A lot of suffering comes from the way we talk to ourselves – inside our own minds. In this episode we’ll explore the most common types, and simple strategies to turn these habits around.
03:10 –Proof of how we speak to ourselves in story form most of the time
07:40 – Why you need to overwrite bad self-talk versus trying to delete it
12:10 – The 9 most common types of negative self-talk
27:45 – Why it serves to be gentle and playful while shifting bad habits versus harsh
ONLINE COURSE The MindStory Neuro-Blueprint Course – Powerful, short daily audios that help build successful habits of mind over just 66 days.
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This is episode 94 – 9 SELF TALK HABITS THAT CAN HOLD YOU BACK. A lot of suffering comes from the way we talk to ourselves in our own minds. In this episode we’ll explore the most common types, and simple strategies to turn these habits around. Hi, I’m Carla Rieger and this is the MindStory Speaker podcast.
What Is Negative Self-Talk? Well, just like we all have physical habits—like brushing our teeth before bed—we all have mental habits too. These mental habits often take the form of standard ways of talking to ourselves, sometimes called Negative Self-Talk. For example, I remember a friend pulled me aside and whispered to me at a social event, I think we need to talk, then someone interrupted us. I started creating this scenario in my head, I must’ve done something wrong. I ran through all the conversations and interactions we’d had recently and I couldn’t figure out what it was, but I still felt uneasy. Finally, I pulled her aside privatedly and I asked,
“what do we need to talk about?”
“Oh yeah! Don’t tell anyone, but I just found out Suzanne is pregnant, so great hey?”
“Oh, okay. Yeah, that’s great.”
All that worry was for nothing. That was an example of a little Self Talk MindStory that plays on default in my head whenever people say those words with that tone of voice – we need to talk. Something in my past stuck with me about those words…something that led to bad news I didn’t want to hear. I’m sure you can think of lots of these types of negative self-talk in your own life.
These are also called Narrative Habits, or MindStory Habits, as we call it at Mindstory Academy. Our lives are like a story constantly unfolding in front of us. And we are forever narrating the events of this story to ourselves as they unfold. We live in story, like a fish lives in water. We are often completely unaware of it, and yet we swim in it all the time, how you talk to yourself and others is in story form.
Much like a narrator in a book explains what’s happening in the plot, we talk to ourselves in our head about what’s happening in our lives, what it means, what it makes us think about, what we should do, what we shouldn’t do etc. In contrast, few people talk to themselves using facts alone with no meaning attached. That would be considered rather robotic. Or, like a Spock type character who never gets ruffled by anything, never gets upset, never gets excited.
But we humans are emotional beings. And all our emotions are driven by our interpretations. You usually never just feel happy or sad out of nowhere. There’s almost always a subconscious or conscious trigger in the form of a narrative. A beautiful love story in a movie you’re watching where the main characters finally find each other again…produces maybe tears of joy. A friend tells you about her beloved pet dying and it produces a feeling of grief and empathy. You hear an old song playing while walking in a store and it brings up a memory of an old love affair that ended badly, and you feel sad and bitter for a few moments. It’s all driven by the story we have about it. Say, you run into the old flame a month later and talk through the ending of your relationship and forgive each other. The next time you hear the song you don’t feel sad and bitter, you just feel good. That’s because you have a different MindStory around it now.
Here’s the really interesting thing, the way we talk to ourselves about the events in our lives is subject to the same laws of learning and habit formation that physical behaviors are. In other words, we can learn to talk to ourselves in specific ways just like we can learn to tie our shoes or ride a bike.
It really helps to identify and examine our habits of thinking and talking to ourselves if we want to feel better on a regular basis. Not only that, it could be the difference between successfully achieving goals that are important to, or not. Your voice commands your mind, body and spirit. For example every time you say “I can’t” you literally stop growth. “I won’t” will put a block in your way. “It’s hard” will stop you from achieving what you really want. “I don’t believe” or “I’m a skeptic” closes your mind to new possibilities and stunts your learning. “I don’t like it”, stops your mind from learning new things. The word “try” used in sentences keeps you stuck in being on the way to a goal, but never there. It’s like running a race with no end.
