Often, we’re our own harshest critics. Here, Rachel Service explains how we can move past negative self-talk and embrace positivity.

We can all be our own worst enemies. But when does that inner critic turn toxic, and how to counter the negative talk when it’s you who’s doing the talking?

Happiness Concierge founder Rachel Service has spent years coaching people to reframe negative self-talk. Here, she tells us how to focus on successes, build a support team, and transform self-criticism into something positive.

Negative self-talk is something we learn

Everyone engages in self-talk daily, and unfortunately most of it is negative. This self-criticism is a learned, and sometimes rewarded, behaviour. Studies show that out of all the influences impacting how people behave, it’s environmental factors – that is, societal norms – that tell us what we ‘should’ be. This can influence everything from career choices to how we show up at work to the stories (imagined and true) we tell ourselves.

The combined effects of our upbringing, the people we surround ourselves with, expectations (real and imagined), our learnings and perceived failures – plus Australia’s Tall Poppy Syndrome – mean we often become who we need to be, just to ensure our needs of social survival are met.

Certainty, and our comfortability with certainty, drives a lot of our decisions. And we are influenced to act by three factors: familiarity, similarity and proximity. So, if people in our network also have a negative mindset, we are more likely to be influenced. The inner critic thrives on feedback from those who do not want us to be successful. To overcome this, we must seek validation from those we respect; who want us to succeed.

Self-doubt can keep us from moving forward

We are influenced by our thoughts, and our behaviours influence how we feel. When you have positive or negative self-talk, that influences what you believe as possible, and inherently that influences whether you are likely to act.

It’s a kind of inertia: self-doubt protects us from both success and failure. It’s a learned protection mechanism that prevents us from doing things that might limit us. On the other hand, healthy questioning from the perspective of ‘How can this be made better?’ can help us pursue excellence and make sensible decisions, if it is positioned positively and helps you take constructive action.

There are three zones which influence our habits: the comfort zone, the learning zone, and the panic zone. Self-doubt keeps us in our comfort zone, and away from success. Understanding the difference between curious and cautious self-talk designed to help you achieve your goals (which could move you into the learning zone) and language that hinders you from enabling those goals (which keeps you in the comfort zone) is critical.

Taming the inner critic takes practice

We don’t abolish negative thoughts: instead, we replace them. We never ‘rid’ ourselves of our inner critic. Rather, we build new thought processes to manage these thoughts when they arise.

Actively reframing our thoughts helps us differentiate between a helpful thought and an unhelpful one. A Harvard Business Review study found people who reframed ‘I’m nervous’ to ‘I’m excited’ performed better at maths tests, public speaking and even karaoke. Why? Anxiety and excitement are both states of arousal and reframing a fear into an action helps to take positive action.

Having belief in yourself is the most impactful way to influence your own behaviours and enable you to achieve your goals.

The loop we teach audiences in our ‘Overcome Your Inner Impostor and Work with Your Inner Critic’ training sessions at Happiness Concierge comprises four elements: Thought (I’m not good enough), Need (validation, support, reassurance), Behaviour (avoidance, negative self-talk) and Feeling (comfort zone / learning zone).

We can only mitigate unhelpful behaviours if we become aware of when we are acting in ways that are against our best interests and have the support to succeed.

Tools for combating negative self-talk

  1. Achievement Audit: Negative self-talk thrives on perceived failures. Capturing your achievements, reviewing them and sharing them with those who want your success can help quieten your inner critic.
  2. Build Your Network: Creating a network of people who want to support you, teach you, help you learn and want your success will enable you to voice any thoughts and have those validated and scrutinised from supporters who want to help you grow.
  3. Positive Reframing: Writing down your most common thoughts – such as ‘I’m a failure’ or ‘I’m not good enough’ – and opting for a positive view on how they can be directed to your learning zone. For example: ‘I’m a failure’ can be rephrased as ‘I certainly have learned some life lessons in the past’, or ‘I learned lessons that help me make better decisions today’. This can be incredibly confidence-building.

Put yourself first, and be compassionate

The quickest route to leading a life that disappoints you is to focus on other people first. To show compassion to others, we must first start with ourselves. That doesn’t mean thinking you’re a CEO supermodel with oodles of money! But rather someone who is deserving of success, on your own terms.

Take the time to gain clarity on what you want and build your self-confidence. Then the most important piece of the puzzle is to ask, ‘Do I believe I deserve to achieve my goals?’ This last question will influence every step you take – consciously or subconsciously.

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