I have found 4 ways to shift what I think of as “my internal chatter,” for the better.
In keeping with the theme of “joy” in this month’s NaBloPoMo challenge, I thought I would share them with you today.
Because sharing stuff that works brings me joy.
We all have it — that little voice inside our head — sometimes it serves us well, while other times it does not.
Sometimes the voice sends what I have described in the past as hex-messages. Words that undermine our best efforts, erode confidence or keep us up at night worried about things we have zero control over.
Maybe an experience in our past left us with feelings of fear.
I nearly drowned once. That 10-minute incident left me paralyzed for years. Until I employed strategies to face my fear head-on, the message I sent to myself was, I am afraid to swim in the ocean, therefore I don’t swim in the ocean.
Once I had had enough of my fear-based decision making, I committed to a different life approach and eventually took the plunge back into the ocean.
Then there are the hex-messages that may have been given to us.
Words said by a parent, a teacher, a coach — whoever — back when we were children. Words that shaped us. Messages that, when left unexamined, have the potential to scar us or worse, define us.
When I was little my mother often told me I was the spitting image of my paternal grandmother. Although now I can see the resemblance, as a child I was horrified. In my eyes, my grandmother was old and heavy. To make matters worse my father and his mother didn’t have a very healthy relationship. I adored my dad, the idea that I resembled someone he didn’t respect was very unsettling.
I’m not saying that my mother was the cause of the negative self-image I had growing up, not at all.
However the message she gave me — I resembled my grandmother — left me questioning the way others saw me. Given I had a dim impression of my grandmother’s looks, I also internalized a very negative impression of my own.
Many years later I had to unpack my mother’s words and redefine for myself what they meant. I had my own looks, a face that indeed had traces of Nana, but more my own than anything. Making peace with my reflection was a gift, but it took years to get there. And it also required that I see the truth in what my mother meant and then, let go of how what she said affected me. In other words, I no longer needed to carry that version of myself around anymore.
As an adult, I recognize that no one can “make” me feel a certain way. It’s what I give the power to that generates the feelings — for better or for worse.
Other elements to look at are the defensive messages we have sent to ourselves in moments where we didn’t feel enough.
For me those messages sounded like this — I am not a math person. I have never been a person who runs. I am afraid of the ocean. I never stick to an exercise routine. I am never organized. I am not flexible — there are more, but you get the idea.
Whether it’s as small as reading a book that is in a genre that you have always told yourself you just couldn’t get into, or as big as messages that carve away at your self-esteem, I will never achieve fill-in-the-blank! The trick is to see them for what they are — false, and more times than not, steeped in fear.
Fear is: False Evidence Appearing Real.
The last in the danger zone when it comes to potential internal hex-messages being sent involve goal setting.
When goals are more like wishes, then we risk sending negative internal messages into overdrive.
For years I would set my sites on sticking to an exercise routine only to later fall short of my goal. More often than not my failure was more about the way I structured my goals than the goals themselves.
We all wrestle with internal chatter at one point or another so as the old adage goes — the best defense is a good offense.
Here are 4 techniques I have found effective in my efforts to disrupt internal chatter and move toward more powerful thinking:
1. Seek the truth that exists in the message, then let the negative chatter go.
Although they aren’t very forgiving in their delivery, there is probably a kernel of truth in what the voice has to say. Unpack the message, find the truth it holds, then ask yourself if there is there something about that particular truth you have the power to change.
Example: You just re-launched your commitment to eat well and exercise. The hex message from the internal voice says:
Good luck with that, your commitment to taking care of yourself gets trumped by everything else in your life, YOU WILL NEVER DO IT.”
Truth: Real life does get in the way.
IF you fall down in your commitment don’t see it as the end. See it as a setback, then restart the next day. Make an appointment with yourself and remember to turn down the noise of self-deprecation because that is what usurps your commitment.
2. Ask for help.
Trying something new and find yourself struggling? Ask for help.
Example: You signed up for a class that involves a lot of math. The hex message says:
I am horrible at math, there is no way I am going to pass this class.”
Maybe math is, in fact, a challenge for you, so ask for help. Asking for help from someone you trust may just get you over the fear that is acting as a roadblock. Chances are pretty good that some old memory is triggering the anxiety, not your ability to understand math.
3. Set a specific goal with accountability measures in place, then share it.
Lots of people set goals and then fail to achieve them. Many things can be at play when it comes to failure — unrealistic expectations, lack of resources, too many steps, the goal isn’t specific, there are no accountability measures in place — all these things can trump an individual’s intention.
You tell yourself — I’m going to lose weight in time for my son’s wedding.”
In the example the intention is great, but the lack of substantive pieces makes it more of a wish than a goal. When that happens failure is almost always a foregone conclusion. Let’s reframe the internal goal, then share it.
My son is getting married in 4 months and my goal is to lose 10 pounds in 4 months. I am going to:
- Follow an “eat clean” lifestyle for nourishment which emphasizes healthy choices of fresh vegetables and fruits and reduces sugar and carbs.
