We engage every day in other-talk, which is what happens at meetings, meals and over the phone. But we also have constant conversations in our head about our favorite subject, with is ourselves. Self-talk has to do with the evaluations and judgments we make of ourselves and our behavior, and sometimes the evaluations are pretty harsh. Sometimes the evaluations are so cruel that we are paralyzed from being transparent and real, or from taking the risks we need to take. Here are some tips to help your own self-talk be a benefit, and not a problem, for you.
Observe the observer. Our digital culture has made personal reflection harder to engage in. But pulling away from our schedule, or the next text or email, to think about what we are thinking, is one of the best things you can do for yourself, to solve problems and grow as a person. The technical word for this is metacognition, or thinking about thinking. Part of metacognition is developing the habit of mentally taking a step back from your activities, and observing your observer, that is, your self-talk.
For example, after a difficult conversation with your spouse, notice the nature of your self talk. Just reflect on how you are evaluating what you said. You might observe that you are thinking, I wasn’t kind, or I didn’t listen, or I didn’t speak up. This quick habit of simply observing your observer gives you more power over it, and a means to change it.
Question the accuracy. Ask yourself, is my self talk true about me or not? If it’s true, it’s working for you, and will help you to be a healthier and more successful person. But sometimes you need to ask others if, from their perspective, your self talk is telling the truth. Suppose after you give a presentation at work, your self talk is that I always disappoint people and I should live in a cave and eat worms, that probably needs to be reframed by someone who knows and likes you, such as I didn’t do my best at the presentation, but I learned some things to help me improve.
At end of day, have more positive than negative. Even though truthfulness trumps everything, you should still have more positive than negative self-evaluations by the end of the day. We just can’t tolerate the reverse. It discourages us and deflates our energy. Don’t make up things to say that aren’t real, but while you are being truthful about the screwups, also focus on your wins, even if they are small: I passed on dessert a third day in a row is at least something!
Develop a warm tone. Research has shown that our tone with others is more important than the words we say to them. The same is true with self talk. A harsh, judgmental, “what a loser” tone will simply not make you a better person. So, though you are honest with yourself, don’t condemn yourself. I’m a pretty good person and I have good values and motives, though I really blew it with my teenager, can help right-size your head.
Listen to what you’re doing in your internal conversation. You might be a bit dismayed about how mean you can be to yourself. Change the pattern. You’ll be glad you did.