Negative self-talk is an epidemic. When I Google “why do we beat ourselves up?” more than 4.3 million results come up. That’s a damn shame (forgive my cursing). And completely unacceptable.
Why do we do it? We have an inherent negativity bias, which I’ve written about before. Some also believe self-criticism is a way to stay goal oriented by relentlessly and mentally beating themselves into staying on track. That my friends is called “self-bullying.” Why would we do that to ourselves when we would never allow anyone else to?
We deserve better.
We can use positive over negative reinforcement to keep moving forward. To keep growing, to fulfill our potential.
The truth is self-criticism is counter-productive and bad for your health. According to the Mayo Clinic, negative self-talk can cause depression and physical and emotional stress. It also harms your heart health and immune system.
No wonder we feel awful when we allow our inner critic to run amuck.
There are a lot more benefits to being kinder to yourself.
Several studies find positive thinking can increase your life span and lower depression and distress. It also gives you better coping skills during hard times, boosts your immune system, and improves your psychological and physical well-being.
Here are five ways to focus more on the positive and kick your inner critic to the curb.
1. Notice Negativity
Before you can change anything, you have to be aware of it. There are four common types of negative self-talk to watch out for:
1. Perfectionism/Polarizing: Things are either good or bad – there's no middle ground. If you're not perfect, you're a total failure.
2. Catastrophizing: You dream up the worst possible outcome, and small issues are harbingers of doom.
3. Rationalizing: You blame yourself for everything bad that happens. For instance, if a few friends don't make it to your party, you assume no one likes you.
4. Filtering: You search for the negative aspects of any given situation, filtering out any positive ones. The vacation was mostly great, but you complain to yourself and others about the delayed flight home, rather than sharing the delights of the trip.
Here’s how to counter the above.
2. Add Positive Self-Talk
Make a conscious effort to stop putting yourself down.
When you notice you’re having negative thoughts, don’t suppress the thought (or beat yourself up for having it). Follow it with a counter, positive thought. Here are some suggestions:
3. Let go of Past Mistakes
Do you find yourself rehashing past mistakes you’ve made? If so, it’s time to let it go. Stop “shoulding all over yourself.” You did the best you could with what you knew at the time. Find a way to forgive yourself. And if it helps, make amends. Mistakes help us grow. None of us is perfect. See if you can learn from it and move on.
4. Appreciate Yourself
End the day by appreciating at least three things you did well, or what you’re grateful for. It could be anything from completing a task or goal, being kind to someone or holding your temper, or receiving praise or gratitude. You can use a journal, app or voice memo.
At night, I use a technique called “recording and listening” created by Cheri Huber, author of 19 books including There Is Nothing Wrong With You: Going Beyond Self Hate. I use my phone’s voice memo to record three things I appreciated about myself or that I did well that day (along with any challenges I faced). Then I play it back. Huber says hearing your own voice helps activate your inner Mentor. She says, “Recording and Listening is, hands down, the most powerful tool for ending suffering I’ve found.”
5. Practice Self-Compassion
Forming a new habit takes practice. Loving-Kindness meditation is a scientifically proven method to improve self-compassion and positive emotions. It’s been found to reduce self-criticism and the depressive symptoms that can follow. Use it to send yourself (and others) some love.
Beating yourself up is bad for your mind, body, and spirit. It leaves you feeling down and drained. You deserve better. It’ll take some practice but you can learn to think more positively and feel much better about yourself. Don’t let your inner critic control you.
Want help starting a compassion practice? Download my free 7-minute introduction to Loving-Kindness meditation here.
Let me know what you think!