It's a habit as natural as chewing your fingernails, but one far more insidius: negative self-talk. When we continually spiral downward after riding a wave of negative inner-dialogue, it eats away at our happiness, not to mention it erodes our self-confidence and ability to succeed.
I teach and write about the importance of not falling victim to negative self-talk and yet I still have to watch this tendency in myself, so believe me, I know, this is no walk in the park to overcome. But I can offer help, something I've been using for years to great effect in keynotes (and for myself).
I call it the "90 Percent Rule": When you catch yourself engaging in negative self-talk, it should immediately trigger the reminder that 90 percent of it will be unhelpful, misguided self-destruction while 10 percent (but only 10 percent) might actually have something worth thinking about as a way to improve.
90 percent beat down: 10 percent betterment.
This is worth repeating. Dismiss 90 percent of the negative self-talk immediately, opting instead to pull out and reframe the 10 percent of your negative thoughts that might be helpful. Meaning, reframe your mental process as being on the hunt for clues for self-improvement (instead of a process of self-flogging).
Don't agonize, stay focused on quickly scanning for that 10 percent, approaching the whole process with a positive-minded, curious mindset. Doing so changes your inner monologue from "I'm such a loser" to "What could I have done to improve?"
We have such a difficult time stopping that negative dialogue within because we worry that there's some real truth to it. The negative self-talk is our way of coming to grips with reality--but it's a false reality.
What I find so powerful about this rule (and reframing process) is that it assigns a proportionally minute number to the validity of our berating. So now, you're equipped to understand that negative thoughts will pop up from time to time (you're human after all), it's what you do with those thoughts when they arise.
All of this said, I realize that to be able to focus on the 10 percent betterment, you have to sweep away the 90 percent beat down--no easy task.
The first step is to work on being conscious of those times when you slip into negative self-talk. Many of us spiral into it as a default, and before we realize it, we've wasted a good 15 minutes teeing off on ourselves. To help quickly dissipate the negativity so you can focus on the 10 percent betterment, remember this acronym so that you don't WANDER:
Would I talk to a friend in need this way?
If a friend came to you looking for support because of a situation he/she just went through, would you berate them for their behavior/outcome? Of course not. So why would you talk to yourself this way? This "W" is always my first line of defense against my inner-unhelpfulness.
No one is judging you like you're judging you. Mentally strong people aren't comparing themselves to you like you are to them. And are your imperfections really imperfections, or are they just differences? We too often see our differences as what makes us lesser than when they're what makes us greater than. Finally with this point, focus on your potential not your limitations. Realize that sometimes the enemy is the internal me.
Nuclear reactor meltdown?
It's easy to overreact when you're feeling down. But are things really as bad as you're making them out to be, or are you catastrophizing? if you're beating yourself up over some mistakes you've made, the truth is there are always drops; it's how you pick up.
Draw on memories of resilience.
You've recovered from worse than whatever you're beating yourself up for, and you'll recover again. It's easy to forget in the moment that deep down, you know you're going be OK--if you allow yourself to be.
Exchange woe-is-me for "Whoa--it's me!"
Meaning, when you're getting down on yourself remember that the despair you're feeling has more to do with how you're perceiving it than what is actually happening to you. This also serves as a reminder that if you're going to pull yourself out of your funk, it's got to be you who does it. Unstuck starts with "U."
Realize that you are enough.
Regular readers of my column know I keep hammering this home: The only one you should be comparing yourself to is who you were yesterday (and whether or not you're becoming a better version of yourself). Believe in your enoughness.
Beating back self-negativity is a journey. Sorry to use that trope, but your trip will be far more positive if you try this advice.