How To Change Your Internal Dialogue

What does your internal dialogue sound like? If you're constantly telling yourself negative messages, here are 5 simple steps to a more positive and accepting outlook!

I was prompted to write this post after taping a podcast with Amanda Boleyn, the host of She Did It Her Way. One of the questions she posed resonated with me and I was left thinking about it even after the interview was over.

Amidst sharing about my journey and the work I’ve had to put in to get to where I am today, she asked me for a sample of my internal dialogue. She asked how conversations go with myself, whether negative or positive. It was perfect timing, as I had a example from just the day before.

In the past, a look inside my head would have been extremely unpleasant. I was constantly plagued by doubt, self-loathing, and fear. Every mistake I made was accompanied with self-deprecating comments and I would spend a majority of my time berating myself for things that were often out of my control. I never felt good enough and even when I started to, I would tell myself it was all a sham.

I recently covered a corporate fitness class for a friend. I was used to teaching at this location, but this was the lunch time crew and I usually taught in the evening. I didn’t know many of the people and they didn’t know me. My teaching style is a little different from my friend’s. I like to talk almost the whole time because silences make me uncomfortable and that’s what I like in an instructor. I throw out a lot of “wooos” and am generally pretty high energy. I noticed one attendee in particular was rolling her eyes and then later made a comment which led to snickers and laughter from a couple other people.

I immediately felt self-conscious and my stomach dropped. Although I hadn’t heard exactly what she said, it was evident that her comment was in reference to my enthusiasm. I questioned my approach, if everyone felt this way, and how many people hated my teaching. HATED. I’M THE WORST TEACHER EVER. All while trying to stay positive and encouraging, I was beating myself up. I kept up the energy, but didn’t throw quite as many phrases out for the rest of the class.

This example stood out to me because I haven’t had such a visceral reaction in many months. It also reminded me that this was how my entire life used to be comprised—endless loops of chastising messages in my head. I was able to correct my internal dialogue even within the span of the class, but it left an impression on me and served as a reminder of what to do when those voices come back.

1. Listen to the messages

First of all, don’t ignore the messages that you tell yourself. They are telling you something important, even if it’s incorrect or harmful. You can listen to them, but don’t automatically internalize them as fact.

For me, I realized I was telling myself that I was a bad teacher, no one liked me, and I was a failure at what I do. Typing that out makes me realize how obviously ridiculous I am, but that is immediately where my mind goes in those situations. It’s almost a knee-jerk reaction and I can’t control what comes up. What I can control is what I do with it.

2. Identify (and feel) the feelings

In addition to picking out the phrases and messages, examine your physical reactions. These are usually a good indication of what you are feeling at any given time. Don’t just identify them, make sure to let them come up so that you can feel them, process them, and move on.

As I mentioned, I felt like my stomach dropped. For me, this means I was feeling embarrassment, fear, and shame.

3. Find the exact nature

The exact nature refers to what is happening and what you believe at your core. It’s at the bottom of all of the messages and feelings that come up. You may not always know what it is, but usually talking or writing about what happened may help you discover what’s going on.

In this situation, I have a deep-seated fear of never being good enough. I’ve written about it several times, and have lived with it for most of my life. The friend I was covering for has been training for more years than I have, and when my teaching style was challenged, I felt like I would never be as good as her or in general. Keep in mind, reasons for things may not always be true or rational, but that doesn’t mean they’re not valid reasons for emotions. Remember, it’s what you do with the reactions that determines the outcome.

4. Challenge and provide opposing messages

Now that you’ve identified, felt, and dug deep for what’s really going on, take all of that information and challenge it. If your messages are negative, replace them with positive ones and make sure to point out your strengths.

I was able to quickly counter my initial messages, but only because I have been actively working on it for most of my recovery. It was really only this past year that I was able to find some peace from all the noise in my head. I was able to tell myself that she may have been having a bad day, she may just not enjoy my style of teaching, and most importantly, she didn’t know me. Whenever I get used to a teacher and then wind up with a new one, I always judge them harsher. It’s not their fault, I just hate change and can always work harder on my open-mindedness.

5. Repeat

It would be great if you could go through one pass of this and move on completely. This usually isn’t the case. If you’re anything like me, you’ll counter those messages only to have some pop up again like “yes, buuuuut….” and then bring up some other negative point. I used to dwell and dwell on the same subjects, going over and over them in my mind.

I thought about this again once more on my walk home from teaching that class and then at the end of the day when I told Neil about it. If Amanda hadn’t asked me about my internal dialogue, I don’t know that it would have come up again. In those situations where does, I simply run through these steps again until I’m able to move past it.

Keep in mind that although this post is long, the actual process really only takes seconds or minutes. It may take longer for you to find the exact nature of what’s going on and where your messages are coming from, but once you start practicing, it’s pretty quick and straightforward.

