Do you talk to yourself every day?
Right now some people are nodding their heads and the ones who aren't are asking themselves if they talk to themselves.
We all do it, ALL DAY LONG.
We talk to ourselves about ourselves, we give narration and meaning to the events in our lives and the world, we tell ourselves stories, we repeat mantras (whether we know it or not), we try to calm ourselves down, and we often stress ourselves out (again whether we know it or not.)
It's been said by researchers that over 90 percent of the things we say to ourselves each day are NEGATIVE.
That's a staggering number. Just think about that for a second.
Let's say for the sake of argument you say 10,000 things to yourself in a day. You're saying over 9,000 NEGATIVE things to yourself and only 1,000 positive.
Now I know you can do the math but I just wanted to illustrate the sheer volume of negativity we can bombard ourselves with.
It's affecting our health negatively in everything from losing weight, to causing insomnia, to giving us excess stress and everything in between.
Not to mention, how the heck are we supposed to be happy, enjoy our lives and pursue things we want with all that crazy amount of negativity running through our brains all day every day?
Let's take a simple look at how the brain works.
We are wired for negativity. Our brains were built to keep us alive in prehistoric times when there were constant threats to survival.
Negative and scary shit gets our attention - just look at the news.
Why do they give you 58 min of scary, negative, awful, and worrisome news and then 2 minutes of some "fluff" feel good story?
Simply put, it gets our attention. Our brains were wired to pay more attention to the negative and scary things because that's what kept us alive during our evolution.
The problem is that now it's making us miserable, even though our brain is just doing its job.
Think about it. When you're roaming the land for food, trying to find shelter, avoiding predators, having potential danger around every corner...
It was beneficial to worry, be afraid, and be on guard. It quite literally can mean the difference between survival and extinction.
I seriously doubt there were too many caveman or women who stopped often to look at the pretty sunrise and lived to tell about it.
They were probably the first ones to get eaten by a Saber tooth tiger!
In reality, our brain being wired to pay more attention to the negative is an important part of our brain.
It also means you can let yourself off the hook for being overly negative. We all are. It's not a unique trait to you even though many of us feel that way.
BUT...with a capital B, we were also given the ability to change all that.
When was the last time you legitimately felt danger? When you feared for your life on a day to day basis?
Maybe a couple times in traffic? If you don't work a job that puts you on the front line like first responders or the military then it's probably not often.
Yet we TREAT the little things in our lives as potential life-threatening events...which causes massive stress and anxiety...which just leads to MORE negativity in our own heads.
A hugely vicious cycle.
So we walk around all day every day just spewing constant negativity to ourselves and it's having ENORMOUS effects on our lives.
The thing is, most of us don't even realize we are doing it. I certainly didn't for my first 30 years.
As an athlete growing up I was constantly talking negative to myself. I was never good enough, and I always had to "do better."
I had unrealistic expectations for myself and if I didn't meet them I would berate myself.
All the while thinking that was making me better because it drove me to work harder.
Maybe you've experienced something similar. MAYBE you're a high achiever at your job and you feel like that negative inner voice provides your drive to excel.
It's a common misconception. It might have gotten you this far, but it's also keeping you this far.
Not to mention making you miserable.
In reality negative self-talk doesn't motivate you. In fact it does the opposite.
It depletes you.
It has been proven it makes you less creative, less resourceful, less resilient to setbacks, and less likely to try new tactics and strategies, and be afraid to fail.
All of which is SUPER detrimental to your success at anything. Whether it's weight loss, a job promotion, being a good parent, or trying to win the world series.
It causes us massive, massive stress, anxiety, overwhelm, fear, and worry.
The above are all just synonyms for "I am in some level of fight or flight." And when your brain and body are in fight or flight, the only concern is to survive, not thrive - and we are doing a large part of it to ourselves.
What if I told you that stress was the biggest thing affecting your health AND stopping you from losing weight?
Now what if I also told you that 90 percent of the stress and anxiety and overwhelm you feel is SELF INFLICTED?
