Imagine you are outside your favourite supermarket and a street kid walks up to you and asks for money. You have a hundred shillings left from your shopping, and although you want to help, the most you can spare is twenty shillings. So, you look around and see a fruit vendor, and since you need some bananas, you realize this is an excellent way to get lose change and give the kid something, albeit small. The fruit vendor doesn’t have change at hand, and they want to look for some, but you are in a rush. What do you do?
The thing about self-talk is that it seeps into how you perceive and interact with others. If you are a pessimist, you are likely to stick around and hand the money to the kid. Optimists, on the other hand, believe that if they make their desires known to the vendor, the child will get the twenty shillings, even though you aren’t there to see it through.
Your self-talk reveals your beliefs, ideas, and guiding principles. It exposes who you are, not just to yourself, but to those you interact with. This influences the type of relationships you have.
Studies show that the type of self-talk you indulge depends on your personality. While this is true, the language you use on yourself is not as permanent as a personality. You can change the words you use without changing who you are at the core.
Relationships, situations, and environments you exist in, inform negative self-talk. The older you get, the more people you interact with, the more places you visit, the more diversified your self-talk becomes. This can either be in a good or bad way.
If you have watched Mind your Language, the first scene is a hoot! Ali, one of the English as a Foreign Language students, walks into the head of the institution’s office and says “Squeeze me, I am looking for the place to learn the English.” He uses all the English he could find to utter that statement, and while you might want to be proud of his effort, you can’t help but laugh.
There is optimism that whoever the teacher will be, they will help him get better. However, this hope falters the minute, Mr Brown, the teacher, starts picking up the language the students use instead of the other way around. In one scene, when talking to a Chinese student, he says “Democlatic Lepublic” of China.
When it comes to negative self-talk, it’s easy to become Mr Brown. You might find that, while you are busy being yourself, living your life, and doing, what you need to do, you come across people who introduce a new language. If you interact with them for a while, you will notice a change in how you see yourself and the words you use.
Remember when you were a loud, outspoken, and confident child and then someone said you were too much and you kept quiet. Maybe, you enjoyed dancing, or singing, or acting, or whatever other things you are good at, and then someone said you were not good at it, or you were crazy to think it could be a career. For some people, most people, if I dare say so, that one statement influenced how you saw yourself, and it became part of your self-talk.
Every time you wanted to do that thing, you reminded yourself what someone said and decided it was best to let it alone. This is how negative self-talk is birthed. You collect people’s assumptions, and perceptions of you and you put them in an archive. You remember them whenever you dare do anything that could lead to;
- Disappointing others – if you commit to plans, or are part of a team, you are always afraid of disappointing others. So, you go to places you don’t want to because changing your mind will prove that they were right when they said you weren’t dependable.
- Disregarding effort – your focus is on the result and not the journey. You live in a place where, unless things take form how you wanted them to, you don’t recognize progress. In these moments, your self-talk is focused on how you failed, rather than how much work you put in.
- Fear of change and new experiences – every thought of expanding yourself, in whatever area of your life is met by negative self-talk that confronts your audacity to try new things. That inner voice questions why you think you can do something so big, or grand, and ultimately, you resign to the fact that you are incapable.
Ultimately, this diminishes your self-love, making it impossible to do anything new.
Fostering Positive Self-talk
There is power in words. This statement has been reiterated in different ways; the Bible talks of the power of the tongue, and how it can be used to build or destroy. You might have come across a poem or two in the 8-4-4 system saying the same thing. This power is the back-bone of manifestation.
Positive self-talk, like any other form of inner work you have to do to live beyond any limits the world places on you, requires consistency. The idea of fostering it requires intentional analysis of what you say to yourself and constant reminders that those things are false. If you master this and make it a habit, you are going to experience;
- Reduced stress levels
- More satisfaction with life
- Ease in solving problems
- Better relationships
This type of self-talk allows you to think differently and look at things from a varying perspective, which, in turn, equips you with better coping mechanisms when facing challenges. It also has health benefits. The benefits of positive self-talk are vast depending on where you are in life, and what you are looking to change.
