Welcome to part two of Let’s Talk About How We Talk To Ourselves. Yesterday, I examined how the words and phrases that our inner voice uses can impact our feelings and actions. Today, I want to talk more broadly about self-talk and how we can make adjustments to improve our self-esteem, self-confidence, and generally be kinder to ourselves (how many times can I say the word "self" in a sentence?). The things we say to and about ourselves can completely change our mood and our outlook on life. It can be difficult to be kind to ourselves, but there are some steps we can take to make it easier.
Whenever I’m trying to solve any sort of issue, not just those related to my inner voice, the first thing I do is ask myself “Why?” We can address the symptoms later, but often, finding and addressing the root cause will solve the issue. Why do you feel the way you do? Why are you using the self-talk that you’re currently using? I’m willing to bet that about 97% of the time, if you really look at the things you say to yourself, it will turn out that they just aren’t reasonable and true.
I often find myself thinking that I’m not good enough or I’m not productive enough, but every time I’ve stepped back and looked at why I’m feeling like that, I realize that my standards are just unreasonably high. With the bar I’ve set for myself, of course I’m feeling like I’m not good enough. I’m doing great things, and I’m working hard, and I’m accomplishing the things I want to accomplish, so I am good enough. Checking in on why I’m feeling the way I am reminds me to lower my bar a bit and tell myself that the things I’m thinking just aren’t true.
I think this reason is going to hold true for a lot of people. You are good enough, your grades are good enough, your room is clean enough, and you are doing enough. You are enough. Look at the bar you’re setting for yourself. When we’re constantly being bombarded with the best of the best, those people who are the prettiest, the smartest, the strongest, it’s easy to have a skewed perception of what “enough” is. Don’t try to hold yourself to standards that even the best of the best would struggle to meet.
When we really look into the reasons behind our negative self-talk and realize that most of the things we’re saying to ourselves are untrue, it’s easier to dismiss those thoughts when they pop up. They’ll likely never go away completely, but knowing that they just aren’t true means that we can let them go and move on with our lives, rather than dwelling on them and letting them bring us down.
If you’re struggling to be gentle with yourself, the meditation app Calm has a series of loving kindness meditations that I’ve found are very helpful in reminding me to be kind. Being kind toward ourselves takes practice, and regular meditation on loving kindness can help to make kindness a habit.
When it comes to that 3% of times where the thought you’re having is true, maybe you really aren’t doing well in school because you never turn in your homework, or you’ve let your room get messier than you find livable, see if there’s something you can do to fix it right now.
For those occasional times where you’ve really thought about why you feel this way and determined that the thing you’re feeling really is true, and there’s something you could do about it right now, then do it. Stop procrastinating. Count down from five, flip the switch in your brain that’s keeping you from taking action, and when you get to one, do something.
It doesn’t have to be a perfect something. It doesn’t even have to be a good something. It doesn’t have to be a complete something, or an impressive something, or a big something. Just do something. Anything. Now. Go do it. No, you don’t need to spend more time researching how to do it, all you need to do is take actual action. Action will make you feel better. We’re all about action on this blog. If you aren’t willing to actually get up and do something, you are reading the wrong blog.
If you aren’t sure where to start or what that something is that you need to be doing, reach out to me! You can always email me at email@example.com and we’ll have a zero-pressure talk about what’s up and what you can do about it. I’ve also got posts about procrastinating, managing your time, getting better grades, not wasting time, and keeping your space clean, as well as some motivational, confidence building stuff, if you need it. As long as you are doing something, the things you want will come. I promise. It doesn’t matter how small your steps are, as long as you’re consistent. Just be patient.
If it turns out there’s nothing you can do right now to take action and improve the thing, treat this negative thought like you would treat dread. Essentially, realize that it is a useless thought, and direct your energy toward some other activity that you enjoy. If you’re scrolling through Instagram feeling bad about yourself because you didn’t eat a kale salad for lunch, get up and go do something you enjoy. Read a book. Go for a walk. Pet a dog. Get off Instagram. One kale salad isn’t going to change your life anyway.
Be careful; it’s easy to put way too many things in this 3% of thoughts that should be acted on. If your negative thought relates to your looks, e.g. you’re not thin enough, your nose is too big, your hair is too frizzy, those new jeans don’t make your butt look like an Instagram model’s— it is not part of this 3%. Ever. If it relates to something else, and your looks will be impacted by doing something about it, e.g. you’re tired of being winded from walking to your third floor apartment and want to lose weight— cool. That counts.
