Many people do not realize the power and impact that their self talk, especially when it’s negative, has on their outcomes. Yet Michelle Kuei, founder of Elevate Life Coaching, says that lack of self awareness is not surprising.
“You don’t know what you don’t know. It’s like the caveman analogy from Plato,you can spend your entire lifetime telling the caveman how beautiful it is outside: all the sun, flowers, water, etcetera, but the caveman would not be able to understand what that means,” she says. “These have no meaning to them. What they see is limited to what they experience.”
So the negative self talk becomes the norm and often agonizing.
“Many of us live our lives with constant stress, frustration, anger, overwhelm, anxiety,” Kuei says.
That internal overwhelm, not properly and effectively addressed becomes highly problematic because of the default coping strategies to which we often resort.
“People are looking for an escape route, so they don’t have to face these uncomfortable feelings,” Kuei says.
We often don’t choose healthy strategies for stress management from choosing not to reframe our thinking or make better behavior decisions.
As to why self talk emerges in our minds, Kuei says it can be a multiple of reasons.
”Life is so different because everyone is different. None of us fit into one particular label or category. When we don’t fit in the ‘usual categories,’ our emotions and thoughts start kicking in. It’s natural for humans to connect, to associate, and to belong. If I can’t see myself fitting in or If I am deviating what was expected of me by my parents, my culture, my boss, then something must be wrong with me.”
With improved understanding of self talk and rewiring how we communicate with ourselves comes potential for stronger autonomy over our feelings and thus, our decision making and influence over our outcomes.
“The problems or pain everyone experiences from our (negative) self talk is not being seen, heard or known,” Kuei says. “Having this self talk keeps playing small in our lives. ‘I am not good enough; this is probably why they don’t want me, I am not smart enough; this is why I can’t solve this.’”
She has a formula we can apply to better learn about ourselves and why we are doing what we’re doing in our personal or professional lives, or maybe both.
“We can understand so much of how we behave in this society by understanding ‘TEA,’” Kuei says, “Thoughts, Emotions, and Action. Behind every action there are underlying thoughts and emotions.”
What is required then to create accurate, empowering self talk instead of that internal chatter that is unhelpful or damaging is greater self examination and honesty.
“Generally speaking, we have two types of self talk: one that is based on fear and one that is not based on fear,” Kuei says. “Fear-based self talk sounds and feels like this: ‘I’m not good enough, or ‘I should have done it this way,’ or ‘I could have done more,’ or ‘I can’t.’”
Self talk that is not fear based results in, as you might imagine, entirely different questions, she says, like “‘I want to learn more,” and “I am really good at this,”” or ‘I feel good about doing this,’ and ‘I can.’”
Learning to move from fear based to a more peaceful, confident approach can help develop what Kuei says is a “mastery mindset,” which she says “is where we believe every moment is a learning opportunity.”
When someone feels stuck in painful and debilitating, negative internal communication, Kuei offers direction.
“If you are someone who is experiencing more complex, constant debilitating self talk, there may be something deeper than what we are discussing here. You may need to seek out professional help,” she says. “What we’re discussing here is for people that see this come and go, but for the most part it does not affect their everyday performance.”
A helpful technique for improving the quality and effectiveness of our internal chatter when it leans toward the negative is to deconstruct it instead of allowing it to be a directive in our lives.
“Curiosity can be very powerful to break our negative self talk. I imagine myself driving in a car and my negative self talk is like stop signs that I see coming towards me. What do you do when you see stop signs? You slow down and put a break on your speed and eventually come to a stop,” Kuei says.
She applies that visual to our lives.
“Same idea when you see and hear yourself speaking criticism about yourself. You can slow down and put a break on your speed and come to a stop,” she says.
Then with zeal, question the thinking.
“Ask yourself some thought-provoking, empowering questions: ‘What am I telling myself right now,’ ‘How true is what I am saying to myself,’ ‘What would be another way to approach this,’ ‘What is this based on: facts, is it fear based, or about abundance?”
The benefit of this approach is we put negative beliefs and internal chatter on trial and we get to play the role of attorney, jury and judge.
“What this will do is get us to think about and be curious of our own thinking,” Kuei says. “Some ideas, maybe they are legit. They serve a purpose of protecting us from harm. Others, not so much.”
Improving how we speak to ourselves, negating what might be inaccurate and harmful is not easy yet with the proper steps it can be done.
“In order to raise our own level of consciousness, the first step is to have awareness. To be able to catch it as it shows up. And the more that we catch ourselves doing this, the stronger we get in managing it,” Kuei says. “It’s like working out in a gym. When you keep working on a particular muscle on your body, you become stronger. Our mind consists of tiny muscles as well. You have them so why not use them.”