I’m a chatty person.
In elementary school, the comments sections of my report card consistently remarked on how I would benefit from chatting less in class.
As much as my chattiness is often directed at others, many of my conversations are in fact with my own self.
Before you make any judgments, let me tell you that these “self-talk” conversations are often quite productive and positive, and have helped me get through a lot of different situations in my life.
For example, in high school, I would talk myself through challenging calculus equations aloud. Teachers and my peers of course noticed this and would comment on this too.
Most of the self-talk dialogue I participate in is part of an internal conversation– one that’s taking place in my head.
Thoughts, after all, are just conservations you are having with yourself. Scientists say we have 20-50 thousand thoughts a day. That’s a really chatty brain.
These conversations have power.
For example, I have been using mantras for as long as I can remember. Some are situational, and some are just truthful statements that I use when I need a pick-me-up.
Before a test, I always use the mantra “I am practiced. I am focused. I am calm”. I repeat this message until I actually believe it (and/or until the test starts).
The mantras that I intentionally develop are powerful, but equally powerful are the negative internal self-talk messages that creep into the conversation.
“You are not enough.” “You messed up again.” “You are undeserving.”
The interesting news is that these thoughts are not necessarily ill-intentioned.
Humans have a negativity bias that helps us to be aware of the potentially unpleasant or dangerous things around us. Our brains prioritize paying attention to the things that play into our survival, before we notice the other things.
This is why we remember insults (internal or external) before we remember compliments. It also means that we have a natural, psychological tendency to pick up on the negative and hold onto it really tightly.
So, my brain is just standing guard against danger for me when it sends me negative messages, and I should leave it to do its job? Not necessarily.
When I start to participate in this negative type of dialogue with myself, my view of reality starts to be affected. The intimate conversations I have with myself start to influence my relationship with others and my confidence in myself. They aren’t keeping me safe from danger, but putting me in a dangerous mental space.
My thoughts start spiralling down, and even if I catch them in the act, sometimes I’m willing to let them keep going because they are starting to become louder and more aggressive than the other dialogues in my head.
So, what to do?
Thoughts can be challenged. Negative internal voices can be stifled with messages or mantras that are in direct opposition to the negative ones.
“I am enough. I deserve to feel well. I am confident I can do well.”
Another strategy is to extend these conversations with another human being. Sometimes, saying the thoughts aloud is enough to realize how silly and untruthful they are. Open the dialogue up to a friend, a university staff or faculty member, a trained peer volunteer at Peers are Here drop-in hours, or to a student helpline called Good2Talk.
They will probably inform you that those self-talk conversations are untruthful and harmful if left unattended. It’s time to close that conversation window and leave space for conversations that positively influence your reality.
Allow yourself those thoughts that spiral you upward. Change the conversation so that it contributes to your well-being.
Chat with me in the comments to share how you combat negative self-talk!
Have a great week!