SELF-TALK – GUEST POST By Sonya Harvey
Rethinking an Unexpected Life
We’ve all heard people talk about ‘self-talk’ and how important it is, and it is!
As well as the internal chatter we’re aware of, there is unconscious negative self-talk we have that affects our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours in the moment and going forward, basically forming our thinking habits for life. But, fortunately, habits can be changed!
I have been prompted to recognise my self-talk more deeply from a series of unexpected happenings in my life, from encounters with a few people who have helped me turn my life around and from participating in a few FB groups, including Raising Midlife VIbrations, My Exceptional Life, One Mind One Body – Love Both, High Vibin’, The Miracle Tribe and Spiritual Babe CEO. I will always be eternally grateful to these people and groups for the impact they have had on me and how I can better manage my thoughts, feelings, and behaviours to make my life a positive and happy experience.
While reading Suzanne’s blog about ‘6 Ways to Relieve Stress’, I was prompted to revisit some demons from my past and some that are still alive and well in my present. I thought I would share them in this post to help anyone that may be wondering about stress, anxiety, self-talk, confidence, etc.
I can totally relate to the fight or flight situation Suzanne refers to, as I struggled with anxiety for over 20 years which led to awful panic attacks over 10 of those years, and I spent a lot of time and money trying to figure out what was happening to me. It was a very debilitating state of existence and it was almost the end of me as, despite being very happily married, whenever I tried to imagine what my future would hold, I could only visualise complete blackness with no end to the terrifying state of fear I was living with every day. I began to realise I had been living in a state of severe anxiety for most of my life as my unconscious self-talk centered around thoughts based on ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘I don’t deserve to be happy or successful’, ‘I’m ugly’, ‘I’m weak’, ‘I’m not interesting/intelligent/educated’, ‘People think I’m stupid’. Much of this thinking was from the way I was brought up and I had no self-confidence which led to my making a number of poor life decisions and constantly wondering why I didn’t fit in.
From my early 20s to my mid-30s, I had several traumatic/stressful events happen which led to a complete breakdown when I was 35, culminating in the panic attacks. The events went a bit like this: met my ex-husband at 23, had a tumultuous relationship with him for 6 years, changed my job twice in that time, split up with him, changed my job again, moved house, got back together after 6 months, got married, changed my job, got divorced after 3 years, lost my Dad, got burgled, got my car broken into, met someone new, split up after 6 months, changed my job, met someone new after 2 years, had a very happy life for 3 years, got engaged, moved in together, got married, changed my job, had a baby, changed my job 3 more times. So about 25 top life stresses in around 12 years; even though some of the latter ones were positive changes, they were still stressful and I found myself wondering when it would all go wrong, waiting for something awful to happen; typical fight or flight/anxiety thinking.
After being with my husband for 21 years now (we met when I was 35), it has only been in the last 3 years that I have overcome the panic attacks so they are not part of my everyday life anymore; they only occur in specific circumstances and I can cope relatively well at those times with breathing techniques and concentrating my thoughts.
In general, I’ve realised I still have a lot of negative self-talk and I am always trying to improve it, but I’m so busy, I just don’t spend the time I need which is very silly of me, as I would have had a much happier, more hopeful and positive life long ago if I had taken the time to manage my self-talk better when I was younger. But, hey! I’m doing it now!
I have been engaging closely with a therapist over the last two years which has completely changed my life. In addition, I have strengthened some friendships, including with Suzanne and, while reading ‘6 Ways to Relieve Stress’, I was particularly struck by no. 6, ‘Mindfulness’ and that is something I’m focusing on now.
Changing my thinking habits of a lifetime
Someone recently asked me ‘Are you a night owl or an early bird?’. I had a think about it for a few minutes, then answered ‘a bit of both, especially since I stopped working a few months ago’.
Having pondered on it some more, I realise I am not being as mindful as I could be regarding my self-talk. I’ve noticed that I have risen early ‘to get things done so I have the rest of the day free’ and stayed up late ‘to get things done so I don’t have to do them in the morning’ both of which have often led to tiredness and even exhaustion not to mention the associated stress!
Now, as an overthinker with anxiety, a workaholic with OCD for planning and getting things done – usually as much as possible in a day – and a creative entrepreneur with dreams of making a fortune from one of my ideas that will change peoples’ lives/the world, I’ve also noticed that there are many emotions attached to my practice of either getting up early or staying up late, and also to doing both.
