It's quite hard to practise positive self-talk without slightly cringing. I had a counselling session last week where I was asked to chat about any thoughts that had been bothering me so that we could challenge the truth behind them. One thought that had come up was 'I am a bad person'. I had to put a positive spin on the thought so we changed it to 'I have made mistakes, but so has everyone else,' I thought it was necessary to throw everyone else under the bus to make myself feel better.
The next part was a bit harder, going back to the bad person thought, I was asked to list the qualities found in a good person and select the ones I identified with, by select I mean say them out loud in reference to myself *I wanted to die a little inside as I bigged myself up to the counsellor*. Negative affirmations seem to roll of the tongue, whereas listing positive ones about yourself feels as wrong as swearing in front of your granny.
Knowing that she could sense the pure awkwardness in my voice, (you know when the last word of every sentence finishes with a higher pitch and an imaginary question mark? 'I am caring? ) I explained that I felt I was being cocky saying these things out loud. She said that in Northern Ireland, we are one of the worst countries for putting ourselves down. We are quick to speak negatively of ourselves and find it extremely difficult to give ourselves praise or accept praise from others. I've had conversations with friends before about how when someone pays you a compliment, we hate replying with 'thank you' as we're worried it sounds like we're agreeing with them.
Like all Norn Iron'ers, it seems, I have some work to do on the self-praise side of things, but I found the challenging of the negative thoughts extremely helpful! I thought I would share a little bit of the work we did as I think anyone could benefit from it! It's actually a very simple exercise but it really gets you questioning the validity of those thoughts.
So here is the triangle we used, I believe it is called a cognitive structure, but, that may not be true, so it shall be called the triangle (despite appearances, this is not the result of a google image search, I did in fact create this diagram myself using Paint. The fact that it took me 15 minutes is not something we need to dwell on):
So you send a NAT (negative automatic thought) into the top of the beautifully illustrated triangle, list the emotions this thought creates, and then the behaviours the emotions cause.
Thought: I am shit at using Paint
Emotion: Useless, sad, failure, demotivated, low confidence
Behaviour: Decide to give up, scared to try in case of failure, procrastinate instead
So instead you put a positive spin on that thought
Thought: I am learning a new skill which will take time
Emotion: Motivated, relieved, confidence boost, more optimistic
Behaviour: Willing to give time to learning more about it, not avoiding the situation out of fear
And then if you link the behaviour back to the thought again, you can see how it works in a cycle, positive behaviours create positive thoughts. Of course this doesn't fix things right away, but with practise I think it will be a really helpful way to challenge negative thoughts!
After putting a number of thoughts through the stunning triangle, I became curious as to just how badly I had been talking to myself, so I took 5 minutes out to write down all the negative thoughts that had come into my head just in that day alone, I noted down 17. When I read through them I started to see that they were quite irrational, and most were a case of me attempting to read other people's minds, ie. She thinks I'm or he thinks I'm, so really they held little truth at all. It also brought to light the fact that it would be hard to be happy if you have a voice in your head that's constantly putting you down.
Imagine speaking to someone else the way you speak to yourself, you would be a dick. We are so forgiving to others, but hold grudges fiercely with ourselves, feeding ourselves these negative, distorted thoughts instead of applying a more compassionate and logical approach to them as we would with friends, family and even strangers. I don't think we stand a chance at happiness if we aren't willing to show ourselves unconditional love and forgiveness. And forgiving and loving yourself doesn’t mean avoiding responsibility for your mistakes;
‘Positive self-talk is not self-deception. It is not mentally looking at circumstances with eyes that see only what you want to see. Rather, positive self-talk is about recognizing the truth, in situations and in yourself. One of the fundamental truths is that you will make mistakes. To expect perfection in yourself or anyone else is unrealistic. To expect no difficulties in life, whether through your own actions or sheer circumstances, is also unrealistic.’
Full article linked below if you fancy a peek
Another thing I found helpful in that session was realising the importance of the 'automatic' in NATs. Our brains are constantly creating thoughts, even as you're focused on one task, you're capable of having multiple thoughts swirling round your head at once. We have on average 6000 thoughts a day. Automatic thoughts often pop up in our minds without any conscious thought behind them. Now knowing that, it's hard to imagine that all of them hold truth or rationality.
I started challenging some negative thoughts this week and it's crazy how when you start to question the truth behind them, you see their credibility start to fall apart.
Okkkkkkk just as I was about to finish up with this post, when my mum read this out to me, (she has this little book called ‘Everyday Calm’ which has a tip, exercise or quote for each day of the year), ‘Question your thoughts. Try to become aware of your thoughts and you will start to notice when you fall into negative thinking that disrupt your inner peace. The more attuned you become to your mind’s natural rhythm, the more you’ll be able to control your thought process’.
Just gonna leave that there....