We all have it. That voice inside us, just at the moment we engage in conversation that says in one way or another: I’m not good enough. Negative self- talk is present in all of us to varying degrees, particularly in moments where we have to put ourselves out there, go out on a limb and interact with people we’ve never met.
Self-talk is actually an incredible mechanism that sets humans apart evolutionarily from the rest of the animal kingdom. It’s the genius ability to bounce different ideas and experiences around and off – yourself!
When this talk is negative, however, its effects can be debilitating – undermining our ability to engage fully with the experience before us. Imagine trying to carry on a conversation with someone you’ve just met when a third person butts in, hurling insults at you. No matter how interesting the conversation, this rude intruder has won your attention by brute force.
This is how your own mind – when negative self-talk goes unchecked – behaves towards itself, often as a result of past negative experiences. As evolutionarily advanced as we are, we still carry behaviours around with us, which unintentionally but very effectively undermine us.
The trick is in finding how to diminish the power and control of this intruder in order to focus on what truly matters – the connection to the present situation and person. It’s difficult to be authentic when you’re having a conversation in your head at the same time. So how can we re-establish control and get to a point where negative self-talk releases its grip?
If we can begin to be aware of the voice in the first place, this is the key first step.
Maybe you’re at a café or a bookshop. From the buzz of the coffee machine to the chatter of others around you, there’s an external volume in your surroundings. There’s also a volume to your own internal landscape where your attention is focused.
As you begin to pay attention to your volume metres inside and outside, ask yourself what is the difference between these two volumes?
Once you perceive the difference between the two, can you identify what’s actually being said inside? Is your inner critic saying things like “I’m not good enough, worthy enough?”
Or “I hope I won’t be rejected?”
What specifically is your inner voice saying? Actually naming these thought/feelings is a powerful exercise. By understanding and distilling what the negative self-talk is truly saying, you’re well on your way to reclaiming the power.
Once you have identified the messages, imagine for a moment that you are sitting in a control room to your own brain.
In front of you there are volume levers for everything and your eye is drawn to a volume lever marked Inner Critic. Reach out and turn the volume down so that it is still audible, but only just.
You can barely hear the volume in your own mind, though you perceive it is still there.
This is the place where you can begin to actually begin to do something about it. The negative talk is a part of your inner landscape and ultimately it does want something good for you – it’s just not what you need.
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone where you’re talking to them and you can see they’re already formulating what they’re going to say before you’ve finished your point? Just as you’re reaching the end of your sentence, they’re right in there, jumping on top of you with their opinions and leaving you to feel as though you haven’t really been heard. It’s very frustrating when you encounter situations like this.
In order for you to carry on with a fulfilling external conversation, you need to tell that nasty voice in your head to, in short, shut the hell up – at least long enough to listen to the other person and learn from that experience and connection.
Nothing will change until you turn that volume way down!
Repetition is your friend. If that voice is still there telling you you’re worthless as you try to have a conversation about the latest novel you’ve read, a recipe they’ve tried and recommend, or the existential life-transforming journey of self-discovery they’ve recently been on, tell that inner critic to take a hike again and again.
After a time, trust me, it always relents. Remember this mantra: The conversation is with the positive person in front of me, not the negative thinking inside me!
There are instances where the inner voice can be useful, for example in business or in decision-making. But when the negative inner voice is the one that’s being amplified, it’s time to re-engineer the sound balance and keep it to a volume that you can work with – one that actually serves your highest self.