Many of us struggle with negative thoughts about our bodies because we’re constantly bombarded with “perfect” bodies, and it can be difficult to keep in mind that those bodies are heavily edited. Check this out if you want proof. The standards we try to hold ourselves to when it comes to looks just are not real. Bodies do not look like that. Looks are not part of the 3%. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ever change or improve the way you look, just that you should dismiss any negative thoughts related to your looks. If you change your appearance, it should be because you like the new look, not because you hate the old.
Learning to objectively analyze our self talk to determine if it’s true or not, and then do something about it on the off chance that it is, is a difficult skill to build. There are entire industries that benefit massively from you feeling bad about yourself, and they constantly tell us that we aren’t good enough so that we spend money to fix it. Learning to stand up to that message takes time. As you work on that, I have a few tips that can help.
Treat yourself the way you’d treat a significant other. When you truly love someone, it’s common to want to do tons of little things for them just because. We do nice things for the people we love because we want them to be happy. Those small gestures of kindness, like warming a blanket in the dryer, making a cup of tea just because, or making their favorite dessert, are all things that you could do for yourself. You are just as deserving of happiness and kindness as the person you care about, and you are in an intimate, unending, and hopefully loving relationship with yourself, so treat yourself like it.
Talk to yourself the way you’d talk to your best friend. Or if you’d prefer, talk to yourself the way you’d talk to your mom. Would you ever tell your best friend that she isn’t good enough? That she doesn’t work hard enough? That she’ll never be successful because she failed a math exam? No, you wouldn’t, because you know those things aren’t true. Well I’m here to tell you that they aren’t true about you, either. You are deserving of kindness and compassion just as much as your best friend is, so if you wouldn’t say it to her, don’t say it to yourself.
Practice gratitude. Notice and appreciate the good things. Maybe you didn’t do well on that exam, but you had lunch with a friend you hadn’t seen in a while, took a shower today, and managed to keep your desk clean. Like damn, you did that! Don’t discount that effort! If one negative thing has the power to bring down your day, why wouldn’t those three positive things have the power to bring you back up?
Dwell on the positive. Instead of looking at what you haven’t done or think you can’t do, look at what you have done, and be grateful for it. I’m sure you have more to be grateful for than you realize. Personally, I find gratitude so important that I have, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is” tattooed on my forearm as a constant reminder to pay attention to what’s going on and appreciate the good moments.
Be mindful. Yes, I’m saying it again. I know I bring this up all. the. time. but that’s because I mean it. Along with the loving kindness meditations that I mentioned earlier, regular meditation will help you to notice the negative thoughts you’re having and let them go without reacting to them or running away with them. If we want to change our inner voice, we need to first notice what it’s saying, and that’s exactly what mindfulness does for us . Meditation makes us aware of our thoughts.
Be thoughtful about how you describe yourself. I touched on this a bit yesterday as I was talking about “I am” vs. “I want to be”, but the way you describe yourself matters. The words that you identify with will impact your actions. Identifying as a bookworm means you’ll be more likely to jump at the opportunity to read. It’s easier to build habits and take actions that support our identity.
Have you ever passed on a hiking trip or a kayaking opportunity because “I don’t do that kind of thing”? You’re using your identity as a factor in deciding your actions. Think of yourself as someone who likes to be active, and you’re much more likely to participate in active hobbies because they fit with your identity.
Ask questions about the language you use to to define yourself. What adjectives do you use to describe yourself? Are they positive or negative? Are you giving yourself agency, or giving away your power? Are you finding the best in yourself and your traits, or the worst? If you don't like the answers to these questions, use these tactics to start to change them. Your identity is not set in stone. You can be anyone you want to be.
Learning to be kind to ourselves is an unending journey. There will be ups and downs. As with many of the most important things in life, it won't be easy, but it will be worth it. Sharing our struggles with others and realizing that they are dealing with the same thing can make it easier, so if you feel comfortable, I encourage you to leave a comment about something you've found useful in being kinder to yourself, or something that you're currently facing and could maybe use some help with. You are not alone, and there are people who love and care about you and want the best for you. You deserve happiness. :)