and confident
While the statements like the above were meant to be inspiring, they actually felt out of my reach and that was discouraging.
I now call these statements “forced positive self-talk” and am not a fan of these.
Reframing: a way to change what we say to ourselves
If you’re still resisting or unsure about positive self-talk, reframing may be more palatable or enticing! I absolutely believe in and advocate for reframing (click here for a short audio-clip I recorded about reframing). I also believe in the value of recognizing our strengths and connecting these to what might (initally) show up as unsupportive thoughts. For example, I often tell myself I’m impatient. That’s because I am. From a strengths perspective, I recognize that my impatience is tied to my ‘let’s get things done’ approach (I have Achiever in my top 5 CliftonStrengths Themes [see this post to learn more about CliftonStrengths]). So, a way to reframe my impatience is to also recognize that I am a person who is efficient, focussed, and gets pleasure from accomplishing things. In doing so, I don’t deny my impatience.
Shifting your internal dialogue
When it comes to changing our internal dialogue, the most effective way to change is to address the things that are causing frustration or stress. In the past 1-3 years, I have managed to make some big shifts in areas of my life that were causing me frustration (i.e., my connection to the outdoors, my relationship with my spouse, and my career). My self-talk in these areas has dramatically improved–due mostly to the fact that my actions have changed. I’ve noticed the same thing with my coaching clients: once their actions change, their self-talk shifts. For example, a person may feel “stuck” at work; once they make a move to change this, their internal dialogue also changes.
In summary, here are 3 effective ways to change our self-talk (the things we “always” say to ourselves):
- Change your actions –i.e., give yourself proof you can do the thing you’ve been avoiding or that has been scaring you.
- Recognize the link to your personal strengths
Over to you
- Think of a time in the past week when you felt frustrated, challenged, or anxious. What were some of the things you said (to yourself) that were most supportive of yourself?
- What are some of the things you say to yourself “all the time” that aren’t so supportive?
- What are some of the ways you shift your self-talk from unsupportive/unhelpful to supportive/helpful? [I’d love to hear from you about these–please be in touch!]
Rogelberg, S., Justice, L., Braddy, P., Paustian‐Underdahl, S., Heggestad, E., Shanock, L., Baran, B., Beck, T., Long, S., Andrew, A., Altman, D. and Fleenor, J. (2013). The executive mind: leader self‐talk, effectiveness and strain. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 28(2), pp.183- 201. Click here to retrieve article.