If we are to focus on mental positivity this year, how do we banish or diminish the opposite side of the scale – negativity? Especially in a world currently in turmoil, dealing with the aftereffects of the pandemic, and the conflicts currently playing out in Europe?
There are so many influences on our daily state of mind, from the media we consume to the people we spend time with, and while these can be tricky to control, the one thing which influences our state of mind more than anything else is much closer than we think – it’s ourselves.
Yes, yours truly can have one of the strongest impacts on our mental health. That little voice inside your head, that little gremlin sitting on your shoulder, the one who whispers that you’re not talented enough, not a good enough parent or friend, or that you don’t deserve nice things or to be happy.
Heaped on top of one another, one small insult to ourselves after another, the effect can quickly become harmful. Dealing with this negative self-talk is therefore one extremely powerful way to change our mindsets to a more positive one. Here are some suggestions on how to do this.
The first step is to actually become aware that you’re doing it. Take note of your negative thoughts more actively, either by writing them down as they pop up (in a journal, or on your computer or phone). After all, we can only change things we can name, so the first step is to notice, without judgement, that you are speaking negatively to yourself. Once you’ve noticed, take a pause and stop what you’re doing, instead of moving on to the next self-insult.
Instead of projecting, consider if the negative statement you’re telling yourself is a fact, or just your opinion. Are you really terrible at your job (“why do I even bother?! Maybe I should just quit!) or did you simply make one bad decision today that can be learnt from and remedied tomorrow? When we’re in an emotionally vulnerable state, we can dramatise situations far beyond reality, so check yourself before you continue down that road.
How would a good friend speak to you about this specific situation? Would they say “Yes, you’re a terrible mother because you gave the kids toast again for supper”? Unlikely. A good friend would be far more likely to sympathise with your busy day, reassuring you that your children are happy and loved, and that you can counteract their supper tonight with a healthier homecooked one tomorrow. Be a friend to yourself, and speak to yourself like a friend would.
If you really can’t banish the negative thought on your own, then verbalise it with a real friend. Send them a text, call them up and tell them the negative thought. They’ll probably laugh about how ridiculous you’re being, and the thought will diminish rapidly.
Heard of the “Growth Mindset”? Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck coined the term to explain the difference between people who have a fixed mindset (“I’m bad at Maths and will never get any better”) and those who have a growth mindset (“I’m still learning many of these Maths concepts. The more I practise, the better I’ll get.” Those with a growth mindset have been shown to be more successful in every aspect of life, from sports to the arts, school to business. If we banish the idea of achieving “perfect” with everything we do, then we’ll have less fear and more confidence to explore new ideas, learn new skills, and achieve our goals.
Continuous negative self-talk isn’t just unhealthy, it’s also been shown to limit our overall success*. So if you’re reading this and it’s made you aware of how you currently speak to yourself, consider making some changes in your thought patterns and becoming your own cheerleader, instead of a critic.
Because as Winston Churchill famously said: “The positive thinker sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible”.
*Walter N, Nikoleizig L, Alfermann D. Effects of Self-Talk Training on Competitive Anxiety, Self-Efficacy, Volitional Skills, and Performance: An Intervention Study with Junior Sub-Elite Athletes. Sports (Basel). 2019;7(6):148. doi:10.3390/sports7060148