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Friday, June 22, 2020

Why changing your self-talk could lower your stress

Cutting your stress level and increasing your pleasure in life and work could require little more than shutting your mental “ears” to phantom voices from your past.

Most of us, at one time or another, hear that depressing whine inside our heads that tells us nothing we do is ever good enough, successful enough, or creative enough to be of any real account; that we’ll never amount to anything and other people are probably sniggering at our feeble efforts anyway. This kind of self-talk is responsible for many people simply giving up and settling for mediocrity. Yet all that your mind is doing is trying to help you avoid future pain by scaring you away from taking risks. It’s time to ignore such tainted advice and forget the past upsets that caused the whining to start in the first place.
People who give advice on personal development or coping with workplace problems usually concentrate on what you might do to make things better. Recently, I came across an article on a British web site that takes a different tack. It looks at how you might need to think differently too: specifically, what beliefs you could have picked up in the past which are now holding you back.

The article is titled: “10 beliefs that could hold you back in life.“

Beliefs are tricky things. We often use the word to describe a fundamental outlook on the world, like a religious, ethical, or philosophical belief. That’s not what this is about, though some of these outlooks come complete with a set of supporting beliefs that apply to many other aspects of life. The type of belief that can raise your stress levels, block your career, and produce misery and frustration is the untested, unchallenged assumption about yourself that goes like this: “I’m a failure. I’ve always been a failure. I’ll never amount to anything. People just laugh at me when I try to do any better. I might as well accept it and give up.”

Understanding the self-talk monster

One useful way of thinking about this type of belief is to recognize it as merely negative self-talk: the monologue that plays continually inside your head, criticizing everything you do and dismissing your results as never good enough to help. Some people label it the Inner Critic, but I think that sounds too much like a theater reviewer or a grouchy panelist on American Idol. It also implies that this voice comes from something separate from you, whereas it’s nothing more than the output from a habitual set of beliefs and assumptions that you’ve picked up at various places and times along life’s path.

Self-talk is based on recollections of hurtful and negative things that others said to you—and that somehow were close enough to your own fears and misgivings to be taken up by your mind and treated as . . . well, not quite true, but near enough to one possible truth to be scary. Now your mind uses them as a means to prevent you from running into more hurt. In its own twisted way, this self-talk is trying to protect you from future pain. That’s why it grabs your attention, just as a reflex to jump back from a snake might do.

The easiest way to understand how to move away from this thought pattern is through an example.

Success has always been desirable, but in today’s world it can seem like the only thing that matters. Yet everyone is fallible, so we all make mistakes and feel bad as a result. In your pain at a poor outcome, you’re very likely to be rather sensitive to negative comments from others. A sly look, a half-suppressed giggle, an overheard comment can all convince you that the mere fact of failing has made you into a failure. That really hurts, so your mind decides to save you from more pain by accepting that label. After all, if you’re a failure, no one will have any future expectations of you, so it will be impossible to fail again.

With this belief in place, appropriately negative self-talk kicks into gear. As soon as you seem to be in danger of trying something difficult, you mind starts warning you off. Of course, you’ll fail again sometime—everyone does, without exception—so the mind takes this as confirmation that trying anything new and risky is simply going to result in more pain. The belief has been reinforced and the self-talk steps up to a higher gear as a result.

A protective response?

There are many, many variations on this “protective” response. You might tell yourself that you’re too stupid to be able to grasp anything tough; or too awkward ever to make friends; or too cowardly to be able to face down some bully in the workplace. Others include: “I’m too old to learn new tricks;” “I’m a nobody, so no one will listen to my ideas;” “It’s too risky to change;” “There’s nothing I can do to change anything;” and “Nobody would believe me if I told them.”

As a protective strategy, all this negative self-talk sucks. It may appear to save you from more hurt, but it does nothing to change the situation you’re already in. In essence, it says: “Stand still right here. I know it hurts—badly—but moving could make it hurt even worse.” So nothing changes for the better, and now you’re as frustrated as all Hell too.

The only answer to negative self-talk is to ignore it. Don’t argue with yourself, because what the self-talk says is, quite truthfully, based on certain facts from your past. But that’s just it; they are past. Over. Gone. Of no further account. No longer relevant.

How to fight back

Failing doesn’t make you a failure, because everyone fails at one time or another. Not instantly understanding something complicated doesn’t make you stupid; even the greatest genius has to find his or her way through hundreds of things not immediately understood on the way to some creative insight. No one is ever too old to learn. All these claims by your self-talk are complete garbage. They’re monsters made from smoke and mirrors to frighten you out of putting yourself at risk. Push ahead and they’ll disappear.

I suspect that the majority of stress people feel in difficult and negative workplace situations is self-inflicted. It’s not that the situation isn’t bad. It is, but listening to continual negative self-talk makes it many times worse and raises stress to unnecessary levels.

Like all techniques to lower stress, ignoring negative self-talk isn’t free or easy. It takes effort and it takes time. But the simple truth is that anyone can do it, and the results are more likely to add to your well-being and happiness than just about anything else. That alone should be sufficient incentive to start. And before your self-talk gets to you . . . no, it isn’t going to be a waste of time or another self-help fad that you’ll soon forget. It’s going to change your life.



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2 Comments:

Michael Vanderdonk said...

Very nice overview of how and why we have that self-talk. Getting rid of it can be a challenge, but I've put together a list of the easiest ways to get it to work for you. Have a look and let me know what you think.

2:25 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your comment, Michael.

I enjoyed looking at your list of ways to "cure" self-talk and can recommend it. Lots of sensible and practical ideas.

Keep reading, my friend.

3:29 PM  

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