It might trigger you a little because you might be thinking "F you Chris you don't know my life."
And you are right, I don't know your life. But hear me out.
If 90 percent of your stress, anxiety, and overwhelm is caused by you, then YOU have the power to control 90 percent of it.
That’s the good news!
We are doing it to ourselves by how we talk to ourselves! The constant criticism of self, the constant worrying, the constant fear of worst-case scenarios and reminding ourselves of what might or could go wrong.
Imagine you had a friend following you around pointing out every flaw, every mistake, every insecurity, every failure, every negative thing about the world.
It would be exhausting right? You no doubt would hate it, right?
That's what we are doing to ourselves. This negative self-talk and lack of positive self-talk is keeping us fat, sick, depressed, stressed, unhealthy, worried, and miserable all the time.
Think about trying to lose weight as an example.
Let's say you're starting a new diet or plan or journey.
So, as a form of motivation, you remind yourself how many times you've failed. You go through the day remembering how much you don't like your body and are uncomfortable with it. You point out every flaw you have and beat yourself up for every tiny little slip up or perceived "failure."
You go to work out and it's hard because you're out of shape, so you lament yourself for "letting yourself get this bad." Focusing on all the things you don’t like about yourself.
Does that sound like a recipe for success at losing weight?
It sounds like a recipe for failure. I can actually guarantee failure if you do that. Yet that is what most of us do. I certainly tried it.
That always fails because we are making the whole experience NEGATIVE so why would our brains push us to continue when it gets hard?
I hear you saying, "so, smart guy, if positive self-talk is so important, how do I change it?
Great question! The first step is to understand that WE CAN change. Don't use the fact that we are wired to pay more attention to negativity make you think it's inevitable. Because by no means is that true.
We were also wired with the ability to CHOOSE. We were just never taught how (welcome to things I wish I learned in school instead of metal shop).
We also need to understand how BIG of an impact changing your self-talk can be. I remember in 2013 the moment I caught myself trying to beat myself up over a mistake, and my life forever changed.
"You f***ing idio...wait, I'm not gonna talk to myself like that anymore."
I made a decision to change. Now don't get me wrong, it took practice and time, but simply being aware of it made a MASSIVE improvement.
Step #2. Now that you're aware of it, simply eliminate the negative. Stop talking to yourself like an asshole, stop beating yourself up, stop saying harsh and nasty things in your head (about you or anyone/any situations in general.)
This is where most people go wrong. They try to take a negative thing they say to themselves and turn it into a positive.
If you hate your outfit today trying to tell yourself it looks great is not going to help matters because then you are lying to yourself.
Sometimes it's just too far of a leap to make for us. And I have a rule, never lie to yourself, but also don't be dramatic.
If you catch yourself saying something like "God, look at that giant zit on your face, you're hideous (to yourself)."
Don't try to convince yourself it's not that big when you have Mount Kilimanjaro on your forehead.
Your brain knows you're lying and that will actually stress you out even more. This is where being honest, but not dramatic comes in, which is step #3.
You can tell yourself something like, "Everyone gets blemishes, nobody is perfect, and I can't expect myself to be perfect."
Or "it's only gonna be here for a few days, it's not the end of the world."
Both of those things are true, and not overly dramatic. Your brain will believe you and you've eliminated the negative self talk.
But I just got ahead of myself a bit.
When you catch yourself being negative, nasty, or overly critical of yourself...LAUGH IT OFF.
Say to yourself, "oh there's that voice again, what a little shit trying to sneak back in." And SMILE!
The act of smiling and laughing at your negative inner critic will make it less scary and remind you that you don't have to take it so seriously. The smile will signal to your brain that something joyous is happening, making it more likely that you'll want to do it again (catch yourself, that is.)
The best advice I ever got was, "just because you think it doesn't make it true." That wisdom changed my life.
Now, once you've caught yourself, smiled, and laughed at your negative voice (you can also give it a name to further disassociate yourself from it, I refer to mine as the joker from batman), then you can start to redirect as I started to mention above.
