By Health Coach and founder of Peppermint Wellness, Suzy Glaskie.
It’s amazing how careful we can be to avoid saying anything that might potentially offend someone else. But, oh, what a different story it is when it comes to talking to ourselves! All delicacy, tact and diplomacy sail out the window. Compassion dissolves. Gentle understanding is nowhere to be seen. Instead, the voice in our head berates us for messing up and not being good enough.
Fat. Stupid. Slow. Ugly. Failure. You probably wouldn’t dream of hurling those insults at someone else… but how often do you fire missiles like these at yourself? Language like this wrecks our self-esteem and quashes our ability to shine as we’re meant to.
You (and only you) have the power to change the conversation. Try tuning into your internal dialogue for a day and catch yourself when you hear those negative soundbites kick in. Ultimately, the goal is to replace these toxic thoughts with positive affirmations that build rather than bulldoze your self-esteem.
Yes, it’s a tall order to change an inner voice that’s been slating you for years or even decades…but if you keep it up, you will gradually start to replace your default internal dialogue with something far more positive. Just like the body needs regular exercise to develop muscles, so does the mind. We need to put in the practice if we want to train it for kindness rather than self-destruction.
So, starting from today, be conscious of your language: make a concerted effort to stop putting yourself down when talking about yourself to others. You’ll probably find it’s such an ingrained habit that you do it all the time without even realizing. Every time you trot out “Oh, I look dreadful in this” or “I could never be successful – I’m too lazy” or “I’m rubbish at maths/technology/sport etc etc”, you reinforce your self-limiting beliefs of not being good enough.
It’s natural for us to ruminate on what we consider to be “wrong” with us. But we can use our inner resources to counter that tendency. The field of positive psychology teaches that, in order for us to flourish, it’s far more effective to leverage our strengths rather than to focus on trying to correct our weaknesses. In fact, research shows that if we have an active awareness of our character strengths, we are nine times more likely to be flourishing!
Years of research by the VIA Institute on Character has discovered that we all have 24 central character strengths. These positive parts of our personality are qualities like kindness, curiosity and perseverance. We each have our own distinct combination of these strengths and you can find out yours by taking the VIA survey.
Once you’ve found out what your top five signature strengths are, try spotting them in yourself and congratulating yourself every time you use one of them eg “I used my perseverance to finish that job I’d been dreading – that’s just like me to persevere” or “I used my bravery to have that difficult conversation with my boss – that’s just like me to be brave.” We really need to hear that inner voice of encouragement.
And when we do mess up (and we all mess up because that’s what human beings do) try giving yourself a break. Try saying something like: “You tried really hard to get this right. You did the best you could with the resources you had. You’ve learned something useful that you can apply next time you face the same situation.”
Changing our self-talk takes practice: it’s not like flicking to a different playlist on Spotify. Be patient, go gently – and congratulate yourself every time you say something kind to yourself.