Many people are sceptical about self-talk, imagining some ambitious young businessman standing in front of a mirror reciting sentences like “you are a tiger, go get them.” The whole idea of self-talk can seem self-indulgent, even a little absurd. But practised in the correct way, it can be surprisingly effective. Never forget that your emotional state depends on your mental state. Put another way, your thoughts shape your emotions; change your thoughts and you will change your emotions.
If you are curious about positive self-talk, try repeating the following:
1) “Self-critical thoughts are not facts.” Everyone has an internal voice. For some it is a mere background hum, for others a monster, tormenting them with accusations, criticisms, and mockery. Continually remind yourself that such thoughts are not facts. Mindfulness students are often taught that the mind is like a clear, blue sky. Occasionally, clouds appear. Imagine these clouds represent your thoughts; they can be light and fluffy or dark and menacing. When the dark, menacing clouds appear, remind yourself that you are the calm, empty sky beneath. Refuse to identify yourself with these clouds.
2) “Nothing lasts forever.” The British politician Arthur Balfour would often console himself with the saying “nothing matters much and very little matters at all.” Remind yourself that your present trauma, embarrassment, or fear is temporary. If your boss has just told you that your work isn’t good enough, or you are about to leave for a dreaded dentist appointment, look in a mirror and say “nothing lasts forever.”
3) “They are only fragile, vulnerable beings — just like me.” This is especially good if you have to speak in public or confront someone intimidating. As you say these words, imagine the people who intimidate you dressed in silly clothes, or doing something absurd. Visualise them crying or lonely or scared. They are only human.
4) “I am me here and now. I am not my past.” Use this when your past comes back to get you. Many people who have worked hard to grow, mature, and improve themselves continue to obsess about the past. Do not allow your past failures and embarrassments to define you. This saying is especially useful when you bump into someone you associate with a bad or humiliating period of your life.
5) “If I have done it before, I can do it again.” Maybe you have faced down that rude work colleague before. If you have, you can do it again. Those who doubt themselves often disregard past achievements or dismiss them as one-offs. Drive the message into your subconscious and you may find a rush of confidence when you stand in front of that dreaded audience or sit for your next job interview.
6) “It is normal to feel this way.” Give yourself permission to feel the way you do. People often resist negative emotions, denying and repressing them. Or they feel guilty and ashamed. But you have every right to feel afraid or angry. It is your right as a human being to go through a wide range of emotions, some of them less than edifying.
7) “I never really know what other people think of me. In any case, everyone interprets things in their own unique way.” After meeting new people, especially a group who already know one another, it is very common to undertake what therapists call a “post-mortem”, analyzing everything you said and trying to recall the expressions people made. Those with poor self-esteem inevitably interpret events to fit in with their view of themselves as stupid, incompetent, or worthless. They convince themselves that they made a bad impression and feel sure that their new work colleagues, or future in-laws, now regard them with contempt. But you never really know what people think. People do not interpret events in the same way. Some only ever see the good in people and disregard the bad. Others are simply not judgemental. Even if you did make a complete fool of yourself, that doesn’t mean everyone noticed. People are rarely as harsh on the insecure as the insecure are on themselves.
8) “Failure is a great opportunity to learn. Without it I will never succeed.” As with so many things in life, perception is key. You can view a failure as nothing but a failure and let it go. You can use failures to torture yourself. Or you can regard failures as opportunities. Any successful businessman will soon tell you that he learnt more from his failures than he ever did from his successes.
If you find the above useful, there are many books and even courses on positive self-talk and self-improvement. The key is persistence. If those crippled by low self-esteem can convince themselves they will be lonely, miserable failures, then with a little effort they can also convince themselves of the opposite! Positive self-talk is like sowing a field: do it with love, care, and attention and you will reap the benefits!