Everyone has an inner coach. An inner voice that guides us through day-to-day life. Most of the time, we don’t even notice this voice (e.g.- “I better set my alarm so I can wake up in time.”) In more stressful situations, we may become more conscious of this voice as it helps us understand and respond accordingly (e.g.- “I need to schedule my study time before the exam so I don’t have to cram the night before.”) In counselling sessions, people sometimes realize their inner coach is leading to feelings of helplessness, depression and anxiety. Think of a hockey coach for a team of five year olds. He’s treating their game like it’s the Stanley Cup. He’s irrational and overly hard on the team. It’s pointless and harmful, and they may even end up losing. They may even give up hockey altogether.
Here are a few examples of negative self-talk:
- You’ve gained five pounds: “I’m a blimp. No one will love me looking like this.”
- You’re stressed out at work: “I can’t handle the stress at work. I’m a basket case and totally nuts.”
- You’re struggling in a relationship: “No one can actually love me. Eventually they’ll understand they don’t want me anymore”.
If this misdirected inner coach can be so harmful, why do so many people struggle with it? Maybe the negative self-talk is a backwards way of motivating ourselves. Or perhaps we learned it as kids trying to please our caregivers. There could be many underlying reasons contributing to negative self-talk. Talking to a counsellor about your history and current stressors may help identify the origin of this defeating tendency.
Here are some questions that may indicate you’re struggling with negative self-talk:
- Do I second-guess myself a lot?
- Do I often search for reassurance and praise from others?
- Do I use substances (e.g.- drugs, alcohol, food) or specific behaviours (e.g.- excessive workouts, video games, internet use) to escape my thoughts?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, you may struggle with negative self-talk, and it could be holding you back from enjoying life and achieving goals.
Here are some ways to challenge negative self-talk:
- Become more aware: try to write down the thoughts when they pop up. You don’t need to write a novel, just point form (e.g.- “I believe I will be rejected”)
- Challenge the validity of the self-talk: Is it actual fact or your interpretation? What is the evidence leading to your self-talk? (e.g.- “I fear rejection, but there is no evidence to say I will be rejected. I can choose whether or not I want to take the risk.”
- Come up with alternatives: What is the opposite of the negative statement? Can you entertain the idea of the positive statement? (e.g.- “I can never be rejected if I truly accept myself.”)
- Think of your goal: Is your negative self-talk helping you attain the goal? If someone else were trying to achieve the same goal, how would you cheer them on? (e.g.- “I’m struggling with my fear of rejection right now. Where can I get support? How can I nurture myself in the face of this fear?”)
Finally, if you struggle with negative self-talk, be gentle with yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up! Challenging an established mode of thinking takes a long time and conscious effort. As the negative thoughts diminish, you’ll find yourself achieving more goals and feeling less stressed. Good luck!