We all do it. We trip over a floor mat or spill our tea or coffee. 'You idiot' we say in our mind, or out loud.
Our inner critic is always there, that nagging voice ready to jump in to judge what we just said or wrote, or what we did last week, or it chimes in to talk us out of trying something new or putting ourselves out there.
'What's the point of doing that? You're not very good at ................ People don't care what you have to say.......... He/She/They will think ....................'
We are communicating with ourselves all the time, through our self-talk.
Our self talk can range from asking and answering our own questions like, Am I thirsty? Will I go for that walk I promised myself? Did she just look at me in a strange way? What do I feel like eating for lunch?
All the way to that inner critic questioning and accusing and blaming and blocking.
So how can we tame this critic and improve the way we speak to ourselves? These tips might help:
Catch your 'automatic' thoughts
Like any habit you want to change or goal you want to reach, the first step is to consider where you are NOW.
In these days of 24/7 connectivity our automatic thoughts can be harmful.
We might message a friend or family member who doesn't respond for some time, or a special person doesn't acknowledge our social media post. Our automatic thoughts can quickly jump to, 'He/she mustn't be talking to me' or 'What have I said or done to push this person away?', or we can begin to feel angry and resentful.
Question the critic
If we take these thoughts seriously we can end up feeling anxious, hurt, embarrassed or worse, when really much of this kind of thinking is based on irrational thought patterns that we all experience, including catastrophising, overgeneralising, mind-reading, personalising and more.
Some people find Cognitive Behavioural Therapy helpful for professionally exploring strategies to help identify our unhelpful or unhealthy patterns of thinking and starting to re-learn new ways of responding.
One way to start working on this is to start a rational type of kind argument with yourself. Start to question that critic when you notice your self talk isn't helping. 'Well I don't ALWAYS say the wrong thing. Sometimes people find me quite amusing. Even last week at work I had the whole team laughing.'
Say it how you WANT it
The thing with our mind is that it has trouble distinguishing between reality and imagination and it likes to do what it is told.
When our mind hears a command starting with No or Stop, it doesn't process the negative straight up. If I say to you, do not think of a blue tree, your brain first thinks of a blue tree before it can decide to think of something other than a tree, or change the colour of the tree. Try it now. Don’t think of a purple chair. You firstly think of a purple chair or see the image of a purple chair in your mind before you can change the colour or think of a purple table instead. Does that make sense?
Your unconscious mind likes to oblige you. It listens to everything you say.
Imagine you are preparing for a meeting, and you start thinking to yourself ‘I hope I don’t stuff this up’, I hope I don’t forget what I’m supposed to say’, or if you are due to go up to receive an award and you start saying to yourself ‘Don’t trip up the stairs, don’t fall over’ ‘I better not fall’, your brain is hearing forget, stuff up, trip and fall. You have to think of falling first before you can then think of staying on your feet.
It’s like an instruction. This is particularly powerful with young people. Next time you want to say ‘Stop running in the house!’ replace this with ‘Walk in the house please!’
And next meeting, try 'I'll do my best today.'
Yes this takes practice, and yes it will achieve positive results for you and those you love. The best place to start with this one is to catch yourself every time you start a sentence with 'Don't' or 'Stop'.
Affirmations aren't just fluffy
Affirmations can be a very useful way to begin to replace your unhelpful self-talk and automatic inner critic responses with more supportive beliefs about your own worth and abilities.
You have probably used affirmations from time to time without necessarily labeling them as such. 'I can only try my best.'
Simple affirmation statements can really help you to point the lens of your focus towards your capabilities and strengths and the things you want to experience, although there are a couple of tricks to making affirmations work for you.
One trick is to make sure you write them down so you can practise saying them or you can repeat them in your mind often.
And make sure that you frame them in the positive. For example, 'I live life to the fullest' is completely different to 'I don't have low days.'
The biggest trick is that affirmations when combined with ACTIONS can become new habits and beliefs. E.g., You combine a daily walk with your vitality affirmations.
Repetition is key
Like anything, practising builds competence. Your brain is a muscle that responds to training just like your arms and legs do.
So the more you catch your automatic responses and thoughts, reframe your self-talk, repeat your affirmations, remind yourself, and say what you want in the positive, the more you will notice new patterns forming.
And these patterns can help you see the world and yourself in a much more positive light.
Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.