We all talk to our selves in our heads. But have you ever taken the time to notice how you talk to yourself? In the field of psychology, they know that healthy, optimistic, happy people have internal self-talk that is supportive and encouraging. Whatever the state of your innermost conversation, more often than not this inner discourse was developed at a young age and has a lot to do with your childhood experiences.
So how’s the chatter in your head? Are you as kind to yourself as you are to other people? As you observe your internal voice, are you surprised by what you find? What tone or flavor does the voice take? Is it nurturing, kind, mellow, snarky, silly, or intense? Does it motivate you through goal setting and cheerleading or through threats? Do you notice that the voice changes based on your environment or whom you’re around? Does it come across different when you’re stressed? Do you tell yourself jokes and make yourself laugh? Or does your inner voice bring you down?
Many years ago, I heard about the concept of internal dialogue. As I began to pay attention, I must admit I was shocked by what I found. There were times when I was being downright beastly to myself. I worked to change this and over the years I have used my internal voice as a kind of barometer. If I begin to get negative with myself (or judgmental about other people for that matter), I see it as sign to stop what I am doing and notice what’s going on. Am I stressed or in fear? Do I need to make an adjustment to my self-care? What needs to change?
If you find that you don’t like aspects of how you talk to yourself, not to worry. The coolest thing about how our brains work and how we think, is that if we choose to, we can change it.
The first step is becoming aware of this inner voice. The next step is to replace the unsatisfying self-talk with something more productive. You cannot just stop thinking…you have to insert an alternative. One idea is to create a simple affirmation that you say every time you notice your inner voice going off course or being less than encouraging. Something like: “I love and accept myself for who I am,” or “Even though I have a problem, I am okay.” This affirmation can be anything that you find comforting or encouraging. For some it may have a spiritual angle. You know you’ve chosen the right affirmation when you notice it helps you breathe more deeply.
Some people think of this voice as the part of them that is coaching them along. When you are tired, that voice should be saying, “Time to rest. Why don’t you take a hot bath? You got a lot done today.“ What it shouldn’t be doing is running you ragged, urging you to do more and more. If you are someone who has procrastinated and let things pile up around you, the ideal internal voice will encourage you with goals and rewards: “Tell you what, you get that one pile done and then it’s time for a break.” What it shouldn’t be doing is beating you up or berating you. One reason top athletes, CEOs, and many others, pay coaches to help them reach their goals, is because having someone on your side works. Are you on your side?
If you are skeptical about how this could affect your life, or even if you’re not, I encourage you to do an experiment. For the next month, choose a positive affirmation, and say it in the morning, whenever negative self-talk arises or whenever you could use some encouragement, and as you go to sleep at night. Make a commitment to do this everyday for one month. Then see what happens; notice what changes.
Some of you may already have mastered the art of internal self-coaching, if you have any thoughts or suggestions, please share with us. I invite anyone to leave questions or comments as well.