We all have it.
We beat ourselves up and talk to ourselves in a way we would NEVER talk to someone else. What is a perfectly acceptable small scale mistake for others can become a huge catastrophic blunder when we’re the one that made the mistake.
You’re such an idiot – no wonder you’re such a failure.
Who do you think you are thinking you’re an expert, who’s going to listen to what you have to say, idiot?
Blimey you look a complete state, why are you such a mess?
Let’s face it there’s no way you can achieve that, so you might as well give up now.
The words we use when we talk to ourselves are IMMENSELY powerful.
Changing How We Think
In Neuro Linguistic Programming, practitioners work with their clients to help them identify negative patterns of thought and reframe them into more positive ones.
It’s not about being a ‘Positive Pollyanna’.
It’s not about lying to yourself and pretending you’re amazing when maybe you’re not. But it is about being realistic and objective.
If you’ve never had to stand up and give a speech to a room full of people, there’s no point in telling yourself you’ve done this a million times and you’re brilliant at it – your mind simply won’t believe you.
Having said that, there’s definitely benefit in visualising a positive experience of how you’d WANT the speech to go and ‘rehearsing’ this in your mind’s eye. This, in itself, can help to get you into the right emotional state so that you behave in a more confident manner.
It is about using language that triggers different emotional responses.
For example you could reframe “Let’s face it there’s no way you can achieve that, so you might as well give up now.”
“I probably won’t get everything right first time but I’ll give it my best shot, and if things don’t go as planned, as I’m pretty certain they won’t, I’ll definitely be able to learn from them and be better next time.“
The problem with negative self-talk is that it’s insidious. We often don’t realise we’re doing it.
We run on automatic patterns and unless we nurture a greater self-awareness, catch ourselves doing it and actively reframe the self-talk, it can be hard to stop.
Our thoughts create our emotional response, which then creates our behaviours.
For example, if I think of a snake I create an emotional response of fear and disgust. I feel my hands start to get sweaty and my heart race and that’s just thinking about a snake, not even seeing one.
This in turn leads to a certain behaviour. In my case I feel myself physically shrink as if trying to make myself small so it won’t see me. If it was a real snake I’d run away, or more likely, I’d probably pass out!
For others without an issue around snakes, the thought of one creates a different emotional state – it might be one of fascination, whereby their behaviour is about curiosity and they might want to get up close and personal to touch or stroke the snake (ok now I’m really feeling my palms getting sweaty).
The snake isn’t the issue here. It’s just a snake. The only difference is the meaning we give to it and the thoughts that we have.
So if our thoughts about ourselves are negative, we get into an emotional state based on those thoughts, and behave accordingly.
The good news is that we do have control of our thoughts IF we are aware of them.
We tend to think in words, pictures, sounds, smells, taste – basically our internal language is a mixture of different representational systems. Certain smells or sounds can elicit a particular emotional response too.
For example when I pass a coffee shop with a strong aroma of freshly brewed coffee I’m immediately transported in my head back to my teenage years, walking through Fenwick’s Department Store in Newcastle. It brings back happy memories of enjoyable shopping trips with my friends and creates a happy emotional state. This is known as anchoring and I’ve anchored a happy feeling to the smell of freshly brewed coffee.
Taking Responsibility for our Outcomes
When we change out thought patterns we can really start to take responsibility for how our life goes.
Learning to become more self-aware and challenging the negative thoughts gives us the opportunity to reframe and this leads to a different response and ultimately a different outcome.
My friend Pete uses the equation E + R = O
Quite simply this means an Event (outside of our control) plus our Response (within our control) = the Outcome.
Here’s a quick example.
Imagine you’re driving in the middle lane of the motorway and a bloke in a black BMW comes flying down the outside lane and cuts in quick in front of you.
That’s an event over which you have no control.
Now imagine your thoughts about that event go something like: “what a total idiot. Who the hell does he think he is. Typical BMW driver they think they rule the road. I’ll show him…”
Those thoughts may trigger emotions of anger and indignation and therefore your behaviour might be to speed up and get right behind him to prove that he’s not intimidating you, you might flash your lights angrily or beep your horn to ‘teach him a lesson’.
Then imagine you realise that in your distraction with the idiot BMW driver, you’re going to miss your exit slip road so you quickly move over just to find that you missed the car in your blind spot on your driver side – CRUNCH
Mr black BMW driver is now continuing on his merry way totally oblivious to the fact he’s annoyed you and now you’re responsible for an accident.
Event + Response = Outcome
So how about if you reframed the event.
What if you took control of your thoughts and they went more like “ooh that was a bit close, his driving is a bit reckless, but no harm done.”
These thoughts trigger a less volatile emotional response. You’re not distracted by trying to ‘teach him a lesson’, you’re more focused and relaxed and when you see your exit slip road you have more time to check behind you to make sure it’s safe to move over.
The outcome – NO ACCIDENT. Not to mention less stress.
Event + Response = Outcome
Looking at those two different scenarios who do you think is responsible for the accident?
The driver of the car you crashed into certainly won’t be blaming Mr BMW driver!
Going back to negative self-talk, a great example is when you give someone a complement and they either reject or deflect it.
“Oh, I love that dress, it really suits you” and they reply “oh this, it was just a cheap thing from a charity shop.”
A far more positive response would be “thank you, it was a real bargain from a charity shop and I absolutely love it.”.
A more positively framed response leaves both the giver and the receiver of the complement in a better emotional state.
Listen out for your own negative self-talk and become more aware of how your thoughts may be creating negative outcomes for you.
Listen out for other people using negative self-talk and, if it’s appropriate and you’re not going to embarrass them, call it out . They may not even realise they’re doing it, let alone realise the impact it is having.