I was voted “Most Likely To Succeed” in high school, and it was the worst thing that ever happened to me. I felt like I was never succeeding. When I graduated from college with no job prospects and had to live with my parents, I felt like a failure. After graduate school, I had to take three jobs to make ends meet. Again, I felt like a failure. Even after I found a great job by some arbitrary standard set in high school, I always put so much pressure on myself to be successful that I often ended up being afraid to take risks and beating myself up for situations that were beyond my control. In my own mind, I was a failure. In reality, I was doing pretty well. I was my own worst enemy. Sound familiar? Self-talk is your inner voice. For a lot of women, that inner voice is hyper-critical, making us question our own sense of self-worth in the process. “We are often sabotaging our own sense of peace by dwelling on possible negative outcomes,” says Amanda Johnson, a licensed therapist at the Crossnore School and Children’s Home in North Carolina. “Negative self-talk can impact health in lots of ways, including increased stress, muscle tension, headaches, trouble sleeping, and poor eating habits. Many of these issues can lead to more serious, long-term health problems. It can also lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices, like substance use or becoming involved in abusive or negative relationships.”
Stop beating yourself up.
The first step to ending negative self-talk once and for all is to recognize it as a pattern of behavior and be aware of negative thoughts that are unhelpful or hurtful. There are some ways you can can keep negative self-talk at bay. Johnson recommends keeping a journal, as writing down thoughts can often help you recognize behavior patterns of which you may not have been aware. “Another helpful exercise to build positive thinking is to spend time each day focusing on things you are grateful for. This could be keeping a gratitude journal or taking steps to show gratitude to someone directly,” Johnson tells HealthyWay.
But what if something bad really does happen?
We all have bad days. When we mess up, it can be especially hard to dismiss negative self-talk. When we’re not in control, overthinking situations that we don’t know the outcome of gives us the illusion of having some control over what happens. We rationalize this by telling ourselves that we are more prepared if we assume the worst-case scenario. It’s easy to get stuck in the cycle of negativity and self-doubt, but instead of allowing those thoughts to take over, take a deep breath and look at the problem you’re stressing over. “Take a moment to examine your thoughts about the situation closely using a series of questions,” Johnson advises. “Is your thought accurate? What evidence do you have to back it up? Is there another possible explanation or outcome? Try to use the answers to these questions to reverse your thought or at least begin to shift it to a more positive direction.”