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Why We Really Need to Stop with Negative Self-talk?

‘I am so stupid, I left the window open again.’

‘I am such a lazy person, I have not gone again to the gym.’ Do these phrases sound familiar to you? Do you recognise that you are blaming yourself often for everyday life things, putting negative labels on yourself? This is called negative self-talk and besides damaging your self-confidence, hence your moving towards your goals and success even in small, everyday life tasks, they can be the source of high levels of stress. Different than the ‘normal’ stressors like traffic or high workload, that we are probably more conscious about, negative self-talk causes stress that is more latent, through creating correspondingly negative emotions like guilt, embarrassment, fear, anxiety, anger, self-loathing and so on. In this article I want to raise your attention to this kind of stress and give ideas how to turn them into thoughts and behaviours that are self-supporting rather than self-destructive.

Anything in life could be a source of stress, even being in a yoga and meditation retreat in Bali for instance, if the way we create mental explanations about it is negative. So it is very important to be conscious about the way we label life situations in our head, and the kind of self-talk we make out of them. Otherwise we may stress ourselves to serious levels without actually being in a highly stressful situation. To manage stress levels is possible and extremely important for our well-being, this is already a common knowledge. Stress is a serious threat, it should not be taken as only a slight discomfort or anxiety that is necessary in the society of today. In the short term its effects seem to be harmless, like headaches, stomach problems, diarrhea, constipation, loss of appetite, nausea, racing heart, sweating or insomnia. If left untreated, however, it leads to more worrisome symptoms, such as chest pains, high blood pressure, migraine, persistent sleep disturbances, asthma, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, recurrent infections or even diabetes and heart disease.

These are the physical symptoms and diseases, but since everything is interconnected in our body, non-physical ailments also accompany sustained levels of stress. You can find yourself being more irritable or angry on a regular basis, lacking confidence and being rather pessimistic due to stress.

Depression, phobias and panic attacks can also be triggered by stress. Of course, all these things can lead to big difficulties in the person’s social, family or professional life as well.

So, it seems quite obvious that we need to keep an eye on our stress levels, right? There are several strategies that we can follow. Some of them positive, like engaging in regular physical exercise, which is one of the most effective ways to cope with stress. Or to increase the number of cigarettes smoked/glasses of alcoholic drinks consumed per day. What a surprise, these ones belong to the negative coping strategies, just like yelling at colleagues or at our beloved ones to release the tension inside of us. These examples might help momentarily to decrease the stress level, but they are very harmful on the long term. Even because after doing so, we might realize that it is in fact bad for us and stay feeling guilty and blaming ourselves.

Sadly, self-pity does not help in these cases, since the negative thoughts cause more negative feelings and stress reactions inside of us, which leads to the physical symptoms mentioned before. And all those stress hormones, when getting back to the brain, cause just more negative thoughts, and we arrived to what is called the ‘stress cycle’.

Intervention is what we need here. We can 1) stop the negative self-talk and 2) change our behavior (which means taking positive action) to break the vicious cycle. The words we say about us inside of ourselves strongly shape our self-image. So does our behavior and actually every attitude and opinion that we have been told about ourselves since our birth. If we keep telling negative things about ourselves, we are building a negative self-image, and we are going to behave according to that self-image.

Here is an example. You had a tough day at work and you finished feeling exhausted, still with some frustration inside of you related to that day’s troubling work issues. You just want to get home and do nothing, so your gym-plan is postponed again to tomorrow. At home you even eat some junk because that ‘feels good’ and ‘you deserve’ since you are so tired and stressed. Fingers crossed that things go fine with your partner, and he or she has not had a though day as well...

Now, all this could be totally fine (except for the junk food) if you ended up relaxed, going really to the gym the next day and not making a habit out of this scenario. But in case you do this all the time and after say things to yourself like you are weak, lazy, a procrastinator person, and so on, that is incredibly deteriorating. Exactly because of this negative self-talk you are making it more difficult for yourself to go to the gym/eat healthy/follow your dreams, whatever.

Your self-talk shapes your subconscious and makes it harder to act in the way you wanted. So, stop negative self-talk. So easy. Anytime you catch your mind playing the self-blaming disk, stop it. This requires first to notice your own thoughts, which is not so easy, since many times these thoughts just ‘happen’ automatically in our mind. But staying conscious about them allows us to verify if they are valid or not, if there is really evidence for that thought or maybe there is even evidence that contradicts it? This is the way Cognitive Behaviour Therapy works, modifying the interrelated components: thoughts, emotions and behaviour. We use this approach a lot in the Life Mentoring Method ®, because it is totally present and close future oriented, helping the client identify and change the thought and behavioural patterns that are in their way of progressing towards their goals. It develops a lot the client’s self-understanding, and is a great tool to use in any life situation.

What you can do to improve your well-being? Say the exact opposite to yourself, a positive, present tense statement about yourself, even if it is not yet true or you do not fully believe in it. It will help you to take the right action next time, since you are forming a self-belief about it. Truly, our broader self-image is also an important factor here. Often this is the one standing in the way of taking up new, positive behavior forms, so we need to work on this one too.

The other intervention point in the cycle is our behaviour.

There is a phrase in the sports world I really like: just do it. For me it signifies how simple it is to actually do the right thing if we do not start to think too much before. That way our engraved belief systems have less space to have a say and stop us before doing anything. Just do it, leave the car or take off the bus a kilometre further from your destination and walk until there, go and socialize the most comfortable way that comes into your mind, clean the kitchen, go and do a ‘healthy foods only shopping’ or cook one simple and healthy meal. Just do it and new ideas will come into your mind, great feelings of actually acting in the right way will boost your confidence and fuel the next, maybe bigger steps with positive energy. And, for sure the self-talk inside of you will suggest more self-confidence and confirmation, overall positivism about yourself.

Make sure that you really recognise your efforts with positive

statements while doing the given activity. After all, where is justice if you beat yourself up by putting all the negative labels on yourself when acting in the wrong way, but do not give the right appreciation for the good things you do? Honestly, but be kind with yourself. That will help you to do more of the good things that you can recognise, stay positive and happy about, and continue to do even more.

Life Mentoring Method ®

"The Art of Learning to Be Yourself"

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