What do you say when you talk to yourself?
What a profound and interesting question.
Every one of us has a constant stream of inner dialog running through our brains. For some this inner voice can be an incredibly negative force, damaging their health and happiness at every turn.
For most people the inner voice is like the weather. Driven by external conditions such as good news or a poor turn of events it can be a pleasant and soothing force that builds them up and leads them to new successes, or it can quickly turn to a destructive force that breaks them down and slows progress.
Finally there are those of us who have learned to work with our inner voice, maximizing the soothing and pleasant parts and minimizing the negative and destructive tendencies.
After a lifetime of working with groups and individuals I can instantly tell who struggles with their inner dialog and who doesn’t.
The quality of our inner voices is demonstrated in our body language, in our health and in how we interact with the world around us.
People with a negative inner dialog look like they are carrying a weight around their neck and in a very real sense they are. As a result they look physically and emotionally drained by their burden. They have trouble finding balance in their lives, they struggle with achieving meaningful goals and are often plagued by a constant stream of low energy and minor illnesses.
People with positive inner voices have a completely different life experience. They are more positive, energetic and healthier. They have more balance in their lives and they achieve more meaningful goals.
The inner voice you have does not have to be the inner voice you keep.
I know all about having negative self-talk and struggled with it for years. Whenever I made mistake I would unleash a withering stream of self-criticism negative that, had I said it aloud, would have emotionally scarred anyone who heard it. I would refer to myself in the most negative ways imaginable.
However negative self-talk is not helpful in any way, shape or form. Negative self-talk is an insidious disease that, over a life-time creates incredible harm and often results in reinforcing the very pattern of behaviour that is at the core of the negative self-talk.
I am working with a very overweight person who constantly tells themselves that they are fat and ugly.
The negative dialog increases their levels of cortisol. This increase causes cravings for fat and carbohydrate laden food which causes them to eat more junk food. This increase in cortisol also interferes with healthy sleeping patterns which makes them more tired and less likely to exercise. Finally a lack of sleep creates a further increase in cortisol secretion which then deepens the whole cycle.
The way we criticize ourselves for our weakenesses usually serves to reinforce the negative behaviours.
The good news is that all of us have the tools to effect change.
With deliberate, consistent and persistent action we can literally rewire our brains and teach our inner voice to become much more useful and positive.
Tools to change;
Fortunately there are ways to limit and overcome the tendency toward negative self-talk. These are my favorites;
Build an awareness of your inner voice
Recognising the tone and impact of your inner voice is incredibly important. Many people don’t recognise the tone of their inner voice nor do they appreciate the impact of it upon every aspect of their lives.
You can’t fix what is wrong if you do not know what is wrong.
Part of awareness is knowing that having a negative inner voice does not make you a flawed or broken person. We all struggle with some negativity at times. That negative voice only means that you have some work to do. It is not representative of who you are and most certainly does not determine your destiny.
Your negative thoughts are like clouds. They may create a shadow but they carry very little substance or weight.
Know that your physical state directly impacts your thinking
Your physical state directly affects your inner dialog. It is very hard to maintain a positive inner voice if you are tired, hungry or sick.
Personally I know that missing even a few hours of sleep means my normally happy inner dialog becomes less happy.
In my coaching and keynote speeches I come back to this time and time again. You must take good care of your basic bodily needs. Eat well, sleep well, move your body and spend time outdoors.
Accept that negative self-talk is just a mental habit that, with time and effort, can be altered
Most of our mental habits were acquired when we were small children, yet as adults we still carry them around with us. The basic attributes of your inner voice have been with you your whole life and are the result of some genetic tendencies mixed with the experiences and reactions you had as a child.
With time and effort you can create a much more useful and positive inner voice.
Break the cycle
When you engage in a negative thought loop it is important to do something to break the cycle as soon as you recognise it.
Rather than ruminate on the thought as many do take action; go for a walk outside, listen to some happy music or pet your cat. Do something that makes you happy and do your very best to focus on enjoying the moment to the best of your ability.
A super powerful tool that can be used in a proactive way is called a GRATITUDE JOURNAL.
Writing down three things you have grateful for will create a 20% increase in overall happiness.
If you want to learn more about Oprah’s take on gratitude click HERE.
Stay in the present
Much negative self-talk is based on either ruminating over past negative events or by imagining and overly negative future. Neither is helpful. Try to be present in the moment and focus on the task at hand.
Meditation is a great way to develop focus and your ability to stay present in the moment.
Focus more on your own thinking and less on other people
Much of our internal dialog is centred around our concerns about how other people think about us. This is particularly true with people who have body image concerns. The reality of the situation is that most people don’t think about us at all, and if they do so what? Other people’s opinions are just that, opinions. They only carry the weight we give to them. My advice is to accept only the opinions that serve you and don’t worry about opinions that are not shared or not helpful.
Focus on getting your own inner dialog right and then work at being a positive role model for others.
Everyone has an inner dialog running all the time. But the voice in your head is merely a by-product of your thinking process. Like I mentioned before the positive or negative slant to your inner dialog is primarily a mental habit that was started when you were very young.
Fortunately the use of positive affirmations can be used to change the quality of your inner dialog.
In the world of neurology it is said that “neurons that fire together wire together”. In other words the best way to strengthen the neural pathways associated with a positive inner dialog is to repeatedly use affirmations to strengthen neural pathways associated with a more positive inner voice.
However constant repetition of a word or phrase is not enough. If you are going to try affirmations focus on the feelings associated with the affirmation more than the words.
Create a training plan.
Everyone knows that the secret to becoming more physically fit is to create a training plan that helps increase the quality and quantity of your physical movement and enhances your diet.
Given that you now know that your mental dialog can be positively impacted through the use of meditation, sleep, diet, movement and positive affirmations why not create a training plan for your inner voice.
Try giving that inner voice of yours some exercise and great food. You might be surprised at how quickly it will turn around for you.
Remember to start small and aim for consistency. Think progress rather than perfection.
Learning to work with your inner dialog is one of the most important skills you can acquire.
In fact the quality of your inner voice has a direct and lasting impact upon both yourself and the people around you.
Thanks for reading Success on the Far Side of Fifty.
Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you in your journey.