How To Change Your Internal Dialogue
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.
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. 🙂
- How’s your internal dialogue?
- How do you challenge negative self-talk?