How I Stopped My Negative Self Talk
Wiping away the sleep, the Girl begrudgingly trenches into the bathroom.
Straight away, she’s fixated on the mirror. Eyes darting from her hair to her skin to nose and to the bags under her eyes. How tired she looks.
She avoids looking into her eyes, yes, her soul goes ignored. It’s early, but the Voice is quick to wake up. He’s always been a morning person.
Snarling and unimpressed by the reflection before him, the Voice hurls insults at the mirror. One after the other after the other. The same hatred that was thrown yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. It bounces off the glass and leaves marks on the Girl’s chin and cheeks.
It takes a moment for her to register this one-sided battle and silently but firmly, request him to be quiet. Though unfortunately for the Girl, this morning’s damage has been already been done.
I reach into the shower, turn the handle on hot and climb in.
How ironic that sometimes we say words to ourselves that we wouldn’t say to our worst enemy. Of course, a little self-criticism can be a good thing - it can motivate us to become a better person. But there is a big difference between ideas of self-improvement and insults. Using self ‘trash-talk’ not only affects our confidence, but it’s also associated with higher stress levels and even depression.
After University, I was working 2 pm to sometimes as late as 3 am at a beachside restaurant in St Kilda, polishing cutlery and plates. I would then wake up at 5 am to go sell coffees and breakfast muffins in a take-away tuck shop at Flinders Street Station. I would nap in between and I still somehow had $0.00 to my name.
Despite wanting a "year off" after Uni, I quickly realised that having no short or long term aspirations, to put it bluntly, sucked. Nothing to look forward to, no goals to work towards, just that same old wake-work-sleep-repeat. I was bored and the Voice was loud. I started to question, who am I and what is the meaning of my existence?
Perhaps if I hadn't have hit rock bottom I wouldn't have had the crazy idea to move to New York. Somehow, I moved 8 weeks later.
Pulling my single suitcase through the Manhattan Streets was freeing. Invigorating. Had I really DARED to just do that? Am I really in New York?
My surprising bravery had given me new found respect for myself. I'd been avoiding my own company the last few years but I found in NYC, as I didn't know anyone, I was at peace and my new best friend.
I remember at one point I got lost on the grid-like Manhattan Streets, angrily exclaiming to myself how stupid I was. I caught myself, took a deep breath and compassion flowed through me.
You’re doing great, the Voice said.
It’s taken years of awareness and practice. These habits didn’t form overnight after all, I had to retrain my mind in how to talk to myself. For my career in corporate and now as an entrepreneur running my own business (Briar Prestidge International), understanding who I am and how I speak to myself has been crucial to my success.
But, to gain respect from others, you first have to earn it from yourself.
HERE ARE MY TOP TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR SELF-TALK:
Compartmentalise your thoughts
Staying awake worrying is never going to help. Despite always having sleeping problems growing up, I began to view my bed as a safe haven, free from any thoughts (or maybe I just became busy and tired so therefore, sleeping became a breeze!) Often, especially when we are tired, a tiny mistake can become a cyclone of failure.
Struggling? Take a few deep breaths. Picture a small box and imagine putting all of your problems going inside. For instance, if you screwed up in a presentation, do you really think it’s appropriate to say, “Wow, I RUINED my career?” Address this poor choice of words, and then put your problems in that box.
Do you see that tiny box in your mind? Yep, now it’s easier to take on.
Writing down your thoughts helps give them clarity and colour, bringing you into a state of mindfulness. Recognise all your achievements, address your vulnerabilities, understand your real values and dreams. James Pennebaker, author of Writing to Heal explains that 'when we translate an experience into language we essentially make the experience graspable.' Stress and negative thoughts, often come from emotional blockages and overthinking hypothetical situations.
Writing for this blog, my novels and for various publications, has helped me grasp who I am and what I want.
Meditate or practice yoga
Both are a great way to release blocked energy and relieve stress, anxiety or depressing thoughts. Yoga restores the harmony inside our bodies and helps to regulate hormones.
Ask a friend – figuratively and literally
Often, situations aren’t as bad as what we envision – and when we tell our friends they reconfirm this! Pick up the phone and call someone – shame only exists if we keep it a secret and often friends help us see the funny side.
Name your critical voice
Naming it helps distance it from you and your identity. Give the situation a bit of humour – how about The Gremlin? The Witch? The Nag? This can help break the emotional hold and anxiety.
Plan a strategy
When I was working in corporate I had my routine down to a T – wake up 5.30am, study, gym, go to work, back home to work on my ‘side hustles’ - write, create content and work with my personal branding clients. I would also play soccer twice a week. Yes, I was very busy!
However, when I started up my company, I stopped exercising. I felt like I had to work every second of every day and with lack of exercise, not just my fitness suffered but also my skin, eating habits, my mood and mind’s concentration.
I knew to tone up and improve my mental well-being it all started with getting up in the morning, so I set myself some actionable goals. Rather than getting mad at myself – “I hate how I look and feel!” it became “I want to tone up and feel good again. I know how to do it.” Our internal lie detector may go off if we speak positively yet don't feel it, so reach for neutral thoughts.
Accept you are not perfect
I felt so free when I accepted who I was and stopped living my life for people! CEOs and entrepreneurs credit their successes to making mistakes, learning from them and moving on – no one is perfect! It can be a challenge, but accept your imperfections (you don't have to love them). They make you authentic, relatable and YOU.
Did something great just happen because of your actions? Awesome, congratulate yourself and celebrate every little win. Get your nails done, get a foot massage, eat your favourite food. Life is short.
And, RELAX! Reduce the high expectations you have for yourself, be kind to yourself and go about your business. You are Numero Uno! It will be much easier to take on the Voice (and I don't mean participate on the singing show!) and win.