An important question: Do you remember the last conversation that you had with a close friend?
I’m betting the answer to this question is yes. That’s because we tune into conversations that we have with friends. We listen.
Now for a tougher question: Do you remember the last conversation you had with yourself?
Chances are the answer is no. This is because unless we are into meditation or yoga, we don’t really listen to what we say to ourselves. We are completely aware of our inner script.
You see, self talk is like background noise. And that’s a really dangerous thing when it comes to anxiety.
The thing is that not all self talk is bad. As Ben Martin, Psy.D., says in a Psych Central blog, lots of what we say to ourselves is reasonable. We might reflect on what we’re looking forward to, or what we’d like to change. This type of self talk isn’t self-defeating.
That said, some of what we say to ourselves is counterproductive. We beat ourselves up, which literally fuels anxiety. It’s like pouring gasoline on a fire.
See if any of these thoughts sound familiar…
“I’m not good enough.”
“I can’t do it.”
“I’m too anxious.”
And the list goes on.
These are examples of negative self talk. And left unchallenged, these types of thoughts are an anxiety sufferer’s worse nightmare. Not a good thing, is it?
The good news is that there are ways to challenge and change negative self talk. According to Martin, this all begins with disputing what we say to ourselves. Really, we have to get clear on what we are thinking. This helps us to realize when we need to react to life in a different way.
But how do you do this?
To change self talk, Martin says that you’ll want to challenge yourself in four important ways. Each of these things will help you to see life in a more productive manner. And though you may feel uncomfortable, you’ll be surprised as to just what you find out about your thought process in general.
This all begins with weighing how realistic your thinking process is. For example, you’ll want to decipher whether what you’re thinking is fact or opinion. Is this something that you BELIEVE to be true, or is it something that can be backed up with concrete facts? Most of the time, anxiety isn’t rooted in facts (though it sometimes is).
Next, you’ll want to change how you look at the situation at hand. How could you look at this situation differently? And how might you be misinterpreting things? Another good piece of advice that Martin gives is to flip the switch on perception. What would the situation look like if you gave it a positive spin?
Third, Martin says to make an effort to put the situation in perspective. Is it really as bad as you think it is? And what’s the ultimate worst case scenario? Is this really likely to happen; or is your anxiety taking center stage? (I know that doing this has completely changed how I see most things.)
Finally, get clear on your goals. Martin calls this “goal-directed thinking.” How will this thought process help or hinder your efforts to meet your goals? And what can you change in the future?
In truth, this concept can seem overwhelming. When we’re caught up in the loop of anxiety, our thoughts run wild. But there is a way that you can approach self talk in a way that is measurable and realistic.
All you have to do is get out a notebook and a pen. A note taking app will even do. The point of a journal is that it takes the mind to a focused place. By doing this, we are aware of specific thoughts and responses; and we can refer to them again and again.
So when anxiety strikes, take a few moments to sort out your thoughts. Write down three thoughts that make you anxious. Do this on a daily basis as new thoughts come up. And then challenge them with a better response.
Keep these notes with you if you can. This way you’ll be able to refer back to them when anxiety gets the best of you. You’ll be surprised as to just how much you learn. I know I was…and am!
P.S. We’d love to hear your feedback. Have you noticed specific thoughts that you’d like to change? Tell us what has worked for you!
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