The way you talk to yourself matters. The thoughts we indulge in dictate how we feel. When your mind is spinning in negative self-talk and pessimistic views of life events, it makes perfect sense that you would feel defeated, depressed, or anxious. Trouble is, negative or critical thinking is a powerful habit that feels to happen TO us. That is actually not true, we have power over what we think. But, the thoughts can become automatic and difficult to avoid when it’s been our way of viewing the world for a long time. It’s often been taught to us in our family of origin since we were very little, and we may not have ever known how to have a positive or optimistic thought!
But research has shown again and again that happy people have inner dialogues that are optimistic and self-compassionate, even in difficult or embarrassing circumstances. Research has also shown that we have power to improve the quality of our thoughts. I believe it is a fight worth under-taking. It is never to late to work on your thinking and improve your base level of happiness day to day.
For some people who are mildly negative, simple shifts in thinking will quickly give great relief. For others, self-criticism is deep and causes clinical level depressed mood and very low self-esteem. If you find yourself in the latter group, a Psychotherapist trained in Cognitive- Behavioral or Positive Psychology will be able to help teach you how to slow down your automatic thoughts, challenge them, and change them over time.
Here’s one simple exercise. Next time you find yourself in an internal dialogue of self-criticism try this: Say Stop! Then, think about the situation in a compassionate way as if you were trying to soothe a beloved friend. Internally talk to yourself in kind tones, pointing out that you are always doing the best you can, that you’re allowed to be human, and that you are trying to be a good person. Softly tell yourself it’s okay to let it go. It’s helpful to find a soothing mantra or positive affirmation to repeat internally that makes you feel calm. Repeat the words until the negativity has passed.
Over time and with practice we can change our inner-world from mean and hostile to kind and peaceful. Give it a try!