We talk to ourselves all the time – sometimes we’re very aware of it and deliberate, and sometimes it can feel like background noise and we’re barely aware of it. But the things we say to ourselves really matter, and when they are negative they can go a long way to lowering our confidence or giving us anxiety.
If you wake up in the morning and put on an outfit and look in the mirror – would you find yourself saying “I love this outfit – I look great!”. Or might you say something to yourself like “I look so fat, I hate the way this looks on me”. If it’s the former, you will likely walk out of your house with your head held high and make eye contact with the people you meet. Whereas with the latter, you might look down, slouch, and not make eye contact with people or feel confident to strike up conversations.
If you’re walking into a job interview – imagine the difference between saying to yourself “I cant wait to show them what a great fit I am for the company”, or “I’d be terrific in this position”, versus “why would they ever pick me”, or “the interviewer probably won’t even like me”.
How would you coach someone else to be happy and successful?
If we were coaching someone else to feel good about themselves or giving someone a pep talk before an important presentation, we probably wouldn’t start it with “wow – you look so fat” or “they’re going to discover you have no idea what you’re talking about”. Or “no one will want to talk to you anyway”. It would be pretty clear that would be the worst pep talk ever, and could actually hurt someone’s confidence as they go about their day.
So why can we be so awful to ourselves? What on earth do we think we’re doing when we say mean things to ourselves? Why would we treat others better and be more kind to them than to us? This is the question we need to ask ourselves when we dive into mean self-talk that can be so draining and hurtful. If you wouldn’t say that awful thing out loud to someone you love – why would you say it to yourself? What did you ever do to deserve to be treated this way?
If you think the answer is because all the mean things are true – then you might need to fire your internal coach. Most of the mean things we say to ourselves are not based in reality – but are instead based in worries. Will I be accepted? Am I good enough? Will they like me? Most of the time the answer is yes – but let’s say for the sake of argument that they don’t. What does that actually mean? Does it say something bad about you if not everyone likes you? Heck no. Not everyone will. That’s normal – we all have different personalities and some mesh really well together and some don’t.
OK, but what if some of the mean things my coach says are true?
If you are coming down on yourself because you are not good at something or failed at something – what will this kind of mean coaching do for you? If there’s something that would be helpful to work on, or a mistake to correct, would having someone berating you over it help you to make a change? If someone you loved made a mistake or was struggling with something – would you tell them how awful they are? Hopefully not. That would be counterproductive.
Maybe you tried something new and you were terrible at it – it would be far better to say “well – I guess that wasn’t my thing – but very cool that I gave it a shot!”. Or “I definitely have a lot of work to do to get better – but it’s worth it”. Or if you’ve hurt someone, maybe “I really messed up and hurt their feelings, but everybody makes mistakes and I’ll apologize and make it right”.
Give yourself a break
We need to apply the same compassion and standards to ourselves as to others. We all make mistakes. We all have things we can do better. We all have little insecurities that can crop up from time to time. That’s ok. Instead of criticizing ourselves for these, we should be telling ourselves the same positive and productive things we would say to someone we care about. The difference is having compassion for yourself when you’re struggling, and accepting yourself when you mess up. A positive pep talk can help you get unstuck and feel comfortable dealing with things and making changes. A negative pep talk can leave you paralyzed and ashamed.
So what do I do?
First, pay attention to the things you say to yourself. Take note of any mean or negative things you are telling yourself during the day. Then shine a light on them and question them. Don’t accept them as fact just because you think them. When you identify a nasty thought, think what a positive alternative would be and counter that thought. Don’t let it roam free in your head unchallenged. If you struggle with being positive towards yourself, then apply the standard of whether you’d say this to someone you love. Imagine if you were regularly kind and supportive of yourself – what a difference that could make in your happiness, success, and in your everyday life.
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