Of course, there’s more to human suffering and mental health than our habits of talking to ourselves. That said, mental habits are huge and we often overlook them. The good news is that we have direct control over our mental habits (unlike certain aspects of our environment like other people, the economy, or our genetic background).
Which is why I usually sum up my job as a coach by saying that I help people identify and unlearn problematic mental habits, so they have constructive habits that will serve them for the rest of their life. In fact, people often finish a coaching series and lament that they didn’t learn these simple basic mental habits much younger so that they could’ve avoided all kinds of suffering throughout their life.
Another way I talk about my work is that I help people tell a different Mindstory about themselves. But before we can start telling new Mindstories, we have to identify of the old ones and rewrite over them. It’s like when you update a piece of software, you replace the existing one with all the brand new fixes and features.
Here are 9 of the most common forms of unhelpful self-talk that lead to us feeling badly and that block our success on a regular basis. You may be aware of some or all, but even those of us who are aware may catch ourselves using the negative self talk. It’s a well worn habit that often runs in the background, beyond our conscious awareness. So, it helps to give a friend or family member the permission to point out phrases you use that don’t serve you or others. Dave and I do that with each other, and it’s very useful. Just make sure you do it in a playful way, not in a judgmental way. We all do it, so it’s normal, it’s well ingrained. And do set up the permission ahead of time. If you spring unrequested advice on how people talk when you don’t have that kind of coaching type relationship with them, it sometimes goes sideways. Ask permission first when they aren’t in a reactive state of mind. I noticed something about the way you talk to yourself, and it’s a habit I’ve had. When I changed it, it made a big difference. Are you open to hearing about it? If not, totally fine. Most people will be open if you ask like that. And make it clear you won’t be offended if they refuse your offer.
All that said, if you don’t have someone to do this with, another option is to just catch yourself and turn it around or we have an online course called The MindStory Neuro-Blueprint Course – which is 66 Days to Retrain Your Mind in Good Habits. It’s short this audios you do everyday to retrain your mind in good habits. You’ll see the link in the shownotes.
Most of this self talk involves unrealistic or inaccurate explanations for what’s going on in our lives that lead to negative emotions and moods, causing us to not reach important goals, whether that’s to lose weight, build a business, have a successful relationship and on and on.
There’s some overlap between what I might call cognitive distortions. These aren’t totally perfected categories; rather, they’re meant to be helpful labels for a more general pattern of interpreting our reality through our self-talk.
By the way, negative self-talk is not an intellectual problem. Most of us, when we read these examples of negative self-talk, understand that they’re not completely true. The problem is that we have a habit of saying them to ourselves anyway. Merely understanding that we have inaccurate self-talk isn’t enough—as we’ll discuss, it’s the habit of regularly catching ourselves in the act of this inaccurate self-talk that matters, and turning it around until you no longer do it anymore.
# 1 is Assuming:
We often assume what other people are thinking without any real evidence, or we assume we know what’s going to happen tomorrow in terms of weather, when it might be totally different. This is a misuse of a very powerful tool within your mental toolkit which is your imagination. We often only imagine the negative without exploring many different possibilities, some of which are bound to be neutral or even positive.
For example, a client of mine was giving a presentation on a zoom meeting and noticed her boss looking distracted the whole time checking her phone. She assumed – she’s surfing facebook, she’s not interested. I’m not a good presenter. It turns out, when they talked later, her boss received a text that her son was ill and she was checking texts from her husband to find out what was happening.
The way to catch yourself on this habit of negative assumptions is to look for phrases that that sound similar to “I’m not…” “She’s not…” He’s not..” “They’re not… That kind of thing. It’s got negative words in it like “not” “cannot” “will not”. You can turn it around in your head and just say “What if I am a good presenter?” “What if she is interested?” If you start the phrase with “what if” it triggers the imagination and bypasses the negative ego’s agenda to want to be proof. You don’t have proof either way, at least not yet, so it’s just about imagining a positive scenario instead of a negative one.
