Everyone is familiar with ‘you are what you eat’. It‘s a statement that brings attention to our eating habits. More relevant is the phrase ‘you are what you think’. That voice in your mind that has an ever-running dialogue is your inner voice, your self-talk. It is your critic, your companion, your friend or your enemy.
In relation to developing your resilience, your inner voice can be your most helpful companion. It can motivate you to take on challenges, give you comfort when disappointment arises. It can encourage you to try again (and again).
A positive inner voice is a powerful force to build the self-confidence you need to find fulfilment in life. Conversely, if you have a harsh inner critic, the ‘you can’t’ part of yourself, e.g. in a meeting, thinking ‘I can’t make this suggestion because people will ridicule me’, will reduce your effectiveness and limit your success in a challenging world. If that voice is constantly negative it will cause you to be stressed, anxious and unhappy. Indulging in self-talk sabotage, ‘you can’t do that’, and ‘that is too difficult’, will stop you reaching your goals and will lessen your ability to bounce back when you encounter obstacles.
Often your negative inner voice or critic wants to limit your behaviour before you receive criticism from the outside world. It could be looked on as an inner protector, but too much protection will hinder your life. The people in this world we admire most are those that recognise limitations and try anyway. Their self-talk encourages them not to give up.
Mindfulness is an important factor in looking at the reality of your inner conversations. If you notice that you have a harsh inner critic maybe it is time to challenge some of your limiting thought patterns? View your negative thought as a statement to be examined. If you are using words to yourself such as ‘always’. e.g. ‘I always fail at that’, or ‘never’ ‘I’m never going to…’ These need to be examined, and their validity tested. By doing this, you can get a more balanced view of the facts.
One method to challenge your self-talk is to write down all the negative words that you use on yourself. See if your projections are based on reality. Maybe you have carried these with you throughout your life. This negativity can be the result of some unfortunate encounters with situations or with people such as teachers or parents who, rather than giving you guidelines of acceptable behaviour as you were growing up, have mistakenly wanted to motivate you by criticising you, e.g. ‘you will never amount to anything’. The saying ‘criticise the behaviour, not the person’ is a beneficial way of curbing negative behaviour that will not result in demoralising you.
You can give yourself a boost in self-esteem and enhance your ability for better resilience by using encouraging self-talk. ‘You have done this before and you did a great job’, ‘This is a difficult request/project (reality check) and you have the experience and knowledge to make it a success’.
See a challenge as an opportunity to succeed, use your inner dialogue for positive reinforcement, use it to motivate you.
Public Speaking and Negative Self-Talk
Public speaking for many is a source of anxiety and fear, it can be one of life’s major stresses, for some quite excruciating. If public speaking is a very painful experience for you, what you are going through is a lack of self-confidence. Fear of external criticism reinforced with your inner voice telling you it’s probably going to end badly. This is going to cause you ‘stage fright’ and may very well adversely affect your performance. One psychologist who had a great fear of public speaking but was required to do so for his job overcame his fear. His method was to silence his inner critic (often your harshest judge) and generate self-love by using his inner voice to completely accept himself.
Accepting yourself as you are is an important step to building your resilience. Knowing that you are doing your best is enough. You can’t do better than your best and further internal criticism will not improve your performance. Internal criticism will cause you more stress and anxiety which will impair your best efforts.
It is important to learn from your mistakes to enable yourself to change for the better. Guilt and negative self-talk are limiting thought patterns. You can replace that negativity with a more balanced perspective by reviewing your past performances with intelligent regret. Recognise where you have gone wrong, make a determination not to repeat the mistake, and move on.
Ruminating on poor past performance can cause you to feel depressed, and likewise, having a fearful conversation in your head about the future can cause you anxiety. The great originator of Daoism, Lao Tzu is reported to have said ‘If you are depressed you are living in the past, if you are anxious you are living in the future, if you are at peace you are living in the present’.
Rod Lee is one of HSG’s Mindfulness, Stress Management & Resilience facilitators. In addition to his extensive corporate experience, he has been a teacher for Nature Care College of Natural Therapies and he wrote and narrated the Qantas Airways’ and Malaysian Airlines’ in-flight meditation audio programs.
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