Overall, I realise that my burning the candle at both ends, OCD, and quest for success just cause me totally unnecessary stress which is not healthy, but, if I break it down, there is a collection of unconscious thoughts and associated feelings and behaviours that are going on and I’m laying them out here to see if it will help someone recognise the same types of things in their life so they can be happier, replacing those thoughts so they lead to feelings of positivity, hope and confidence.
Usually, thoughts lead to feelings and feelings lead to behaviour – it is often the behaviour that is first noticeable, so I have started with that. However, it is actually the thoughts that need to be addressed in order to change the habit of unconscious negative self-talk and thus change the feelings and the behaviour.
|Recognised behaviour:||Rushing around and trying to get a multitude of things done in a day, always checking my lists to see what I can cross off, but often adding more things to do. |
Getting distracted by moving from task to task in a desperate bid to complete them all – trying to do 15 things at once syndrome! – and not really accomplishing many or any of them.
Constantly trying to keep up and get everything done all the time without any let-up – being exceptionally hard on myself to live up to what I think is expected of me
|Recognised Feelings:||Anxiety for failing to get all the things done that I planned to do that day/week/month/the last 5 years! |
Guilt for not living up to my own expectations and the assumed expectations of others.
Frustration and anger for not being organised and focused enough to get things done.
Annoyed that I didn’t enjoy doing all or some of them as much as I thought I would and wanted to.
Physical exhaustion from the pressure on mind and body after the busy day.
|Recognised negative self-talk/thoughts:||I’m getting old and there’s not as much time as there used to be – I must get it all done before it’s too late! Then I can relax and enjoy my life. |
If I can just catch up, then I’ll feel better, everything will be fine and I won’t have to worry anymore – I’ll be on top of things all the time.
I’m never going to catch up!
Someone’s going to criticise me for not being able to maintain my standards; I can’t even maintain my own standards!
If I can just get these things done today, I can concentrate on those things tomorrow.
I’m so useless at focusing on and finishing things
|Planned new behaviour:||Each day: Choose 2 things from my to-do lists to do tomorrow, prioritising something essential for my work/business, something essential for a current home project, plus something essential to my wellbeing and happiness – crafting, menu planning, reading, gardening/allotment, learning. |
Ensure I take care of my wellbeing before I start and during each task – have breakfast, drink plenty of water and eat throughout the day, take regular breaks to reflect on what I’m doing, and how it is going.
Do the tasks in any order and record what thoughts and feelings come about so I can address them and make sure I use positive self-talk which becomes a habit.
Stop worrying about what I have to do next and all the things on my lists that ‘have to be done’ – be in the moment/mindful of what I am thinking and ensure it is positive
Take my time; step back and look at what I’ve achieved and congratulate myself on the outcome, avoiding negative self-criticism, and using positive feedback comments/thoughts to retain hope and interest.
Notice the self-talk and change negative comments to positive alternatives: ‘I’m never going to finish this’ to ‘I’m making some great progress with this’
|Planned new thoughts||‘Slow down and be in the moment to enjoy doing each task’|
‘I’m making some great progress!’.
‘Just do one thing at a time and focus completely on it; I don’t have to do it by a certain time or finish it if I don’t feel up to it – there is plenty of time and I can finish it another time so I can relax and ensure I get the best outcome for me’.
‘I’m getting good at focusing and organising my tasks and I’m working my way through my list at a pace I can manage without stressing about time – everything will get done and I can enjoy life in-between’.
Well done, me! I deserve a reward and I’m going to enjoy a bubble bath/time sitting in the sun/a walk on the beach.
|Expected new feelings||Deep satisfaction with what I have accomplished each day and that I enjoyed doing it: contentment|
Confidence that I can organise my tasks effectively, develop the habit of positive self-talk and manage my feelings and behaviours: self-esteem
Positively energised from what I have achieved and able to relax ready for the next day I have planned
Happiness and hope for all the things I can do going forward.
I hope this is useful in helping people think about their self-talk, their unconscious self-talk, and how they can plan any changes that will make their life happier.
I would like to recommend my wonderful Therapist and her excellent resources here:
Marlene Rose Shaw – Qualified Therapist and Author of ‘Out of Fear Into Love: Life Doesn’t have to be a Struggle’ and ‘How Kind People Get Tough’
Facebook: My Exceptional Life
Thank You, Sonya!
Thank you Sonya for your touching and insightful article and opening up about your experiences. Often we carry this ‘outer persona’ which sometimes gets extra heavy and we buckle under its weight. We can appear confident, in charge, capable, and ‘superwoman’ to those on the outside when internally we are fighting our own demons and insecurities.