I used to give myself way too much of a hard time.
I’d ask myself why I didn’t have a better job or a Masters. Or why I hadn’t published a book.
I would challenge myself on whether I had the right to identify as “intelligent” without anything to show for it.
I’d look at my body with utter disgust, to the extent my lip would curl up as a reflex when I saw myself in the mirror.
I couldn’t seem to get away from this sneering inner voice – and it was holding me back.
Getting back what we project
Whether positive or negative, fearless or fearful, hopeful or despondent; how I spoke to myself shaped my state of mind. And the vast majority of the time it was negative and extremely critical.
I came to realise that the negative tone of voice in my mind was self-perpetuating. My low self-esteem was on a downwards spiral and this was impacting the way I interacted with people around me.
My state of mind reinforced my experience of reality. In this way, what I was projecting seemed to impact what I was getting back.
Don’t switch off at this point – I haven’t entirely lost the plot. I’m not getting super spiritual and suggesting that we “project our own reality”, as such. I too roll my eyes when I hear that one.
Obviously, there are many external things that our personal mind-set isn’t going to affect.
However, I do think that our inner discourse can impact our overall experience of the day-to-day. How we see the world becomes aligned with the tone of our internal discourse.
Setting the scene
As someone who works with words, this should have been obvious. The words on a page of a novel can create an ambience that invokes an emotion. They set the scene and affect our interpretation of the events that ensue.
Similarly, the words we choose as marketers and how we frame a message connect with the state of mind of our audience and shapes behaviour.
Why should the discourse in our mind be any less powerful?
Watching what you say
We monitor our speech when it’s out loud. We know what is acceptable for the situation and we have a grasp of the impact our words can have. However, we tend not to treat our words with the same respect when it comes to our internal monologue.
Having an internal running commentary that puts you down, and keeps you down, is horrible. And I think there are ways we can control it.
We wouldn’t take it from anyone else – and we wouldn’t dream of speaking to our friends like that. So why do we think it’s ok to talk to ourselves like so negatively?
Over the last year or so, I decided to be as mindful of the way I spoke to myself as would be in any other conversation.
Talking to yourself as you would your best friend
The way that I tried to shift the tone of my internal commentary was to talk to myself as I would my closest friend.
We encourage our friends and we emphasise the positive. And when there was a point of criticism, we frame it kindly and constructively.
I realised that if I started to think of my internal discourse as a conversation with my best friend, I would start to be kinder to myself. So, I made a promise to myself that that is what I would do.
Observing the thought and letting it go
This didn’t become second nature overnight and has been something I’ve had to work at. And there have been times when my critical voice becomes loud again.
But whenever my thoughts do become negative – I try to apply the same “best friend” principle.
Punishing myself for slipping into a negative thought pattern, only ever serves to reinforce it. So, instead I listen to these thoughts without judging them.
I listen to them like I’d listen to a friend venting. And I let myself run out of steam.
This allows me to observe the thought and then let go of it, rather than obsessing.
Opening yourself to more enjoyable experiences
Creating a habit of positive self-talk has slowly but surely shifted my perspective. Now, a year or so on, I see my place in world in a much warmer way.
It’s not a miracle cure but being more mindful of my inner tone of voice has made me happier on balance.
I feel more open to people and more interested in them. I’m able to look outward, as less energy is spent going in circles in my mind.
My experience of the day-to-day feels much more within my realm of my control. This is partly because paying attention to my internal tone of voice brings me into the present. In and of itself this helps to curb my habit of getting lost in an anticipated future or an over-analysed past.
In this way, I’m much more open to enjoyable experiences that are happening now.
I hope this idea resonates with you. If you’re someone whose inner voice is as harsh as mine can be, do give talking to yourself as you would your best friend a try. Let me know what you think.