- I will stock my refrigerator and pantry with food choices that will set me up for success.
- I will exercise 5 days a week for no less than 40 minutes.
- The exercise will be a combination of cardio, strength, and flexibility building.
- I will join a group that has weight loss as a goal for support, take measurements every 3 weeks to make sure my activity is netting the results I want, and weigh myself weekly.
- I will share my goal with my family and friends and ask them to support me in my efforts.
- If I slip up I will give myself permission to restart.
- I will share my struggles and or setbacks with one of my support groups and ask for help.
- When I restart I will focus on my ability to re-engage with my goal rather than beating myself up for my failure.
4. Inspire someone else.
Chances are someone you know may be faced with a challenge to overcome a hurdle also. There is nothing better than sharing in someone else’s joy. Always give away what strengthens you, it feels amazing.
You find an exercise routine that you love and assume no one else would be interested in it.
Reframe your thinking. Chances are if you like what you are doing, someone else will too.
In a real-life example, I found I was gaining strength and results by using PiYo as part of my workout routine. While walking with one of my closest friends I suggested she try it, and even lent her one of the DVD’s for her to “test-drive.” She liked it so much that she ordered it. A few weeks later I received a message from her about the results she had gotten by adding PiYo to her routine. She was elated!
When you find ways to draw on positive power — share them — the more we give what works away, the healthier our world and the world around us becomes.
In what ways have you successfully re-framed negative self-talk?
Carpool Goddess says
Wonderful advice, Elin. And what I love most, other than your wisdom, is the gentle way it teaches us to treat ourselves. Sometimes, I too, catch myself replaying a negative thought, or worse, imagining that someone is thinking that of me, and it’s so important to stop it in it’s tracks.
I agree, Linda, sometimes it’s easier said than done, which is why finding ways to create habits is so important. Thanks for your kind words!
Carol Cassara says
I’m inspired that you have set up a major infrastructure to support a 10 lb weight loss. All of your advice is spot on, girl.
You caught that! 😉 Thanks, Carol.
Life Breath Present says
Great ideas and so spot on that negative messages really do nothing more than stop one from moving forward and embracing whatever else there is to offer. I think I’ll be paying more attention to some of my messages, as I’ve fallen from that recently, and changing them as you suggested. 🙂
Oh that’s great, paying more attention is what we all need more of. Thanks for sharing today!
Lisa at Grandma's Briefs says
First off, CONGRATS on your son’s impending wedding. So wonderful!
This is a fabulously inspiring post, Elin. That internal dialogue has been my nemesis for many years… much of the time. And much of it comes from voices of family and other pivotal people in my life. One of the best ways I’ve beat the repeated noise in my head is to turn the negative messages from others into power. For example, I was a sickly kid and my fourth-grade teacher once called me a pansy for not being able to wait outside for the bus once I returned to school from pneumonia. (This was in frigid Minnesota.) She told me I’m a pansy for needing to wait at the window. For YEARS, well into adulthood, I heard her voice when I was sickly. Then I realized pansies are amazingly hardy and beautiful flowers. An instant EFF YOU to Mrs. Johnson who had plagued my mind for decades.
(What is it about your posts that make me reveal things I don’t often share? 😀 )
Thanks for sharing your experience here, Lisa, I LOVE your story. And you are so right about pansies, they are hardy and beautiful, like you. I can’t for the life of me understand people who tear down children, I read somewhere a wonderful quote, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair an adult.” The Mrs. Johnson’s of the world are more than likely damaged themselves, oh how I wish they would seek help over retribution directed at kids.
Can’t say I know what it is about my posts that get you to share, but I will say I am pleased about that, I love hearing what you have to say. 🙂
Last, the bit about the impending wedding was hypothetical, neither of my son’s are engaged. Not that they read my blog…but just in case…I thought I’d just throw that out there. 😉
Lois Alter Mark says
I love these tips and am going to let yours be the little voice in my head from now. You’re so right about just reframing the message — sometimes just a tweak in the way we tell ourselves something can be life-changing.
I would gladly be your little voice, Lois, lots of love over here for you!
Ruth Curran says
Amazing advice Elin. I particularly love two really key things. First the idea that a wish is not a goal. Perfectly stated. The cool thing though is that you can take a dream (a wish on steroids) and turn it into a goal by doing exactly what you outlined! The second is inspiring someone else…. That, my friend, is so overlooked and so important on so many levels!!!
Great point, Ruth! Wishes — with concrete steps attached to them — can turn to realities. Thank you for your nice comment.
Nancy Hill (@Nerthus) says
I have spent the last 10 years reframing most of the previous 40 something years. It is never too late to change what we choose to emphasize in our thoughts and how we attribute meaning to those thoughts. Excellent post.
Thank you for sharing your experience with reframing your thoughts, Nancy. Isn’t it wonderful that there are no boundaries to what we can achieve when we are ready?
Mary Lanzavecchia says
All of this is spot on and so timely, especially as this is the time of year I do a great deal of reflecting on the year (almost) passed and the setting my goals for the year ahead. Another great post, Elin, thank you!