If I were to ask you who knows you best or who you always confide in, who would you name? Would it be your significant other? Perhaps your best friend or a parent? It could be a certain four-legged member of your family with the largest listening ears. I know my mutt has heard many of my own monologues. Whoever came to mind, I can say it is incorrect.
We confide the most in the one person who we’re stuck with. Ourselves. Mostly left unsaid, our self-talk can dictate our mood and confidence and repeated self-talk, over time, becomes not just inner ramblings but how we generally view ourselves. Said differently, what our self-worth is.
For what it’s worth, pun intended, we’re all indispensable. In the physical sense, you are made of matter and therefore you matter in the metaphorical sense. Being told you matter can give us a shot of confidence for a time but for the feeling to be perpetual, you need to wholly believe it so much that when you’re on the precipice of a downward spiral, you can pull yourself back with your own self-talk.
Did you know that the voice in your head can cruise through 600-800 words a minute? Playing out scenarios, reflecting on the past, thinking what to say next, reactionary emotions, and the back and forth of you talking to you. To have positive self-talk we need to take full advantage of as many of those words.
Negativity bias tells us negative experiences or thoughts outweigh positive ones and self-talk is no different. A single “I can do this” doesn’t net out “I can’t do it.” Research also shows us that any type of positive self-talk, even unrelatable self-talk, can combat thoughts of stress and anxiety.
The single best piece of advice I received a few years ago is this. When you’re in a moment of deprecation and you’re spiraling, take a moment and think of the person that knows you best. What would they say to you? I’m positive their words would be absent of worst-case scenarios and blaming and full of kindness and optimism.
“You did your best.”
“You’re going to get through it.”
“You can try again.”
“It wasn’t the right fit, there are others.”
“I’m grateful for you.”
“I believe in you.”
“I love you.”
Replacing your self-talk with a loved one’s voice forces the different narrative and offers us an antidote to the internal poison we’ve concocted.
The Perfect Path Doesn’t Exist
Lower self-worth can exacerbate other feelings of negativity like stress or disappointment and can lead to deeper patterns. One of those patterns can be perfectionism. Perfectionists see their outputs as a measure of success and don’t take appreciation for the inputs given like time, energy, commitment, resilience, creativity, and learnings along the way. Perfectionists hold unattainable expectations for themselves and even in times where everything goes right, there’s a feeling of inadequacy. Disappointment sounds like “I didn’t do enough,” Perfectionism says “I am not enough.”
To combat this, celebrate the victories in battle, even if the war looks bleak. Before marching on to the next battlefield, take a moment to breathe and reflect at how far you’ve come and the gains you’ve made along the way. There’s positives throughout that are well deserved and worthy of recognition unto yourself. Perhaps you learned a new skill or navigated a difficult conversation well. Perhaps it’s the sole fact that you made it.
And There’s Nothing You Can Do About It
Another point here is control. Stephen Covey popularized the idea of a Circle of Control, Influence, and Concern in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The concept was developed within the business acumen but it is applicable to this subject too. In short there are three concentric circles with the smallest being control, then influence, then concern.
The circle of control being the things you can manage – your own productivity, healthy habits, behaviors, and of course self-talk. The circle of influence being things beyond your control but that you can still impact – group projects, relationships, and culture. Finally, the circle of concern is everything else beyond control or influence – weather, traffic, economy, the DMV.
Within life, we are not the only soldier. We alone cannot control every outcome and yet we tie our self-worth to it. At a point, in the words of Elsa from Frozen, we have to let it go. We then can stop and say what a great job we’ve done up until this point. Going forward, you may keep influence, but the direct correlation of self-worth stops at only what you can control.
Much like everything else, practice is crucial. The more intentional you are with self-talk, the more it becomes an unconscious habit. Overriding the negativity with positivity will feel incredibly forced at times but over time it becomes organic and can greatly reduce those moments of looking over the edge. If you do fall in, remember to lean on the other voices in your life and separate what you can control and what you can not.