To create an effective, action-based mindset, it’s often necessary to interrupt negative self talk.  But before we can substitute in a goal focus, we sometimes need to say STOP to paralyzing self criticism.  Here are some helpful steps.

  • First, ‘listen to the tape.’ Many people have no idea what they say to themselves. Their self talk is like white noise in their heads that plays incessantly and brings them down without their awareness. So put up some little stickers here and there as reminders, and when you see your sticker, tune in on what you’re saying to yourself. If you’re focused on goals and steps, good for you! If you’re beating yourself up, try this.
    • To interrupt negative self talk, you need a different tape! Choose an affirmation to say in your mind. This is your ‘instead tape.’ An affirmation is a short sentence that you feel comfortable with. It’s a positive (not ideal) statement about you. There are hundreds of affirmations, but some favorites are: “I’m a good-enough person.” “Right now, I’m doing the best I can.”
    • Now, listen in on your own head. If you hear demeaning statements, say, “STOP!” This will get your attention!
  • Immediately breathe all the way down to your belt with an emphasis on your exhale. When people attack themselves, they become more accelerated, and this makes everything feel overwhelming. Deep breathing will help you center yourself. Relax your shoulders and neck as you breathe.
  • As you hear your negative self talk, say, “That’s not helpful to me now.” That’s all you need to say. Keep breathing.
  • It’s sometimes helpful to imagine that you’re hearing a radio program in your head, and you’re going to reach out and turn down the volume button as you say, “That’s not helpful to me now.
  • Keep breathing and say your affirmation: “I’m a capable person.”

Keep repeating this cycle – STOP, breathe, “that’s not helpful to me now,” turn down the volume as you say your affirmation – as many times as you need to for the negative diatribe to stop.  At first your brain won’t know what you want, so you may need to keep this up for quite awhile.  But soon you’ll be able to interrupt yourself with one exhale and one cycle.

Next – and here’s the point – clarify what you want to have happen in the situation you’re in.  If you have little influence, being peaceful (more breathing) may be your goal.  Even if you have only a small area of effectiveness in your life right now – like guiding your own self talk – focus on that and define your steps.

By interrupting your harsh self-criticism and setting goals instead, you will have moved yourself from a powerless position to an action-focused position.  This is the key to being your own partner in lifting your self-confidence and improving your effectiveness.