Here are some things you can make a habit if you are looking to tame that inner voice and stop overthinking as a way to better the quality of your life;
Your body communicates in more ways than one. Yes, you know that pain and extreme exhaustion means it’s time to see a doctor or take some medicine, but what do you do when it’s emotional or mental? The first thing you should do when the negative self-talk starts is to listen carefully to find where it stems from.
This helps you identify the trigger. Once you understand what causes the negative self-talk, you know when it is starting and can prepare for it. Alternatively, if possible, you can avoid the triggers. If you do see a professional, knowing what the problem is, makes it easy for them to guide you through management and healing.
It’s happy time!!
Take a break from whatever you are doing and find something that makes you happy. The activity you chose depends on how much time you have to spare. You could watch a movie, read a book, make a meal, visit a friend, go online, or play your favourite song, sing along, and dance as much as you want. The goal is to change the vibe, even for a few moments. These activities are meant to be refreshing to rejuvenate your energy.
What do you think about yourself in the moments when no one is watching? What are those fleeting thoughts that give you comfort when you remember how great you are and can be? What do you imagine you can be if you didn’t care what the world thought, or who was going to judge you? What are the things you know to be true about who you are as a person, friend, lover, or someone’s child?
The world teaches humility as a virtue and disregards people who toot their horns. What you don’t understand is that, while it may seem like the idea of being humble is pushed to keep people in check, it is mostly meant to create limitations. You live your entire life waiting for a teacher to say you are smart, but since they aren’t equipped to see any form of genius outside the syllabus, you never get it.
So, you live your life thinking you aren’t smart, yet, you are the best artist, and innovation and creation are your playing field. You wait your entire life for a lover to want you, recognize your essence, and for them to choose you, but it never comes. What you don’t know is that you are all those things, and while people might call it selfish, it’s okay to see yourself as such.
If you have been waiting for something from an external source, especially when it comes to acknowledging yourself, it’s time to stop. Remember those things, those fleeting thoughts that you won’t entertain lest the world says you are conceited, and say them. Write them down, and say them often.
Filling your self-talk with affirmations allows you to cement the idea of who you are, while at the same time erase what others say.
There’s a lot that could be better, but there is also a lot that could go wrong. Gratitude is a way to find balance, in that even on days when it feels like you are not doing so well, you have something that gives you hope.
When it comes to using gratitude in self-talk, it is vital to remember that all glory doesn’t go to external supreme powers. Start with yourself, then your loved ones, and then anyone or anything else. Practising gratitude is as simple as thanking whoever bought or cooked the food you are having. It can be a small statement recognizing all the work you have done in a day.
Name your inner critic
It is easier to be kinder to other people than ourselves. That is why you will listen to a friend talking about their missteps and encourage them, but when you do the same thing, the world is ending, and nothing can salvage the situation.
Naming your critic gives it an independent identity which makes it easy to correct it without judging yourself harshly. Find a name, it can be anything, and when you notice negative self-talk, address that critic as you would a friend.
Define your purpose
It is unfortunate that some people live without purpose, because then they live without passion, and there is nothing sadder than that. The best way to be kind to yourself is to remember that your actions are meant for something bigger.
Purpose doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to save Kenya from the shameless politicians who keep talking as if they care about anyone; it could be providing for your family, or getting through school, or making it to your 30th birthday. Everyone defines purpose according to whatever cards the world has dealt them. Find yours and remember it, often.
By defining your purpose, you acknowledge that there is a next step, even though you don’t know what it is. It helps you get grounding. Additionally, incorporating the idea of purpose to your self-talk also discourages comparison, which can be detrimental.
Science says that children up to the age of five learn language better and easier. If possible, this is where the foundation for self-talk should start, with reassurances and reinforcement. Unfortunately, since most people don’t get this, they have to grapple with learning at an older age.
When you decide to change how you talk to yourself, you need to acknowledge the people who influenced your current words. If you can, say it out loud. You will realize that most of those things are not only untrue but also unkind. This is the first step to a lifetime journey to positive self-talk and a better life.