Self-Talk – Why our worst enemy often lives between our own two ears!

Alan White New

Alan White

“I’ve had a lot of worries in my like, most of which never happened” – Mark Twain

We often talk to ourselves in a way that we wouldn’t dream of talking to someone else. I’m stupid, I will never learn, I’m always making stupid mistakes. The list goes on and on. I have never been criticised as fiercely by anyone, more than I have criticised and criticise myself. Many of us tend to fall into an internal narrative where we ourselves become the arch villain in our own story.

That to me is what self-talk really is. An internal narrative that we tell ourselves every day. It is this narrative that shapes how we see ourselves, how we see the world and most importantly how we see ourselves in the world and interact with it. For many of us this narrative becomes a barrier to fulfilling lives and can become an all-consuming tale of woe that creates feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. There are many factors that shape our internal dialogue. Our experiences from a young age however can be a defining factor in how we view ourselves for the rest of our lives.

If we are not allowed to try and fail for ourselves and learn from mistakes, as I spoke about last week in my blog on resilience. We can begin to feel inadequate and our internal narrative can quickly become tainted with negativity.

The most important relationship we will ever have, is the relationship we have with ourselves. To develop a positive relationship we need to rewrite our personal narrative and change our self-talk. This can be quite challenging for many of us as our “story” has been written over many years and has been told over and over again in our minds.

Despite being challenging, it is possible to change our story and in fact it will probably be the most important thing we ever do for ourselves. Research has shown that when we form new thinking patterns, our brains adapt and actually start creating new neural networks. In essence we can rewire our own minds through understanding our thought patterns and actively and consciously changing them.

Looking at the above quote by Mark Twain, there is a lot that we can learn from this short yet powerful sentence. Most of us spend a lot of time and energy imagining and worrying about future events that may, or more likely, may not happen. This thinking is unfortunately innate in us. It’s our natural negativity bias that we once needed to survive the dangers that used to be ever present when we were evolving over the millennia.

We have since created safer environments to live in and left the dangers of our early ancestors behind. However our negativity bias remains. The good news is that an awareness of our thought processes and why we create the thinking patterns we do, can help us reflect and change how we not only think, but how we talk and view ourselves.

If adults can work to change their outlook and consequently change their lives, so too can young people. I believe that by empowering young people to take responsibility for their well-being and educating them on how our mental and emotional well-being can be managed through a proactive and engaged approach. We can empower a generation to change how they view themselves and instil a strong sense of self-belief.

I have recently been working with a group of second years on this very concept and within a few days of introducing the class to this concept many of them have been giving positive feedback on how they are noticing negative thought patterns and have been able to change them a little.

If this can be achieved in a few days, imagine if children were taught about mental well-being from a young age. The possibility for positive change is endless. This week try to notice any negative thought patterns that you regularly catch yourself thinking. Don’t criticise or judge yourself for thinking that way, but see if you can change the story you tell yourself. You will be surprised at the difference it will make to your well-being!

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