Did you notice this month was all about communication? This year, I am trying for monthly ‘themes’. My goal. :)
Let’s talk about one of the most important forms of communication you experience: your inner voice. This little voice is literally one of the loudest you can imagine, and has an impact that can and does frame your point of view, guide your moods and either gives you the power your outer voice needs or takes away your oomph. So answer me this: How are you talking to yourself?
What does your self-talk sound like? Are you encouraging? Are you harshly critical? Are you giving yourself the opportunities to learn and grow from your mistakes or are you beating yourself up when you don’t achieve the BIG goal? Listen, I am completely guilty of all of the above; I have high expectations for myself because I know what I can and should be achieving. That said, it can be really challenging to reframe my immediate response to ‘Gee, that was almost right. Let’s look at that, see what we could try differently, and do it again.’ Which is ironic, because that is EXACTLY what I tell my kids, and what I tell all of you to do. Why can’t I give myself a break and follow my own advice? Listen, let’s all try to do better with this.
Inner dialogue is constant. Positive self-talk can be a game-changer. Self-talk is the direction your mind automatically turns when something – anything – happens. That inner voice should be realistic, sure, and responsive. It should also be encouraging and positive.
What can we do to move from a place where that inner voice is critical and negative to a more positive approach?
Focus on more positive thoughts. When you are hearing criticism in your head, deliberately focus on a positive thought instead. Rather than being your worst (inner) critic, let yourself focus on your positive qualities, too. If you notice that it is hard for you to move to a more positive self-feedback model, try writing down the negative things you are thinking. Once you have your list on paper, take a moment, and deliberately write a positive thought to counter each negative. Eventually, this intentional choice to focus on the positive will become an internal skill and you won’t need to actually write things down.
Don’t sink into hopelessness. When you realize your inner dialogue is becoming overly-negative or critical, instead of telling yourself you can’t so there is no point in even trying, become your inner cheerleader. Self-efficacy is closely linked to how perseverant you are: If you don’t believe you can actually manage a task or a relationship or improve yourself, then it is a lot easier to give up without even trying. If you want to succeed in feeling better about yourself, turn on an internal dialogue that tells you that you CAN do the task, manage the situation, win at the sport, or get the date. Each time you become aware of your internal dialogue sinking into hopelessness, tell yourself, “I’ve got this,” “I can handle this,” “I can feel better about myself,” “I believe in myself,” or “I can make things better for myself.” Cheesy? Sure. But effective.
Watch your tone of voice. I remember when my hubby and I were dating, we had many discussions on tone. He couldn’t understand why the dog (who was mine before the relationship started) would cringe every time he spoke. “I’m saying nice things. Why is the dog cowering?” The tone of voice used to say the words can override the words being said. The same applies to that inner voice: when the words are kind but the tone is harsh, the tone will speak louder than the words. Speaking calmly and compassionately to yourself will emphasize the kindness of the words you are using.
So you made a mistake. Beating yourself up over it, making the situation seem more dire than it truly is, or blowing it out of proportion is not going to make a difference except to dump on your feelings of self-worth. Instead of being negative, choose to celebrate your successes. Choose to celebrate your knowledge. Choose to appreciate your quirks and your curiosities. Choose to celebrate your wit and abilities. Choose to embrace your weight, your height, your big feet. Choose to love your curly hair, your freckles, your strong legs. Choose to love your inability to swim 50 meters or do one pull-up. Or choose to focus on that as skill-yet-to-develop. Choose to accept who you are, forgive what you are not, and celebrate what you continue to grow to become. Give yourself permission to feel emotions like doubt or fear or sorrow, but then move past them to a more contented state of mind. Choose to follow your heart. Choose to give yourself permission to laugh with abandon, to promote heartfelt glee not just for yourself, but for those around you. We can choose to celebrate the best in others, too, rather than pointing out bad (or snarky) things about others, focus on what amazing qualities they offer.
You probably already know this but we adults, we dwell. We get grumpy. We complain. We get bogged down by life events and circumstances. We let work and family play tug of war for first, and we get exhausted. We have too many responsibilities, too many to-dos, too many 'what if' and 'why not', too many too many too many. And the next thing we know, we have forgotten how to be happy. We've forgotten what it's like to just enjoy: enjoy life, enjoy the moment, enjoy the people we are surrounded by. We get too hurried and harried and everything is in fast-forward and we just don't have the time to pause and pursue happy. Fact of the matter is, that really is what it takes: pausing, deliberately and purposefully refocusing.
One final suggestion: use gratitude as a tool to help reframe our inner dialogue. When we put our attention on those things we can be grateful for, it automatically shifts us out of a negative mentality. Just by simply repeating the statement, I am so grateful for _____, we create positive momentum in our internal dialogue. Focusing on what’s good or uplifting in your life also conditions you to stay vigilant in looking for more of the same gratitude-worthy experiences to come into your life—or as the saying goes, where attention goes, energy flows.
Are you in a positive mindset? Are you talking yourself out of having confidence in your own abilities? Are you talking yourself out of even trying? Be a good example for your kids; look at what lies before you as an opportunity to succeed rather than a challenge you might fail. It’s the same situation; it is just a different way to look at it. Glass half empty, glass half full. Make sure that powerful voice you have between your ears is saying things you want and, more importantly, need to hear. Switching to a more positive inner voice admittedly isn’t quite as easy as turning on or off a light switch; however, it is, like many habits something you can practice and develop. Practice. Every day, focus on being more kind and patient with yourself, and focus on being your best cheerleader.