by: Jalynn Johnson Porter, CSW, MSW
Once upon a time there was a little train engine that was asked to do something difficult. Other bigger and stronger engines had refused the task, but this little engine decided to give it a try. He had to haul a huge load over an even bigger mountain that had rough terrain, big climbs, and windy hills. That little engine knew he could do it. Do you want to know why? It’s because he told himself he could. That little engine repeated the works “I think I can” over and over again until he completed the task.
Self-talk is a powerful tool we have as humans. It can either help us excel or bring us down to the depths of despair. In a popular therapeutic modality called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) it states that our thoughts influence our feelings which in turn influence our actions. It’s a big triangle that is repeated time and time again, over and over each day. It is sparked by different events, interactions, and experiences we have each day. Self-talk is the fuel to that triangle, it makes up those thoughts we have that lead to how we will perceive, feel, and interact with the world.
Brene Brown, an amazing social worker and researcher, calls these thoughts the “stories we tell ourselves” in her book Rising Strong. Everyone has them. We all have a “go-to” narrative when certain things happen, say for example you make a mistake in front of your class, forget a big meeting, or don’t have the “right” clothes for your kids that all the other mothers have. The automatic “story” we may have is, “I can never get it right,” or “I’m not good enough.” The possibilities are endless. The thing is, we ALL do this. We know ourselves best, which means we really can be our own worst critic. We tell these stories to ourselves over and over again, day after day, and they certainly begin to impact how we view ourselves, which in turn impacts how we view others and the world, and our confidence to interact with and within them.
So the question is, what’s your story? What’s your go-to thought when you do something wrong, feel inadequate, or don’t measure up? What do you keep telling yourself that you may not even be aware of? Take time to ponder. It’s amazing what happens when we take time to think and do a little self-introspection.
Now, you all may be wondering, “Okay now you just brought ANOTHER problem to my attention, how do I fix it?!” Everyone is different, so there isn’t an all-encompassing answer, but here are some things I’ve found to be helpful for myself.
- Be curious and non-judgemental
- Our feelings are SO important! Never discount them even if you don’t know their root. I like to look at feelings as red flags signaling to us that something isn’t right inside. Whenever I get an uncomfortable feeling, like anger, sadness, annoyance, etc. I know that my thinking isn’t right, so I take time to pause and be curious about my emotions. What sparked it? What thought accompanied it? It takes being vulnerable with ourselves. Be brave enough to want to know more!
- Keep a journal
- Brene Brown suggests keeping a journal about these “stories we tell ourselves.” I have made my own version of this and when I am frustrated or know I’ve had some negative self-talk I write about it in my journal, without reservation (knowing I will NEVER let anyone read it and it will not be kept for future generations) so that I can get it out on paper and review it. First of all, just writing stuff down can be very liberating, and second, once it’s “out of our system” we can view it from a more logical, whole-brain perspective and figure out how to change it now and for the future.
- Communicate it
- This has probably been the hardest thing for me. Brene Brown encourages her readers to tell what their “story” is to someone who has earned the right to know. This takes huge amounts of vulnerability! But, we know that vulnerability breeds connection, and connection helps us grow and flourish. I have worked on telling my husband these “stories” and not only has he become more empathic and better able to help me work through my negative self-talk, but it also helps him with his negative self-talk because he isn’t worried that I’m being moody because of him. Communication is the answer!
- Positive mantra
- Lately I have been having some of my clients repeat a positive mantra to themselves each morning. The feedback they have given me is very positive, so I decided to try it myself. I stand in front of the mirror, look at myself in the eyes, smile, and say, “I am whole, I am enough, and I can handle it.” You won’t believe me until you try it, but it works wonders!
There is real POWER in how we talk to ourselves. It can influence us for the better or for the worse. YOU ARE WORTH IT. Take the time to think, to reflect, and to figure out your go-to stories and negative talk. Then, take the time to fix it. You will feel better, you will have more positive interactions with others, and you will strengthen your connection with your inner self as well as those who are close to you. You will be deeply rooted, and you will flourish.