Internal dialogue is the sub-textual voice that applies logic, reasoning, and beliefs to people and events. It also serves as a filter for those experiences, and colors the way in which we see the world. As such, internal dialogue plays a vital role in deriving meaning from our life and reality. Think of a time when you spent significant effort getting yourself ready for an event, but you felt uncomfortable or nervous when it began. Even with others’ compliments and expressions of admiration, you likely noticed every failure and mistake as though it was emphasized in bright neon lights. This is just our internal view, not the experience others have at all. When we speak or think poorly of ourselves we are focusing on and creating that undesired reality and consequence – and doing ourselves a definite disservice. If you’re wanting to change the way you speak to yourself, here are a few simple ways to start.
Look for evidence that your thought is or isn’t true. Just because you think something doesn’t make it true. In fact, most of your thoughts are more likely to be opinions rather than facts. Find out if your thought is true by finding evidence. For example, if you get an email from your boss saying “I need to meet with you as soon as possible”, is your first thought that you’re about to be fired? What evidence do you have for and against this? Perhaps you called in sick for several days in a row recently. Or maybe you received positive feedback on a project you finished last week. Or perhaps there are no specific reasons that you can think of at all. Looking for this evidence will likely show you your negative thoughts aren’t warranted, so it’s not productive to worry about it.
Actively Avoid Negativity. There’s no doubt that negativity is widespread in our modern world. Wherever we look, there seems to be no end to it. We inherited this tendency from our ancestors who had to always be on the lookout for danger or anything that would put their lives at risk. We still carry this tendency within our nervous system, and it often inhibits our ability to see the good in the world. While we can’t avoid all negativity, being consciously aware of refocusing our attention away from the negative and toward the good and positive can have a powerful effect on our internal dialogue.
Call yourself out for negative thoughts. We all have moments where our internal dialogue seems to go off by itself, and can spiral into a negative tirade. When you feel this happening to you, some find that a firm but gentle mental tone, and assertive “Stop that!” works best. Adopt the type of tone that a loved one would use if they were reassuring you, or reflect on how you would speak to a small child who was struggling with something. Work to speak firmly, calmly and compassionately to yourself, even when you hit a setback.
Once you become more aware of what you are thinking, and the kinds of patterns that your thoughts tend to make, you can then do something about changing them. If we desire to live a life of success and significance, we must be the master of our internal voice and head curator of our association and influences. We can choose to change and upgrade both, creating a safer space inside for learning and growth to occur. We can change our inner dialog to be one of encouragement, forgiveness, and acceptance.