“Words matter. And the words that matter most are the ones you say to yourself.”
Last month, I asked you to be aware of what you tell yourself each day and to notice how positive (or negative) your internal dialogue is. I offered 4 Steps to help ensure your self-talk serves you well. If you missed it, you can find it here. That constituted part one of a 2-part article.
This month, in the second part of the article, I outline 10 practical tips to help you embed the learning from part 1. You can begin practicing these immediately. If you like to keep a journal, make notes on what you notice about your self-talk. How you are changing it to improve your confidence, wellbeing and success at whatever you aspire to achieve? Here are the 10 best things you can do:
- Focus your self-talk on what you can control, not what you cannot. Using the example from part one of this article, I can control how high I toss the ball when I serve in tennis, but I can’t control how well my opponent plays. Sometimes I will still lose, but the important lesson is to reinforce the things I can control, rather than get thrown off course by the things that I cannot.
- Watch out for using absolutes like “always” or “never” in your self-talk. Absolutes are outside of your control, and it can make you feel like a failure when you do something that you “never” should, or when you tell yourself that you “always” mess up. Absolutes are common in negative self-talk, so work to eliminate them from your new narrative.
- Avoid words of regret in your self-talk. Saying I should have done this or should have done that focusses on the past which is outside of your control. You cannot change what has already happened. Instead, focus on what you have learnt from your previous experience and what you will do differently in future.
- Don’t magnify your flaws in your self-talk. We all have weaknesses and things we are not good at, but you must take care that you do not exaggerate them. You are not a dreadful cook just because you burnt the chicken! You are not a terrible mother just because your son burned his finger. You are not a rubbish driver because you scraped the car!
- Stop judging yourself negatively in your self-talk. We are so harsh on ourselves when we reflect on our own performance! With any experience, try to notice what you have done well in addition to what you could learn from and do better at next time. Focussing on what you have done well and reinforcing this is a great way of building strong positive habits. Make a point of noticing when you have improved at something, no matter how small the improvement is.
- Notice if you are catastrophising. When you are worried about something, it is common to assume the worst is going to happen. If your boss wants to see you, you might assume it is because she wants to fire you. If a friend cancels a lunch date, is it really because they do not want to see you? Instead create a more positive inner dialogue about the situation.
- Frame your new self-talk in the positive. If you say to yourself, “don’t forget to put the washing machine on”, it is likely that you will forget to put it. This is because you are (inadvertently) reinforcing that you will forget to do it! Instead frame it as, “Remember to put the washing machine on”, and you will be much more likely to do it. Try it for yourself!
- Do not set false expectations for yourself. This is a form of self-sabotage. If you say to yourself that you will double your salary within six months, you might be setting yourself up to fail. (Also refer back to number 1 and ask yourself what is in your control?). The theory of expectations suggests that if you expect to fail, or expect to succeed, you probably will. However, it is important to stay grounded and realistic as well as positive.
- Be kind to yourself when you fail at something. Let’s face it, we all fail at times. If you slip up along the way (I still double-fault in tennis!) notice the failure, be honest about it, learn from it, and move on. I have learnt to trivialise this error by saying “Rafael Nadal occasionally does it, so it’s also OK for me”. Don’t let your inner critic take over. Be kind to yourself in the same way you would be if your best friend messed up and you were advising or consoling them. Be your own loyal supporter!
- Work on your mood. Finally, the better your mood, the less likely you are to be self-critical. Make sure you are getting enough sleep and do some things that make you happy! When you do this, you are more likely to be in a positive frame of mind and so create positive self-talk.
To create a new habit and convert your negative self-talk to more positive dialogue takes time. This is just like when you learn a new language – it takes time to master, and this is no different. Be realistic! Rather than aiming to change all your self-talk immediately, focus on the areas of your life that you most want to improve. This might relate to your job, your family, your hobby, or even something simple and specific such as your cooking skills!
Being realistic also means acknowledging you cannot control or change the past. However, you can influence your future. Our self-talk is often skewed towards recreating past errors with a view to stopping us from repeatedly making the same mistakes. But it doesn’t necessarily work this way! Instead, by changing what you say you yourself to something more positive, you can begin to create a new more positive future for yourself.
Nowadays, whether I am serving in tennis or navigating a more important situation, I use positive self-talk to help me be at my best and achieve the best outcome possible. In doing so, I have learned to become my own coach and loyal supporter, instead of being my own worst critic!
Start working on your self-talk. You can learn to coach yourself to become your own, personal fan and biggest supporter.