#2 is Over generalizing:
Overgeneralizing is the habit of telling ourselves that a negative event is bound to continue happening in the future. When we overgeneralize, we make predictions about the future based on isolated pieces of evidence from the present.
For example, a client in our certification program had a first coaching session with a new client. It didn’t go well. She decided, I’m never going to be good at this. I should quit. I always mess things like this up. But the truth is, the client wasn’t truly ready for coaching, and she was new to the role and didn’t know how to recognize the signs. Yes, she was a bit nervous, as people tend to be doing something for the first time. But to assume all coaching session will be the same way isn’t accurate. It’s overgeneralizing. Once she saw that, she decided to keep going and now does very well for the most part with all her clients.
The way to catch yourself on this is look for phrases that sound similar to “I’m never…” “I’ll always…” “He, She, They’ll never, or always… You can turn it around in your head and just say “What if I could learn to be a good at this?” “What if sometimes I do well?” Again if you start the phrase with “what if” it triggers the imagination.
#3 is Exaggeration:
Exaggeration is when we take our own errors or flaws and exaggerate them. Often magnification takes the form of catastrophizing when we take small negative events and turn them into disasters in our minds. Years ago, a friend of mine said she felt a heart palpitation, She felt sure she was having a heart attack? I need to get to the ER now! She went there and they said she was fine. Or, you have one tough month in business and figure that’s the end of your business, it’s all going to fall apart.
The way to catch yourself on this is look for phrases that sound similar to this “This is not going to end well” “Something bad is going to happen.“ Of course if there is real danger to pay attention to, just see if you can take action on it. If not, look for how to turn the challenge into an opportunity. But to loop on how bad it’s going to be, will paralyze you making sure you don’t take precautionary action.
Often, it’s not nearly as bad as we think, or not bad at all, and it’s just our negative self talk making things up. You can turn it around in your head and just say “What if it turns out well?” “What if something great is going to happen?”
Number 4 is Minimization
Minimization is the mirror image of Magnification and involves being dismissive of our strengths and positive qualities. When we minimize, it often keeps us in a cycle of feeling inferior because we never allow ourselves to benefit from and be boosted up by our true positive qualities and accomplishments.
After receiving excellent feedback on a presentation, my client said: “Yeah, but one person said there wasn’t enough scientific evidence, so I’ve been feeling really bad about it.” They dialled in on the one comment that wasn’t even really that negative, it could be looked at as constructive. Maybe he could find a bit more scientific background, or not. It’s just someone’s opinion.
The way to catch yourself on this is look for phrases that sound similar to this “Yes, but..” You can turn it around in your head and just say “Yes, and…I got almost all positive feedback and isn’t that great?” or “That’s helpful feedback.”
#5 is Emotional Rationale
Emotional rationale is where you make decisions based on how you feel rather than what you value. You use your feelings as evidence for what you should or shouldn’t do. The downside is that you you end up spending all your time running away from discomfort rather than toward the things you value. This can lead to depression or procrastination.
I’m not going to go to the gym this morning; I just don’t feel it.
I’m not going to work on my book today, I don’t feel motivated.
Like any regular habit such as exercise, or a long term project like a book, there are days you’ll feel motivated and days you won’t. Why did you commit to it in the first place? To say healthy, to share your wisdom? Those need to be your guiding light, not how you feel on any given day. Often a blasé feeling goes away after exercise or doing a creative project.
The way to catch yourself on this is look for phrases like “I just don’t feel like it..” “I don’t feel motivated.” “I’m going to wait until everything is in order…” You can turn it around in your head and just say “Even though I don’t feel like it, what’s most important is… or “Doing it will help me feel motivated.”
#6 is Black and White Thinking
Black and white thinking is the tendency to evaluate things exclusively in terms of extreme categories. It shows up often when we evaluate our own or another’s personal qualities and characteristics based on one thing. That sets you up for chronic disappointment or writing someone or something off due to one fault.
