We all have an internal dialogue that plays over and over again in our heads. Our internal dialogue is a stream of automatic thoughts. We may not pay close attention to it but it does influence us in our daily lives. What would your internal dialogue say about you if you stopped and paid attention to it? Would it be negative or positive? If your internal dialogue is positive then it can help facilitate positive interactions with others, help you manage and get through difficult situations and encourage you throughout your day. What if your internal dialogue is negative? It can then negatively affect your mood, performance or interactions with others. We are all well aware of how negative statements made by others can affect self-esteem. What we do not realize is that the messages we give ourselves can also influence our sense of self-worth.
Our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are all interconnected. The way we feel and how we behave is influenced by our thoughts.
For example, if your internal dialogue says “ I never do anything right” or “ I am so stupid” after you happen to make a mistake, then these negative thoughts may provoke you to feel frustrated, agitated, anxious, tense, or overwhelmed. When we are feeling these negative emotions, we are more likely to blow up at others, disengage, isolate, make further mistakes or simply give up.
If after making a mistake your internal dialogue sounds like “ I will try again, that’s okay, mistakes happen, I will figure it out”, then these positive thoughts are more likely to lead you to feel hopeful, inspired, calm, relaxed, determined, or motivated. When you are feeling positive your behavior is more likely to be positive as well. For example, you may want to give the task another try, ask someone for help, go for a walk or just enjoy your day instead of letting a mistake become your roadblock and lead you into the path of negativity.
A simple thought can really have profound effects. Studies have shown how athletes use positive self-talk to help them in their various competitions. Positive self-talk enhances performance and facilitates learning new strategies or skills.
Now imagine what the possibilities could be if we could change our negative thoughts into positive ones. The Mayo clinic reports that positive thinking improves physical health, increases lifespan, lowers the risk of heart disease, betters resistance to common colds and promotes better psychological health. Positive self-talk promote positive feelings and behaviors, which in turn reduces stress and anxiety.
Now I am not suggesting to ignore hardships and difficulties. They are a part of life and ignoring it can actually lead to further stress. Having a positive internal dialogue encourages you to believe in your abilities and helps you to get through challenges and difficulties in a productive way. It can help you find solutions or seek help instead of feeling of hopeless, helpless or stuck.
Most of the time the way we speak to ourselves is not the way we would speak with a friend. Now, ask yourself would I ever speak to a friend in the manner that I speak to myself. If the answer is no, then it’s time to become your own best friend instead of your own worst critic.
Here are some simple steps to start paying attention to your internal dialogue.
1. Take time to notice and pay attention to your internal thoughts
2. Evaluate if it is positive or negative
3. If it is negative, acknowledge it and then do not get upset over it.
4. Write down your negative thoughts
5. Make a commitment to stop the negative self-talk in the future with a signal such as visualizing a stop sign or imagine turning off a tape recorder or any other signal that helps you to stop.
6. Your task for the first few days might be just to notice the negative thoughts and visualize a signal to stop. Then take a deep breath.
7. The next few days when you notice your negative self-talk, first give yourself a signal to stop, take a deep breath and then replace the negative thought with an affirmation. Affirmations need to be positive, in first person, specific and in the present tense such as “ I will be more patient with myself and family”, “I am capable, and I am loveable”. For affirmations to work, it needs to be repeated several times throughout the day.
8. You can also write down several affirmations for yourself if you find that helpful.
These are some basic steps to start noticing your negative thoughts and changing it into positive ones. It is important to remember that anything we try at first may seem artificial or unnatural but if we keep persisting then it becomes easier and much more natural.
So I encourage you to keep practicing until positive self-talk becomes a natural habit and you become your own best friend, cheerleader and internal motivator.