Choosing your perspective is a skill I teach my clients and practice every day myself. You have the power to choose HOW you view a situation. And I like to try and examine all 360 degrees of a situation and choose the "perspective" that is most helpful to me.
For example, say I make a mistake on a work project that everyone sees.
I can say to myself, "You really F-ed up! That’s gonna take a long time to bounce back from. I wouldn't be surprised if you get demoted or fired. I cannot believe you did something so dumb you really are a screw up."
That's my negative voice running away with worst case scenarios and hyper dramatic criticism.
Alternatively, I would catch myself and laugh, "there's that crazy voice again! I did mess up, I own that. It feels shitty right now, but I'm gonna use this mistake to learn from and next time genuinely be better. This isn't the first time I've made a mistake, I'm a human being, we all make mistakes. Beating myself up won't do any good. What do I need to do next?"
You see how that perspective is 100 percent true but it's just framed in a way that doesn't send you down a negative self-talk spiral? Instead it puts you in control of the situation. I am also focusing on what I CAN DO next versus what has already happened.
This just takes practice, like learning the piano, a new software system, or a new sport. It can be learned and improved on...quickly.
Also, notice how I was not overly positive. Our brains hate that overly cheery, deny the truth, bullshit. If I have made a mistake then trying to convince myself otherwise will stress the hell out of me.
I also acknowledged that it felt shitty "right now." Acknowledging my feelings in the process is an important step. Denial does us no good because it's a lie.
Both things I said were some version of the facts, one was just helpful to me and one wasn't.
Being positive isn't always an option, and like I said for some people in the beginning of learning positive self-talk, it's too big of a leap.
The simple absence of negative self-talk gets you back to even and it's easier to talk nicer to yourself that way.
So, a quick summary of the steps
- Be aware of your negative self-talk and the conversation in your head. And know you have the power to change it.
- Commit to eliminating the negative. Stop saying mean stuff to yourself. Catch yourself and laugh. This is most critical for self-criticism because often there is no situation to reframe, you just need to decide to stop beating yourself up.
- Choose your perspective. Examine all the ways you can look at it THAT ARE TRUE. Then pick the one that is most helpful to you.
- Tell yourself the truth, and don't be dramatic.
If you practice this and even START down the road of getting better at it, EVERY aspect of your health will improve. Mental, physical, emotional.
And the trigger for all of it will be you adding positive self-talk and subtracting negative self-talk.
You will feel so much lighter and free because you're letting go of some emotional baggage you've been putting on yourself.
Nowhere is this more important than a weight loss journey. The process of trying to lose weight is CHALK FULL of potential situations that will bring out the negative self-talk. You'll be tempted to beat yourself up, berate yourself for where you are, be hyper critical of your own body or progress (even when it's good progress) and talk yourself into giving up after any slip ups (which are inevitable in the long term.)
Part of the journey of losing weight and keeping it off forever is learning how to love yourself and take care of yourself like you love yourself.
And part of loving yourself is HOW YOU TALK TO YOURSELF.
You wouldn't stay with a partner who talked to you like you talk to yourself, would you?
Of course not!
Learn how to manage the voice in your head and watch every other aspect of your life improve. It takes attention and some work, but JUST...KEEP...PRACTICING. Decide you are going to practice it until you MASTER it.
You will fail, you will fall back into old ways, you will get frustrated, and that negative voice will tell you "this is just the way we are, quit trying to change it." That negative self talk voice is a sneaky bastard like that.
But inside of that is the practice you need to become a positive self-talk master.
I've never been more dead serious when I say, "if I can do it, you can do it." You're talking to the negative self-talk Olympic Gold medalist. I have honestly never met anyone who is as negative to themselves as I used to be.
I just decided I didn't want to live that way anymore. When I mastered positive self-talk, EVERY ASPECT of my life changed, yet nothing external had changed.
My internal world changed. And knowing that you have the power to change your EXTERNAL world simply by changing your INTERNAL environment...
...is the greatest gift you can ever give yourself.
Start giving yourself this gift today.