Do you have That Mean Girl in your head?
You know, the one who sounds like this: OMG, look at yourself. Euw. Gross. Look at all your mistakes! You totally screwed that up. Everyone noticed.
And so on.
Sure, most of us have some Inner Nasty sharing her obnoxious, bullying opinion.
While it might seem a little kooky to think about having a conversation with yourself in your own head, we do it all the time.
Our brains are always chatting away with themselves, whether that’s in words, images, or feelings. Most of the time, we’re just not aware of it.
This brain chatter is known as self-talk.
Our self-talk is important.
Remember that our brains and bodies can’t tell the difference between real and imaginary stuff.
Negative self-talk makes us feel like crap.
If we criticize ourselves, imagine negative things, tell ourselves we’re stupid failures, etc., our bodies will treat that as a legitimate threat.
We’ll feel defeated, anxious, and/or paralyzed. (And maybe have high school flashbacks.)
Positive self-talk makes us feel good, and more importantly — keeps us on track.
If we focus on our small wins, what’s going well, self-compassion, and trust, our bodies will treat that as an opportunity for growth and improvement.
We’ll feel energized, creative, relaxed, secure, and open to learning and getting better.
Negative self-talk doesn’t work:
A lot of people assume that negative self-talk (self-criticism, replaying “failures” and “screwups”, etc.) helps them achieve things, or get better.
In fact, the opposite is true.
Negative self-talk creates stress that shuts down performance and stops you from learning.
You don’t improve when you’re mean to yourself. Ironically, you get worse.
And negative self-talk just becomes like a tired old script, re-running over and over and over. You know it well. (Blah blah blah, you suck, work harder, blah blah.)
But it won’t do you any good.
So, try the Opposite: Write a new script for positive self-talk.
Practice positive self-talk:
Positive self-talk (for instance, encouraging yourself, pointing out successes, or being compassionate in the face of challenges) is actually what helps you learn, grow, and improve.
Positive self-talk is a skill. And like any skill, you can improve or change it by practicing.
Practicing positive self-talk doesn’t mean doing empty affirmations a la Stuart Smalley: “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.”
Positive self-talk should feel real. You should believe it.
Here’s how to begin.
1. Start by listing some things that you truly feel good about, and/or things that you’ve been successful within the PA Coaching program.
- I lifted X weight last week.
- I did my first set of ____!
- I survived [insert challenge here] with flying colors.
- My [insert a body part] is looking really strong.
Focus on what’s going well, even if that’s very small.
Write out your list and keep it handy.
Add to it as necessary — once you start looking for good things, you’ll see them more often.
2. Next, set a reminder in your calendar or on your cellphone.
For 2 minutes each session, morning and night, practice some positive self-talk.
3. When you do your self-talk, pick 1 or 2 items from the list.
Sit with those things. Really think about how those things make you feel good — how they make you feel accomplished.
4. Clearly visualize yourself doing those things you’re proud of.
So, for instance, you could imagine the time you added weight to a certain exercise. Or ran farther/faster than before. Or made a thoughtful choice when you didn’t have to.
Remind yourself of that awesome moment, and make it as real as possible — like making a movie of that experience in your head.
Try to recollect that experience in as much detail as you can.
Make that success real to your brain and body.
You can do this. You’ve already shown you can succeed.
Practice noticing and remembering those successes.
Changing your thoughts and self-talk takes practice. Be patient. You may need to repeat your “self-talk scripts” over and over till you get them. That’s OK.
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