I want you to imagine a sport. You can choose any sport you like, whether you’ve never actually played, know how to play, or are an expert. Now I want you to imagine hiring a coach to help you get even better at the sport. We’re going to explore two scenarios, Coach A and Coach B.
Coach A is encouraging, they point out the great things you’re doing and help you do them better by offering you little tweaks. They recognize when something has been hard for you and support you in getting back in the game. When you make a mistake they let you know without judgment and teach you how to avoid that kind of mistake in the future. They aren’t coddling you, they hold you accountable and speak to you with kindness and care while helping you succeed.
Coach B is tough. They point out every little thing you do wrong and make it personal. They berate you, hoping that the criticism will make you better. You can’t get anything right and rather than teaching you how to do something better, they focus on what you’re doing wrong, calling you names and shaming you. They care about you, they want you to succeed, but the only way they know how to do that is to try to get you to stop doing things wrong.
We’ve all seen examples of both kinds of coaches. Which do you prefer? Who do you think gets better results?
Now I want you to imagine that these coaches are actually part of the internal dialogue you have with yourself in your mind. They are parts of you that desperately want you to succeed but have very different ways of approaching that goal. Coach A is an example of positive self-talk. Coach B is an example of negative self-talk.
Everyone has components of both and that’s natural. We’ve internalized the explicit and implicit messages we’ve received from family, friends, media and so many other sources. Some people are very aware of these internal voices, while others have a hard time recognizing them at all.
The great news is that we all have the ability to change our self-talk. Positive self-talk is linked with better mental health, healthier relationships, more confidence and higher self-esteem.
3 ways to move toward more positive self-talk:
Notice when it’s happening.
Sometimes our inner critics can be really stealthy, to the point where we barely notice they are there. We may notice we feel bad about ourselves, want to isolate or have social anxiety, but we may not realize that a lot of that is exacerbated by negative self-talk. So, the first step is noticing.
When you’re feeling bad, spend some time alone with the intent of listening to what’s going on inside your mind. There’s almost always some kind of monologue happening, in fact, some Buddhists refer to this as the “monkey mind”, always jumping from subject to subject and never settled. If you’re quiet enough (for some this may include temporarily not distracting yourself with IG, facebook, text messaging or TV), you should be able to get some insight into who’s running the show – Coach A or B.
Reframe is a fancy way of saying trying out a different perspective or “frame” in a different way. For example, it can be taken in multiple ways if a friend doesn’t text back, an extreme version might be something like, “This friend must not be a good friend, they must hate me. I need to stop inviting them to events because clearly they are only seeing me out of guilt. I can’t believe I’ve been fooled again, I must be stupid.” On the other hand, someone else might respond like this, “My friend must be busy with work, school, family or other friends. I trust they’ll get back to me when they’re free.” Same situation, very different self-talk.
Another simple example is trying an activity you’ve never done before. Someone with negative self-talk might think “this is too hard, I’ll never get it.” Someone with positive self-talk might reframe this and say, “this is hard, but I’ve done hard things in the past and if I don’t get it on the first try, I can always try again”. Remember, positive self-talk doesn’t have to be fake or overly optimistic.
Can you think of an example of a thought you’ve had that you might be able to reframe?
Imagine you’re speaking to a friend
If you notice that you have a lot of negative self-talk, it might be hard to reframe your self-talk in a more positive light. If that’s the case, try thinking about what you might say to your best friend or family member that you really love if they were in the situation. Once you’ve come up with something, see if you can apply those same words to yourself.
How we talk to ourselves accounts for so much of how we feel in the world. Maybe you didn’t start with the most compassionate and encouraging voices in your mind or in your external world, but we all have the ability, with time and effort, to gradually shift our self-talk and create a more compassionate inner landscape for ourselves.