Whether you refer to it as stream of consciousness or call it that inner voice, we all have thousands of thought bubbles-both positive and negative-wafting through the expansive caverns of our minds, helping to set our mood for the day. What many people do not know is that we have far more control over which direction our days will go, than we might realize.
Let’s refer to the pessimistic thought bubbles as “negative self-talk,” and look at four examples of how an inner dialogue might go. I am going to focus on these four because there is a cause-and-effect thing happening here, and several of the negative self-talk concepts are closely related.
Catastrophizing is a long word that should be easy to define by the context of the word catastrophe. It simply means to approach an event or responsibility with an ominous sense of impending disaster. Are you starting a new job? One that you are certain will be challenging? Are you fixated with past punctuality issues, and worried that you are going too go through it all again?
As challenging as it is to do, I have found I can turn off the negative self-talk voice by refusing to follow its line of reasoning. I will also counter it with logic as in, “I know I have had this issue, but am going to start from Day One to address it by setting my alarm clock a half-hour earlier than I used to, by having my lunch already made and by keeping the gas tank on my car more than halfway filled, so that I never have to stop for gas on the way to work.”
Catastrophizing goes hand-in-hand with “What-if?” questions, and both should be avoided at all costs. For instance, “What if I get a flat tire on the way to work my first day, and am late?” is an example of “What-if?” thinking.
It builds up a sense of impending disaster, when there is no need on earth to do so. Because I am afraid I will mess up, invariably I will find a way to do so, and anger the boss at the same time.
Filtering is another self-talk concept which simply means that in examining any given situation, one filters out all that happened that was good, and focuses on what went wrong. You had a good day and your coworkers made sure you knew they appreciated it, but you remain disconcerted by the fact that you stuck your foot in your mouth at lunch, right when everyone was listening. You get overwhelmed by how bad it all sounds but forget that most of the day was quite productive.
Black and white thinking is another self-talk mode, one which involves seeing a situation as all-good or all-bad, instead of recognizing that things are far more likely to end up somewhere in the middle.
|That's me all right...|
For me it comes down to last night when, for the second evening in a row, I was so wiped out that despite having kids over both nights, I ended up skipping the meal and going to bed. I was not in a bad space, just too tired to care about eating. It makes no sense to me to eat when I am so tired I can’t even appreciate how tasty it is.
Meanwhile, now my brain wants to complicate matters by catastrophizing: “I bet everyone is angry at me because I am antisocial,” as opposed to, “I bet everyone is a little worried about me because I am so tired.” There is no reason for me to assume something negative.
My brain wants to ask "What-if?" questions, as in, “What if they think I went to bed because I was mad they were here?” instead of saying, “They obviously see that I am so tired I don’t even want to eat” so the fact that they are there has no bearing on the case, because I can go to bed any time I want.
My brain wants to filter out that the kids did not come here to see me, so much as they came here after a hard day to eat some Mama-Made grub. Nothing happened to prevent them from having a delicious dinner, because all I did was fade into the background without so much as a whimper.
What occurred was still a pleasant evening for everyone, that might have been a little more complete, had I been in attendance, but was not affected adversely by my absence.
The fact that I had already been up for eighteen hours, even with an afternoon nap, simply left me too tired to make the effort to remain upright. If I had been indulging in alcohol, I could skipped that step, but no such luck.
Water is still my beverage of choice, so I can’t blame booze. In fact that is the whole point of this post: There is no blame to assign so let’s move on.
Negative self-talk is about examining events or scenarios-either in the future or in the past-and continuously choosing to follow a path of pessimism. Overcoming negative self-talk not only leaves you with more energy for the task(s) at hand, it gives you a huge boost to know that you are far more likely to experience success with a positive outlook, than with a negative one.
I looked at four examples of negative self-talk, but there are at least fifteen altogether. To be aware that these inner, mood-changing modes of thinking exist, is to be one step ahead in charting a positive course through life.
Speaking for myself, I need all the help I can get.