Is Negative Self-Talk Destroying Your Follow-Through?
Most of us have experienced our fair share of self-directed nastiness. In fact, before the internet granted human beings a level of anonymity that seems to have dredged out the cruelest, least compassionate parts of our nature, it was highly unlikely that anyone we met would ever speak to us with the same incredibly corrosive words that we used on ourselves. From diatribes about weight or physical appearance (“Man, I look like a cow today,” “I have the ugliest nose in the entire world!”) to intensely demeaning statements about our intelligence or abilities (“I can’t do ANYTHING right,” “Why should anyone love me when I hate myself?”) many of us treat ourselves in a way that would have us quickly arrested for abuse and harassment, should we speak as such to anyone else.
Of course, thanks to a rising tide of positive messages entering the media, as well as scientific research on the subject, many of us have ALSO become familiar with all the damage that negative self-talk can do and the benefits of being kind to ourselves. It seems that, when we speak to ourselves in the same way we would speak to a friend or loved one, we experience a greater sense of well-being, as well as improved performance, confidence, and happiness. But did you know that swapping your self-deprecation for self-respect can also increase the chances that you will finish what you start?
It’s true. Negative self-talk makes it more likely that you will bail on commitments made to yourself, while positive or encouraging self-talk makes it more likely that you will do what you said you were going to do. Certainly, the reasons for this are varied and complicated, but here’s a big one:
When you treat yourself like a no-good, unintelligent, unlikable, weak-willed loser, you subconsciously write yourself off as someone to whom you are not obligated to keep your word. In the same way that you might feel comfortable lying to someone who was threatening to hurt your family, you will feel less inclined to honor your commitments to yourself if you are constantly telling yourself that you don’t matter.
Let’s say you start an exercise program because you learned that exercise increases focus and productivity (ahem…it does). You get by for a few days on pure excitement and the thrill of a new challenge (or maybe a new outfit.) But then one of a couple of things happens: either you miss a day (or two, or five), OR you realize you aren’t going to go from walking one mile to running 10K’s as quickly as you had anticipated. Cue the barrage of ouch-inducing gripes:
I can’t believe I’m already screwing this up! What is wrong with me? Why can’t I be strong and resolute like (insert someone you have placed on an unrealistic pedestal). I always forget. I always screw up. I’m going to be fat and unfocused forever. I hate myself.
Why do we do this to ourselves? For one, it might just be habit. When you’ve had a thought enough times, it becomes worn into your mind like a rut in a dirt road. Then, your efficiency-loving brain drags it out at any and every provocation, because doing so is simply easier than thinking a new thought. But there’s another reason that might ring true for you: sometimes, we think these thoughts because we think they will actually HELP. Somewhere along in our development, we were yelled at or treated unkindly, and it motivated us to get something done. So now, we repeat this tactic on ourselves, hoping that the abuse will work as kindling to help build the flame we need. Sometimes, it does…for a short while. More often, it backfires.
And when it backfires, the result is that we think even less of ourselves than before, creating a strange lack of concern for keeping our promises to ourselves. It is as though we are consistently telling ourselves (and believing) how little we matter – how little we are worth. And if someone is worth less than everyone else, then why would we bother doing something hard for that person? Why would we bother keeping our word to him or her? Suddenly, any decision we make to better our lives becomes so flimsy that it blows away in the next slight breeze. And after so many failed commitments to ourselves, so many broken promises to eat better, to use a planner, to set and meet goals, to do ANYTHING at all, we simply stop telling ourselves that anything we want is even possible.
It’s time for some changes. Here are some new truths to try on for size:
- Anger and abuse will give you a short-term boost of motivation, and a long-term destruction of everything upon which your hopes and dreams stand. Don’t give in to this kind of self-talk for one more day. It is not helping you.
- Instead, it’s time to treat yourself as you would a colleague, friend, or child under your care – someone you want to help become better. What realistic comments can you make that can help you grow and learn from your mistakes?
- Understand that your WORTH is not determined by what you do or how strong your character is. Your worth was given to you at the instant that you began to exist (or even before that, some might argue.) Your worth is equal to human beings with Down’s syndrome and genius IQ’s, to multi-billionaire CEO’s and Wal-mart checkers, to Tyra Banks and Mother Theresa, to convicted felons and sweet, innocent children. Yes, you may have made choices you regret in your life, but those choices have not damaged what you are worth in the slightest. When you realize that you are unable to tarnish your own value with any action or inaction you could dream up, it starts to make sense that you would treat yourself, and EVERYONE, with the highest respect. Remember this. Repeat this. Live this.
Questions, quips, and comments are incredibly welcome. Now go say something nice to yourself 🙂