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Using negative self-talk to stop self-sabotaging

September 26th 2017

I’ve recently written about the importance of self-talk as a way to build motivation and conviction, which is a positive way of using it. Most recently I wrote about how you can use self-talk to avoid self-sabotage, by taking a step back from your immediate situation when faced with temptations or distractions and looking at it from a different angle.

This time I want to deal with a stricter form of self-talk, the kind when we are giving ourselves a reality-check, and/or when we hit an all-time low. Depending on your individual situation and the challenges you are facing, this can be quite an intense experience. You may find that you are being quite harsh, and even descend to insults. You may have done something you regret, or perhaps allowed something to go on for too long, and you start hearing yourself saying things like “Why am I so stupid?”, or worse. If you are already feeling fragile, this can make you feel pretty miserable.

There are so many books on the importance of positive self-talk and stress management, but sometimes I think there is a good case to be made for using harsh self-talk as a motivating tool to drive you forwards – as long as you are in control of it. I sometimes think of fire as an analogy: I once read that in control, fire is man’s best friend, but out of control it’s his worst enemy. I think the same applies to the way we talk to ourselves. Too much negative self-talk is damaging, because it will lower your self-esteem and make you think you are not good enough to achieve anything. It can make you panic and turn you into a nervous wreck. But on the other hand, you are not doing yourself any favours if you suppress all negative self-talk and only focus on positives.

Not to blow my own trumpet, but as a hypnotherapist I’ve had some great results helping people reduce stress and anxiety. I’ve applied these techniques to myself as well, but recently I’ve been thinking that I’ve been doing myself a disservice. If you relieve stress any time it rears its head, you might be dealing with the symptoms, but what about the cause?

Consider these two situations:

  1. You enjoy your job, but there is one aspect of it that causes you stress (maybe a difficult colleague or customer).
  2. You have a stressful job which you have been doing for years, which you have grown to hate.

In the first scenario it makes sense to find a way to relieve the stress, or change the way you think about the problematic aspect so that it is less stressful (i.e. you are in control of changing the way you think about it, and therefore the way you react to it), because you like the job overrall. To change jobs would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

In the second scenario it doesn’t make sense to just make the stress go away, or focus on positives outside of work, because you are just perpetuating a situation that you hate. It would be far better to acknowledge the stressful feelings, and use some controlled negative self-talk to chastise yourself for allowing the situation to go on as long as it has, and vow not to just let these uncomfortable feelings go on the back-burner. You want to keep them in the forefront of your mind so that you stay motivated to take action to take constructive action: for example, look for a better job, or take a course to qualify yourself for a different line of work.

There’s an expression “to have a monkey on your back”, which means you are carrying an irritating burden that you find difficult to get rid of. For want of a better expression, I am going to use the monkey image to represent the negative self-talk that comes as a result of a behaviour or habit that I am not happy with, which drives me and stops me from relaxing and being complacent. Only by dealing with the cause of the negative self-talk will I be able to get the monkey off my back.

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