Thanks to Amanda (different Amanda) for letting me think out loud. 🙂

Questions:

  • How’s your internal dialogue?
  • How do you challenge negative self-talk?
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20 Comments

    • erinsinsidejob
      March 11, 2016 / 11:15 am

      Exactly!

  1. March 10, 2016 / 5:30 am

    Little self help guru, you are. Something that I’ve learned is that you sometimes have to think of yourself as another person, but someone you are friends with: what you you say to them? Remember that you are in a relationship with yourself, and that relations between humans are inherently complicated, but if you treat the other person (in this case, yourself) with respect but also a combination of objectivity and subjectivity, your relationship can go to another, more beneficial level.
    Susie @ SuzLyfe recently posted…Transitioning to Spring Running in Prana Style (Running Coaches Corner)My Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      March 11, 2016 / 11:15 am

      Haha yessss. Yeah, it’s always much easier if you’re able to look at it objectively.

  2. March 10, 2016 / 6:49 am

    I have to pause all the time when I have a reaction to a comment or event like that to remind myself it’s not a reflection or attack on me, it’s generally the other person saying those things/reacting in a certain way because they feel threatened/hurt/scared/shame. No matter what the situation (unless you’re actually being physically attack, then of course defend yourself or run!) I try to drum up compassion for the other person and immediately feel better.
    Bri recently posted…Race review: Phoenix MarathonMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      March 11, 2016 / 11:16 am

      Totally. The more I can do that the more empathy I’m able to have towards others

  3. March 10, 2016 / 8:45 am

    I definitely relate to the fear of failure and never being good enough. It’s weird. I am aware of my strengths, but even so, I struggle with what I *think* is criticism.
    This is good advice. I need a reminder to just stop and think that *maybe* (ok, definitely) I perceive things the wrong way and even if I do make a mistake or somebody doesn’t like me or how I do things, it’s not a reflection of MY worth.
    Catherine @ foodiecology recently posted…The Power of a Single CommentMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      March 11, 2016 / 11:18 am

      Exactly. I would know I was good at some things, but still let outside comments and people make me feel bad about myself. I needed to actually ACCEPT my strengths bc once I did that, it wasn’t as easy to bring myself doen

  4. Paula
    March 10, 2016 / 9:35 am

    Another insightful and important topic! “Positive Self-Talk” is one of my favorite lessons that we teach in Girls on the Run. Navigating negative internal dialogue can be really challenging, because our first instinct might be to add to the problem by beating ourselves up for thinking negatively. Treating yourself kindly while identifying the nature and source of the feelings is so critical in revising the ways you speak to yourself. And it’s a never-ending process!

    • erinsinsidejob
      March 11, 2016 / 11:18 am

      I love it! Girls on the Run is so awesome!

  5. March 10, 2016 / 10:01 am

    Yes, yes, yes to everything in this post.
    I’m confident I would have had a very similar reaction to you and even reading it made me uncomfortable.
    I’ve spent a lot of time reminding myself that it’s very often them, and not me, and to remember that I am good and I am okay.
    Ange @ Cowgirl Runs recently posted…Why changing your form won’t make you a better runnerMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      March 11, 2016 / 11:19 am

      Haha I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable!! You are awesome!

  6. March 10, 2016 / 4:51 pm

    This is such a great post and I appreciate you typing it. It’s interesting how fast and easy we are too put ourselves down.
    Hollie recently posted…A Look at My Race MorningsMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      March 11, 2016 / 11:21 am

      Thanks Hollie! We have to remember to build ourselves up too. If only that were as easy!

  7. March 10, 2016 / 6:25 pm

    “It’s what you do with the reactions that determine the outcome” = excellent

    • erinsinsidejob
      March 11, 2016 / 11:21 am

      Thanks Freddie!

  8. March 10, 2016 / 8:28 pm

    I can be pretty prone to letting things that people say get to me, so this is great. I often find that getting exercise or doing something I find fulfilling makes me less prone to negative self talk. I do need to get better about changing my immediate reaction in the moment, though.
    Heather recently posted…My Running HabitsMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      March 11, 2016 / 11:21 am

      It definitely takes time and a lot of practice. Woo hoo haha

  9. March 11, 2016 / 6:38 pm

    I think I was my 5th group exercise class ever, in undergrad…a girl rolled her eyes in the middle of class, didn’t do what I instructed, and left early. I def felt my stomach drop, and it changed the way I taught the rest of class (no bueno). One of my mentors at the time took the class so she could evaluate me, and I think I teared up a little (felt like I had to hold back, you know? haha) and she said something that really resonated with me, to this day: “She’s probably already forgotten about it by now!” along with other words of encouragement that it was a good class, etc.
    I love that you say “make sure to let them come up so that you can feel them, process them, and move on”.
    Jess @hellotofit recently posted…Slowcooker Vietnamese Noodle Soup (Pho Ga)My Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      March 12, 2016 / 7:47 am

      OMG that’s so mortifying. I’m glad you had a voice of reason to help you out!

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