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By Alana Gregg, MA

We all have this voice in our head. You know, the voice that pops in whenever there’s a moment of silence. This inner dialogue seems to narrate our lives by combining our situations with the meaning our brain is interpreting them with. 

Our self-talk can be positive. It can be what motivates us to succeed or calms us down when we are overwhelmed. These are thoughts like, “I can do it” or “I am not good at this YET.” But unfortunately, our self-talk often tends to be negative. That voice is usually demeaning and defeatist. It keeps us from believing anything good about ourselves or the situation. These are thoughts like “I can’t do anything right” or “No one wants to be my friend.”  

Since we can’t change that this voice is always there, we can control what we say to ourselves. Here are 5 ways to make your self-talk work for you:

1. Identify what you are saying to yourself

In our culture, we have grown used to being so busy that we often are not in tune to what is going on in our head. We tend to fill up any down time with music, podcasts, Netflix, etc so there is too much noise to hear that inner voice. If we are honest, sometimes this is by design. If our self-talk tends to be negative then it is easy to want to drown out that voice instead of facing it. Our self-talk can also be so automatic that sometimes we are not fully aware of it. Facing those thoughts is the first step in being able to separate the positive voice that pushes us forward from the negative one that holds us back.

2. Directly address doubts and fears

After we acknowledge that negative voice, we can meet it head on. What are the particular fears and doubts this voice is focused on? Usually our minds become fixated on a particular flaw we have. And the more we dwell on that flaw the bigger it becomes. For instance, if you tend to be a socially anxious person, then your self-talk might sound something like, “She definitely doesn’t like me. I’m gonna say something dumb. Who would want to talk to me?” These thoughts are not based on reality. They are assumptions we are making based on our fears. Once I’m aware of what I’m afraid of, I can then shift my self-talk to what I know to be true. For instance, “Not everyone will like me (and that’s ok), but I’m pretty sure not everyone will hate me either.”

3. Ask yourself if you would say this to a friend

For some reason, we are the most critical of ourselves. It is so much easier to show grace to others. We would never say half of the things to someone else that we say to ourselves. So imagine you’re saying to yourself “I’m so stupid. How could I make that mistake?” Now imagine your friend is upset because he just made a mistake. What would you say to her? Would you tell her she is stupid and useless? Or would you say, “Everyone makes mistakes sometimes.” Maybe you can learn from this and grow for next time.” Imagining what we would say to a loved one can help us turn off that critical voice. If our friends deserve grace, then why wouldn’t we?

4. Choose self-compassion

Think about how much time we spend beating ourselves up. There are so many hard things in this life we cannot control. The one thing you can always control is how you treat yourself. When you notice your self-talk becoming more critical, try choosing to show yourself kindness instead. For every one thing you do wrong, I bet there are at least 10 things you do right. Give yourself permission to be human by practicing showing yourself compassion over judgment. Remember, the goal is progress not perfection.

5. Connect with others

It is important to remember that we are not the only ones who struggle with fears and insecurities. This is an aspect of being human that we all share. If we are all insecure on some level, then other people are probably judging us a lot less than we think they are. So in order to decrease our negative self-talk, sometimes we need to get out of our own head. We can do this by focusing our attention on someone other than ourselves for a minute. Consider helping meet the need of a friend or stopping to consider what it would be like to be someone else. It can help give us perspective when we remember the world does not revolve around us and others are struggling too.

Need Help?

Identifying our self-talk can be very foreign if you have never done it. Or maybe you are very aware of the negative voice in your head, you’re just not sure what to do about it. Our therapists at Lime Tree Counseling would love to help you learn how to choose self-compassion over self-criticism. We offer in-person counseling in the Lower Gwynedd, PA as well as online counseling in Pennsylvania, online counseling in North Carolina, and online counseling in Colorado. We offer anxiety counseling, trauma counseling, Christian counseling and drug and alcohol counseling. Contact us today, we want to help you!