September 19, 2016
A few months ago, I wrote about the importance of “Silencing Your Inner Critic,” a practice that changed my life.
Learning to control the negative or anxious thoughts that you have is paramount to achieving your health goals, and more importantly, having a peaceful and enjoyable life.
Negative self-talk is essentially internal self-criticism and unhealthy pessimistic thoughts. Some great examples of negative-turned-positive thinking can be found in this Mayo Clinic article on stress management.
You may catch your mind beating you down in your everyday life and it takes practice to be able to silence that voice. I know that in years past, I let that voice overtake me many times. That voice of self-doubt: "You can't do this because you're not strong enough, not smart enough, fill in the blank ..."
It isn't that those thoughts don't come into my head anymore, but now when they do, I feel much more confident and prepared to silence them. You can build your confidence and shut down negative thoughts about yourself. These thoughts are preventing you from living your best life. Below is my guide to overcoming negative self-talk; the fundamental things that you need to know to get the most out of your life.
Nobody is perfect. First and foremost, you need to know that. You are not perfect, you never will be, nor will anyone, period, end of story. Consequently, the idea of being “perfect” is a very unhealthy illusion and striving toward perfection is actually counterproductive to sustainable change because failure is inevitable. What you can strive for is to be the very best version of yourself, whatever that means to you.
The idea that you can control your thoughts is very powerful in itself. The mind and body are intrinsically connected and, as a result, one cannot have physical health in the absence of mental health and vice versa. As such, it is crucial to be mindful of your thoughts and how your behavior is impacting how you feel. In other words, if you are constantly telling yourself you are weak or not good enough, how do you think that is affecting your health? Recognize how negative talk is inhibiting you and know that those thoughts can become self-fulfilling prophecies and actually make you feel weaker or less confident.
The power to pause in the moment and ask ‘How will this affect me?’ is the turning point in the battle to gain control over your mind. For example, sure, that ice cream looks good but how will it make you feel after you eat it? Will it trigger self-hatred or encourage negative thoughts? Is this decision moving me toward my ideal self? If the answer is no, find strength in the fact that you were able to step back and avoid a potential pitfall in your journey toward your optimum health. Sometimes, the answer will be, “Yes, I really do want this.” In that case, vow to just enjoy the treat and don’t torment yourself about it later.
One of the most valuable tools I learned at Duke Integrative Medicine was learning to measure things on a 1-10 scale. How much do you want ___________? (The blank could represent your physical health, mental health, that bowl of ice cream, etc. ...) This is a question you need to be asking yourself on a regular basis. “On a scale of 1-10, how important is your health to you?” You may answer 10. Then ask, “On a scale of 1-10, where do you rate yourself in terms of how you prioritize your health?” Maybe you are a 6. “What does a 6 represent to you? Or better yet, what steps do you need to take to move toward a 10?” Apply the scales as a shorter-term decision-making strategy, “How much do I want that ice cream?” Maybe a 4 means you will skip it this time. Use these scales as a metric to check in with yourself from time to time and see how you have progressed.
“Letting be” is a term that was also often used at Duke IM. Essentially, it is recognizing that although there are some things that may not be perfect in your mind, just accept them and put them aside for now. If you come from a place of knowing that you are doing your best, that you have a grand plan and that some things are out of your control, this can be a friendly theory to pull out of your mental toolbox. Certain things cannot be resolved immediately and in those cases, it takes practice to calm the mind. Learning how to “let be” has not only helped me to calm my busy mind, it has allowed me to create room to handle other things that may have more immediate resolutions.
Finally, don’t talk badly about yourself, in your own mind or to others. Show yourself the same compassion that you may have for others. Stand up straight and exude confidence. Even if it feels foreign at first, it will eventually feel more natural to you. People are drawn to positivity and you can learn to be a source of happiness, not only for yourself but for others as well.
What is your experience with negative self-talk? How do you think implementing a long-term plan to deal with these thoughts in a healthy way could impact your life?
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I will continue to keep you posted on my health journey and would love to hear your experiences as well. Please feel free to share below or tweet me @christiemandia.