All of us are familiar with negative self-talk. Is it possible to turn it into a positive and encouraging inner voice?
We all have some critical points in our lives. The moments when we need to make the right decision, to motivate ourselves to do something, to perform to our fullest.
At such moments, it is perfectly normal to hesitate. When we do, we try to talk ourselves into doing what needs to be done. We tell ourselves “I can do this, and I am the best one to do this! Yes I can, and yes I am!” or “I must have it done by tomorrow!”
This is the most common example of talking to oneself. When you talk, it is expected to receive a response. And so we do. But what is that response that we hear? Unfortunately, it is by far not always a voice of support.
More often it is the voice of doubt saying something like “No, you cannot!” or “Let’s do it later, and now we have something better to do.” It does not need to be a literal voice ringing in our heads. It can come in the shape of a compulsive thought that you just cannot escape.
Nevertheless, this negative self-talk is often so effective that it is enough to have a bad influence at a critical moment. This leads us to perform worse than we know we could or even to fail altogether. This voice of doubt literally stops us from achieving what we know we can achieve and getting what we deserve.
Eventually, we detect this tendency. We start seeing it as a problem and seek to solve it. Often, we will not know how to do this. So, we’re looking for advice from an authority on the matter. With the present-day development of information technology, finding such a source of good advice seems like quite an easy task, a piece of cake.
With the growing popularity of books, magazine articles, blogs, etc. on motivation, we are literally bombarded with “ultimate” recommendations on self-growth, overcoming oneself, becoming more productive, etc.
The truth is, however, that – unfortunately – they are not always written by someone qualified enough to give advice on such a sensitive matter. If you come across those instead of the good ones, this may lead to negative consequences. Sometimes, even devastating ones.
An abundance of books, magazine articles, and blogs on motivation and related topics suggest that you try and silence this negative self-talk. They suggest that you concentrate on what you need to do and pay no attention to any distracting factors. In real life, such advice proves ineffective.
First of all, such a piece of advice looks quite generic; it is a total no-brainer. It seems like it was written by someone who was given a task just to write something on the topic, anything at all. The level of expertise revealed in such articles leaves substantial doubts regarding the competence of the author.
Secondly, they forget that the inner voice of doubt is also yours. It comes from within, and not from outside. So, you cannot just silence it by using a mute button or earplugs of some sort.
Trying to shut your negative self-talk up is about as effective as trying to stop yourself from thinking of stuffing your mouth with something. The ideas remain there, and they cannot be banished so easily.
Following such advice ultimately leads to making the situation even worse. It makes the consequences more drastic, too. By silencing our negative self-talk, we do not eliminate it. It does not cease to exist, it stays there.
What we actually achieve here is that we stop noticing this inner voice of doubt. It is still there, it still has an influence on us, only now we don’t know where it’s coming from. This way, we still underperform, only now we cannot keep track of what is actually going on.
Have you ever been deliberately ignored? Most of us have, and if you are one of us, then you know how terrible it feels. It makes us feel small and irrelevant, it makes us feel bad.
Therefore, we see it as an act of aggression. And aggression calls for retaliation. Basically, this is what your negative self-talk does when you try to oppress it – it retaliates.
It is hard to achieve anything constructive in the middle of a fight. Especially in a kind of a fight where the rivals cannot be isolated from one another. But what is this ‘another’ and where does it even come from?
What Is Doubt?
Have you ever heard of the Darwin award? In case you haven’t, it is an award given posthumously to those who died in the most ridiculous and unthinkable ways possible. For example, in April 2017 a man in France found himself locked in his room on the 9th floor, and found no better way to escape than to climb out through the window on an Ethernet cable! Naturally, he crashed.
It is both sad and funny, but we only find this funny because we would never do such a thing. We have evolved to know better than climbing weak cables. We would check if a cable can hold our weight before climbing it.
Actually, we would even consider other options than climbing a cable, because we know that climbing it may be unsafe in itself. We are smart. We are cautious.
This has not always been the case, though. At the dawn of humanity (proto-) people died under silliest of circumstances. We can only imagine how many of our unfortunate predecessors climbed weak cables without thinking and crashed to death.
In order to survive, our kind has developed this caution. We think before doing something, we ask ourselves questions about whether we should do something or avoid doing it. It works in the form of this voice of doubt that we have discussed.
And it always works, even when the planned activity does not pose any direct threat to our life or health. Such as writing an article, for instance.
As we can see, having doubts is natural and healthy. Healthier than not having any, in fact. Doubt is, in fact, merely questioning oneself. And questions are to be answered.
Make Friends With Yourself
When in doubt, you need to remember that the negative self-talk you hear in your head is also your voice. So, it is not your enemy. “You-1” (who realizes the need to do something) and “you-2” (who expresses doubt) share the common interest – the benefit of the ‘combined’ you.
Therefore, the ultimate benefit can be achieved when they work together.
How do we realize this cooperation? First of all, you need to create the conditions for the dialog between “you-1” and “you-2”. A dialog requires a connection. When talking to someone, we refer to our speech partner in the second person: “you.”
Therefore, it is only logical to use the second person when your “you-1” and “you-2” address each other.
In fact, research has shown that – even without this dialog – using the second person as opposed to the first person while murmuring yourself into motivation proves more effective. In other words, “you can!” motivates better than “I can!”
Another good advice is to think out loud. This dialog is best when it resembles a real-life dialog between actual people. Therefore, we recommend thinking out loud, as opposed to just playing the dialog in your head.
When you are in the middle of your creative process, writing a piece, for instance, you are most probably alone, so there is no one to judge you or call you a psycho.
The negative self-talk that seemingly eats you from the inside every time you need to do something is actually only trying to help. The saying goes, an issue shared is an issue halved. So, why not give this “you-2” a chance to help you?
Try it, and you will be stunned to see how your problems disappear as your errands run themselves and your writing shines!