Got Negative Self-talk? Re-train Your Brain!

Self What?

Self-talk is ongoing in our minds almost 24/7.  It is the voice we hear as we wake up and make plans for the day, visit with friends, parent our kids, call our moms, grocery shop, drive, work, and get ready for bed!  You know that voice that no one else can hear, but you can’t help but hear.  Becoming aware of that voice and taming it is crucial for mental and emotional health, therefore, a key component of a healthy lifestyle.

Extreme Thinking

Here are a few extreme words you may find in your self-talk: never, stupid, worst, always, perfect, terrible, and awful. These are just a handful for example. These types of words intensify our emotions and then our behaviors.

I first learned about extreme thinking as I sat with my counselor years ago. She had me keep a log of my self-talk for a week and it was very eye-opening!  As I shared with her from my week, her first comment was, “that’s pretty dark”.  She was right; I had been beating myself up pretty badly and was embarrassed to admit what I routinely said to myself.  That exercise opened my eyes to the powerful voice I was listening to… ME! I realized that whether it was speaking truthfully or promoting distortions…I believed it and it impacted my behaviors.

Re-Train Your Brain   Let me give you an example of self-talk gone bad. (The words in quotes are self-talk.) The scene is set by waking up to realize that you set your alarm for the wrong time “ugh, I’m so stupid”.  Out of bed and out to get breakfast to find no milk in the house. The kids are having brownies for breakfast instead of cereal. “nice work super mom…not” So, you grab a couple brownies and get moving.  Kids delivered barely on time and off to work.  Work is busy and stressful, lunchtime comes and no lunchbox is found. “whatever, I deserve a burger today anyway”  The work day moves on and late afternoon delivers Girl Scout cookies and vanilla lattes. Normally you would walk away but today you don’t. “I don’t even care today” After work you planned to go on a walk “today is ruined I may as well just skip it”, but you find yourself at home on the couch.

Maybe you think that these words are no big deal, but it doesn’t take long and you begin to believe what you are saying to yourself. Often distortions or misperceptions, these negative words shape our behaviors.

Re-trained Brain:  The scene is set by waking up to realize that you set your alarm for the wrong time “ugh, bummer”.  Out of bed and out to get breakfast to find no milk in the house. The kids are having brownies for breakfast instead of cereal. “need to grab milk today” So, you give each kiddo a banana, grab a protein bar and get moving.  Kids delivered barely on time and off to work.  Work is busy and stressful, lunchtime comes and no lunchbox is found. “Darla eats healthfully I’ll go to lunch with her.”  The work day moves on and late afternoon delivers Girl Scout cookies and vanilla lattes. “It’s been a long day but a bunch of calories won’t help.” After work you planned to go on a walk “can’t wait to walk and de-stress tonight”.  Once home, you take a walk to the corner convenience store for milk and then enjoy a show on TV while you make your lunch for tomorrow.

Challenge the distortions     This is not about Pollyanna flattery; it is about speaking truth to yourself.  Are you really the “worst mom ever” because you forgot the milk?  Doubtful. Now that I’ve brought your attention to self-talk, as you become aware of it, ask yourself if it is true. One of my favorite quotes of Dr. Phil is “you can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge.”  Acknowledge that you just labeled yourself as a failure, now ask yourself is that true?  Take a minute to think of a time you succeeded.  (FYI:  if you drive, have a job, manage a household…you’ve got successes!) This practice gains momentum as you practice and before long you realize you are feeling better about yourself.

In hind sight I see that my counselor was the voice challenging my distortions until I learned to do it myself.  I’m so thankful for her and the role she played in my recovery and healing!  Hear me friends:  you are valuable, you are capable, and you bring a unique set of gifts to this world.

Remember, you can’t believe everything you say!

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