We are with ourselves 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the conversations we have with ourselves constitute the most powerful influence on our feelings, actions, and characters. How would you describe your internal conversations? Are they kind, supportive, honest, and patient? Or are they angry, critical, and discouraging?
If the latter’s the case, don’t despair. Really. You may say, “This is just the way I am. It’s too late to change.” Not so. Or, not entirely so. Yes, it will take effort to alter your interactions with the committee in your head. Yes, you may frequently hear your usual, automatic inner voices crop up. However, what you do in that second moment, once you’ve learned to recognize your habitual inner demons, can become more and more under your conscious control. Increasingly over time, you can speak to yourself in ways that enhance your well-being, happiness, confidence, and effectiveness.
Our thoughts have a huge impact on our emotions. Just imagine that your friend doesn’t show up for a coffee date with you. You may think, “Oh, they didn’t want to spend time with me. They’ll probably come up with some lame excuse.” As a result, you may feel rejected and hurt. If you think, “They’ve probably hit some traffic” or “They may be in a meeting that ran late”, you’re more likely to handle the situation with your self-esteem intact.
In a similar vein, how do you handle personal setbacks or mistakes on your part? Do you say, “I’m just not good at this”, a belief that may lead you to give up? Or do you tell yourself, “I need to devote more time to this”, which may motivate you to double your efforts?
To live more harmoniously and effectively with yourself, try incorporating some of the changes listed below.
Instead of: Try saying:
I can’t I won’t
I should I could
It’s a problem. It’s an opportunity.
Nothing satisfies me. I want to learn and grow.
Life’s so hard. Life’s an adventure.
If only Next time
I can’t take it. I know I can handle it.
This is horrible. It’s a learning experience.
I can’t do this. I’m on the right track.
I give up. I’ll try some of the coping strategies I’ve learned.
I can’t do any better. I’ll keep trying. I can improve with practice.
Making a mistake is terrible. Mistakes help me learn.
I’ll never be as talented as she is. I’ll figure out what she does and give it a try,
It’s good enough. Is this truly my best work?
The questions we ask ourselves can also be framed in a solution-focused manner:
Rather than: Try asking yourself:
Why am I having so much trouble? What have I already overcome?
Why aren’t I happy more often? What makes it so difficult to tolerate difficult feelings?
How can I get over this? How can I be kinder to myself right now?
Our resistance to circumstances or feelings that seem intolerable can add to our distress. Instead of working ourselves up into a frenzy over our situation, we can try radical acceptance by reminding ourselves that:
- This is how it is.
- I can survive what’s going on, even if I don’t like it.
- I can’t control the past.
- The situation is exactly what it should be given what’s happened up until now.
Note that acceptance does not mean that we remain passive if there are actions we can take to improve the situation. Acceptance simply means that we cease from fighting reality. Acceptance means awareness rather than denial.
We can also focus on the good in our lives by asking ourselves what we’re grateful for:
- Who was kind to me today?
- Who helped me out today?
- Who did I help? Whose life did I make easier?
- Who made me smile today? What did they do?
- Who made me feel important today? How did they do this?
- Who forgave me? Who did I forgive? How did I feel as a result?
- Who thanked me today? How did this make me feel?
- Who loves me? Who do I love?
- Who or what made me happy today?
- What made today a good day?
- What did I learn today? Was it from a challenging experience?
- What did I do today I couldn’t do yesterday?
- What did I enjoy doing today?
- What is the best thing that happened today?
- What am I most thankful for today?
Note that often our blessings come in the form of people and our relationships. As we practice positive self-talk, our relationship with ourselves improves, which has a potent ripple effect on our relationships with other people – which gives us even more things for which we can be grateful. The benefits of speaking to ourselves in supportive ways are never-ending.