Have you ever felt like you’re broken? That the people around you have everything figured out, but you didn’t get the memo for whatever reason?
Same. That’s probably what exacerbated my depression and anxiety. But I don’t want to focus on mental illness in this article. Because, for many people, feeling like life works against you is much more simple yet complex than that.
The source of why life is more challenging than it has to be is what we tell ourselves. Every day. Over and over inside our minds.
Now you might be thinking, what the hell does that even mean? In which case, I want you to hear the voice that talks inside your head while you’re reading this article, the narrator that exists without you even trying.
That voice you hear is your inner dialogue, and the words it says are called self-talk.
One of people’s most significant obstacles ends up being their inner dialogue, and many of those people never even pay attention to the words it says. They’ve heard that self-talk so much, it feels like a part of them.
But it’s not.
“There is nothing more important to true growth than realizing that you are not the voice of the mind — you are the one who hears it.”
— Michael A. Singer, The Untethered Soul
Think of it this way: You’re watching a football game on TV. You’re listening to the announcers talk about the game and comment on how the players are doing. You may think the announcers are a part of the game, but they’re not. They’re merely narrating what’s happening.
The same goes for your inner dialogue. It’s not who you are; it’s the voice that is observing everything that’s happening to you.
So how does that create an issue? Well, for many people, that inner dialogue isn’t so nice. In fact, it’s downright cruel. Like the meanest bully you’ll ever come across, constantly inside your head.
If you’re unaware that your inner dialogue is separate from who you are, it’s easy to internalize everything it says. If someone spills a cup of coffee and thinks, “you’re so dumb and always messing things up!” it’s easy to believe they’re careless and always ruin things.
This negative self-talk keeps many people stuck in fear, anxiety, and feeling like nothing goes their way. Even I suffered for a while (and occasionally still do) with a vicious inner dialogue.
So how can you stop letting your negative self-talk hold you back from life?
Well, the first step is awareness.
You are not your inner dialogue.
While your inner dialogue may feel like an actual person or part of who you are, that’s only because of how close you are to it. But, if you take a step back and observe it more objectively, you realize how it’s merely a voice.
This practice is called cognitive defusion. It’s the process of observing your thoughts and bringing them to your awareness. Until you realize what your self-talk says, you don’t stand a chance of discerning how it affects you.
For me, my self-talk sounded like this:
“You’re so dumb. Why do you make those mistakes?”
“You have no self-control. Look at your body. It’s gross.”
“You’re awkward, and everyone you talk to thinks that.”
Oof. Not very nice at all. No wonder I built up an identity filled with anxiety, self-doubt, and a fear that I was never good enough. Building a practice of noticing your self-talk will be invaluable.
You make choices based on your inner dialogue.
When all you know is the fear inside your mind, you make decisions based on those fears. It starts swith something small like not speaking up for yourself in a relationship. But it can quickly trickle into more significant life decisions.
In The Untethered Soul, the author explains this with the analogy of having a thorn in your side. Over time, you start walking differently to avoid the pain. You try not to bump into objects; you learn to live with the thorn in your side.
Most people create their entire lives around that thorn (their fears). They choose careers and partners who they think will keep them safe, even if that’s far from the case.
It’s also the reason most people take everything in life personally. They view any shortcomings or failures as a confirmation of their worst fears and that life never has their back.
How to take back the power from your self-talk:
Now you’re probably thinking, “Okay, I’m aware of my negative self-talk. It sucks. I want to change things, so how do I do that?”
And while self-awareness is the first step, it’s not what will help you finally feel like you’re working with life rather than against it. So here are a few ways to begin to take control back from your self-talk:
Imagine your inner dialogue as a roommate.
That voice will always be there. There are a few things you can try to do to change it, but every now and then, it’ll creep up with some mean, critical words.
So try thinking of it as a roommate you live with rather than part of you. When it’s incessant chattering becomes too much, you can shift your focus (mentally walking away). You can even imagine turning a dial down on its volume until the words are merely a whisper.
Begin talking to yourself like a loving parent would.
Your thoughts shape your beliefs. Your beliefs shape your actions. Your actions shape your reality.
Talking to yourself like a loving parent can trickle down into your reality because your thoughts become kinder. When you think, “I screwed up that assignment at work,” replace it with a more gentle, neutral thought like, “That was my first time doing an assignment like that. No one is perfect.”
Come back to the present moment.
While shifting your thoughts to the present moment may not help you rid your mind of negative self-talk, it can be the sense of relief you need at the moment.
A great way to do this is to focus on your senses. Name three things you hear, smell, see and feel. Take a few deep breaths and remember that your thoughts are not your reality.
Face your fears head-on.
Instead of trying to avoid that thorn in your side, face it. You might be scared that you’re not good enough for people to love, so question that. Where did you form that belief? What is it based on? Does it help you to believe that, or does it hold you back?
Fears put us in a small container that makes us feel like we're constantly fighting against the flow of life. And while they might’ve helped us at one point, you have to admit to yourself when they’re no longer serving you.
Self-talk can feel impossible to overcome at times but working on letting go of its control will be a choice you’ll never regret. Once you realize who you are is separate from your thoughts, you begin to decide your beliefs, not your inner dialogue.
You deserve to live life on your terms and stop feeling like life is pushing you back instead of guiding you forward. The choice to begin the work is yours.