You got divorced, so now you think your just bad in relationships.
Your friend voted for the other candidate so now they’re an idiot.
Your child got a C minus in math so clearly she’s not going to be an academic.
The way to catch yourself on this is to look for phrases like “Because of this…I’m that..” “Because he said that, he’s totally…whatever” “Because she did that, she’s clearly not…” You can turn it around in your head and just say “Even though that happened, it doesn’t mean anything about my worth, I can learn from it and move on … or “Even though he or she did that, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything about them…” Watch jumping to conclusions about yourself and others as you can really block your growth in life.
#7 is Over Responsibility
Over Responsibility involves assuming excessive amounts of responsibility, especially for things that are mostly or entirely outside our control. When you exaggerate your sense of responsibility it leads to trying to over control, which in turn leads to stress and anxiety.
Say your child doesn’t get chosen for the soccer team, “oh, I should have practiced more with her every day, she would have made the team!” Or, you leave a dinner party early and find out no one helped the host clean up. “I shouldn’t have left without helping clean up.”
The way to catch yourself on this one is to look for phrases like “I shouldn’t have…” or “I should have…” You can turn it around in your head and just say “I could have, but it’s not really my responsibility.” “It’s okay if I didn’t, it’s not really my responsibility.”
#8 is Trying
Trying is the mental habit of saying things like “I’ll try to start exercising again.” Or “I’m trying to be more organized.” Or “I can try to talk to her about it.” Or, “I will attempt to grow my business this year.” The mind that tries is always in the process of and never will complete it. It’s a kind of self-hypnosis to never really get there, and it blocks your ability for completion and achievement of a goal.
It’s like that famous advice that Yoda gives to Luke Skywalker in Star Ways. Luke crashes his ship into a swamp. Since he had learned how to use the Force to lift rocks and other stuff, Yoda instructs him to lift his ship out of the water. Luke cannot see the possibility in that and even protests arguing that a whole ship is different from a rock. When Yoda insists that the difference is only in his mind, he reluctantly agrees and says Okay, I’ll try. Yoda scolds him. No. Try no. Do or do not. There is no try. Yoda knows that mindset won’t allow the mind over matter phenomenon to work.
The way to turn this around is just take out the word “try”. “I will start exercising again.” Or “I’m getting more organized.” Or “I am going to talk to her about it.” Or, “I am going to grow my business this year.”
#9 is Disbelieving
Disbelieving is the mental habit of saying things like “I’m skeptical.” “I can’t see that possibly happening” or “That can’t be true.” Or, “I don’t like that kind of thing.” Or “I doubt I’ll like it.” People that immediately ban any idea they’ve never heard of before or that they’ve never experienced before, tend to stunt their own growth. “You could take that hobby you love and turn it into a lucrative business.” “I can’t see that possibility happening.” “Acupuncture really helped my lower back, why not give it a try?” “I’m skeptical about all that alternative woo-woo stuff.” This natural sweetener from South America doesn’t spike your insulin levels like sugar, try it in your coffee.” “No thanks, I doubt I’ll like something like that.”
You can turn it around in your head and just say “I am open to looking into that” or “I’d like to explore that possibility”, or “I believe it might be possible”.
So, moving forward this with, make sure you aren’t harsh, judgmental, or sarcastic with yourself or others. That tends to create pushback. Be kind, gentle, empathetic, and straightforward instead. Come from an intention of helping, like you’re a mentor or coach who really cares about your own success, or like a caring parent helping a small child learn how to write. Be patient. Being your own best friend in life is one of the most important relationships to nurture. It will mean a life of fulfillment, peace of mind, and a loving heart like nothing else.
So, if you enjoyed listening to this podcast, do check out our ONLINE COURSE The MindStory Neuro-Blueprint Course – 66 Days to Retrain Your Mind in Good Habits. These are powerful audios that help build the neuropathways for successful life habits. See the link in the shownotes
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