A few days ago I asked my 14-year old niece to help me pick a topic for my blog, and thus, Instagram posts. From the list of topics, she chose “Unhelpful Self-Talk”, and then asked, “wait, so how does that affect you when you talk to yourself in a negative way?” We then proceeded to have a conversation about why this happens, and some things that you can do to eliminate and cope with unhelpful self-talk. My niece is a perceptive, empathetic and thoughtful young lady and mindful of what she says to her peers. So it was really interesting to hear her say that she sometimes catches herself saying mean things to herself that she wouldn’t tell her friends.
Studies show that we have about 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day, and about 300-1000 words to self per minute. Most people don’t realize it but we spend most of our daily lives in thought. In fact, we even think while we sleep. This internal voice inside our head determines how we see things, situations and people in our lives. This inner voice and the dialogue is called “self-talk”, and self-talk happens in an automatic, voluntary way. Self-talk includes our conscious thoughts as well as our unconscious assumptions and beliefs. Much of the self-talk is reasonable, and kind; for instance, when we tell ourselves how much we are looking forward to brunch with our friends. However, researchers have discovered that 80% of our self-talk is negative, unrealistic and self-defeating.
I read a quote once by Deepak Choopra that stated “Every cell in your body is eavesdropping on your thoughts”, and this stuck with me. I think it was even more profound after I watched a video with a study Dr. Masaru Emoto administered to show how water is impacted by words. I won’t say much about it since you’ll have to watch the video for yourself. What I will say though is that words are powerful and what you say to yourself is crucial. Words carry energy. Our thoughts and language are a part of our being, so when our cells hear what we say, they can literally be transformed. Our thoughts impact the path of our neurotransmitters, our body’s chemistry, situations in our world and energetic fields. Thoughts are so powerful, they can make things happen!
So with that said, of course when my niece asked me this question, I was moved to tell her how her negative, or as I like to call them, “unhelpful” thoughts were normal, and that we all struggle with it. The truth is unhelpful self-talk is something that we all experience from time to time, and it comes in many forms; often called “cognitive distortions”. Unhelpful self-talk can create significant stress, not only to us but to other people around us when we share them aloud. Unhelpful self-talk affects your body, your mind, your life, and your loved ones. Unhelpful self-talk can lead to decreased motivation as well as greater feelings of helplessness. This type of critical inner dialogue has even been linked to depression, so it’s definitely something to gain awareness on. That being said, you are not doomed. We can improve our self-talk! Before we discuss how to combat and cope with unhelpful self-talk, I thought it would be best to first identify some of the common unhelpful “self-talk” we typically engage in.
Although we are all unique people, we all have some common ways of thinking that can be unhelpful. Here are the 10 Common Unhelpful Self-Talk:
- “I walked into the room and it got quiet so I know they were all talking about me”
This is called Personalization. Personalization happens when a person takes things that others do or say and apply it to themselves personally. When things happen, a person thinks that it must have been their fault or must have been about them, when that may not be the case at all.
- “I have been working at this job for three years, and today is the first time I am five minutes late; It is very likely I will be fired”
This is called Catastrophizing. This happens when a problem occurs and a person magnifies it into a bigger problem that it really is. They imagine the absolute worst thing happening from a very small problem.
- “Well, things didn’t go my way. Life isn’t fair”
This is called Fallacy of Fairness. If a person believes that “life isn’t fair” that they will apply this rule to almost everything. A person who goes through life applying this rule against every situation will often feel resentful, angry, and even hopelessness because of it. Because they believe life isn’t fair — things will not always work out in their favor, even when they should.
- “I’m such an idiot”
This is called Labeling (or Global Labeling). A person may have made a mistake on something, but the rest of their work is flawless. Instead of looking at the error in the context of a specific situation, a person will attach an unhealthy universal label to themselves or others.
- “At 25 years old, I should be married by now and not single still”
This is called Shoulds. Should statements come into play when a person holds guilt about violating or not meeting a rule they intended for themselves. Usually these rules are limited and rigid, and often requires exerted effort on a person’s behalf. A person may often believe they are trying to motivate themselves with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if they have to be punished before they can do anything.
- I’m sure they’re all thinking that I am such a fraud (mind-reading).
This is called Mind-Reading. Also known as “jumping to conclusions”, distortion manifests as the inaccurate belief that a person knows what another person is thinking. What is different about this distortion compared to simply wondering what others are thinking is that it always involves negative conclusions.
- Suffering is okay because something good will come out of it.
This is called Heaven’s Reward Fallacy. The “Heaven’s Reward Fallacy” manifests as a belief that one’s struggles, one’s suffering, and one’s hard work will result in a just reward. A person with this common distortion will belief that their suffering will pay off in the end but sometimes it doesn’t. No matter how difficult times are, sometimes good things don’t come as a result and a person can end up feeling more frustrated in the end.
- Great, my boss asked me to stay late at work. If I say yes, I will end up staying late every night. This always happens to me.
This is called Overgeneralizing. A person comes to a general conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. If something bad happens just once, this person expects it to happen over and over again. A person may see a single, unpleasant event as part of a never-ending pattern of defeat.
- I ran a marathon but it wasn’t that big of a deal, I could have run faster. (minimization)
This is called Minimization. This person ran a marathon, a freaking MARATHON. That is a big deal! A person with this distortion minimizes their great accomplishes. This also shows up when a person has a difficult time accepting and believing compliments given by others.
- I feel angry so what they did must be a bad thing.
This is called Emotional Reasoning. A person with this distortion will believe their emotions to be ultimate explanations for things. This person’s emotions takes over our thinking entirely, excluding all rationality and logic. The person who engages in emotional reasoning assumes that their emotions reflect the way things really are.
With that many thoughts passing through our mental field on a daily basis, it is normal for us to have distortions. These distortions often become part of our self-talk. The cells in your body is always listening to what you are saying to yourself. Unfortunately, there’s no switch to completely turn off our negative self-talk, but the most important thing we can do in these instances is get mindful.