We all have a running dialogue going on in our heads.
Our mind is constantly telling us things, like a little devil (or angel, depending) on our shoulder, whispering in our ears.
Things like, “Ooops, that wasn’t good…” or, “Ha! Take THAT! I aced it!” or, “Oh, geez, look at that guy’s pants!”
Sometimes that dialogue tells us things that are unhelpful, that cause us to dislike or doubt ourselves. It might seem innocent when we think, “You idiot! Why did you do that?” but those messages slowly erode our self esteem and self confidence. They become Cognitive Distortions.
A Cognitive Distortion is an exaggeration or irrational thought that you begin to accept. Your subconscious mind starts making you believe things are true when they actually aren’t. You might think that because you did poorly on one test, that you’re a terrible student; maybe a friend says something snarky to you and you think they hate you; or you might think that things should be a certain way, and get frustrated when they aren’t.
Here are some examples of things you might sometimes have in mind that won’t help your self confidence, and what to replace them with:
Instead of: “I can’t believe I said something mean to Bob last week. I can’t stop thinking about it! I feel awful.”
Think this: “I said something to Bob when I was angry. I’ll apologize to him, and now I know not to react to other people when I’m angry! I’m glad I learned something and won’t repeat that mistake!”
Instead of: “Even though my boss said I did a great job on that report, I just got lucky. I’m really not that great at my job, and my boss must think I’m an idiot.”
Think this: “I’m so proud that my boss loved the work I did. See, I AM good at what I do, and the boss even thinks so! I’m going to treat myself to a cappuccino for a job well done.”
Instead of: “Things like this should never happen! I can’t believe it. Why do bad things happen all the time?”
Think this: “That was unfortunate. It’s a shame stuff like that happens, but it does. Is there anything I can do to prevent it from happening again?”
Instead of: “That woman just gave me a side eye. I must have said something stupid! What did I do wrong?”
Think this: “Wow, it seems like she’s annoyed about something. That’s a shame. Life is too short to spend it angry.”
I think you get the idea.
Another great tool you can use is to give yourself positive self talk for every small accomplishment you manage during the day.
For example, you can think, “I’m so proud that I made it to work without speeding,” or, “I got my errands done in half the time I thought it would! Big round of applause for me!”
There is always something you can give yourself kudos for, even if it’s only that you tried, or that you were strong enough to survive. “I didn’t get the grade I was hoping for, but at least I studied hard and did my best,” or, “Geez, that meeting was brutal. At least I made it through without falling asleep!”
If you’re not sure how to change that running dialogue in your head, start by paying attention to it. Would you speak to your mother or father the way you’re speaking to yourself? Is that the way you’d speak to someone you care for deeply when they’re in pain?
Make sure that your self talk is positive, loving, kind, and encouraging, in the same way that you’d speak to a loved one.