I talk to myself. All the time. If you see me walking down the street alone, you’ll probably see me talking to myself. It’s how I plan and process ideas. If it stays in my head and doesn’t come out of my mouth, it’s not tangible to me. It’s just the way I work.
I know I look crazy, but it’s not really something I can stop doing.
I also run into things and fall. All the time. I’ve had many a friend laugh at my stumbles over the years. I’ve actually got great balance, just no spatial awareness. The other day, I twisted my ankle walking down unfamiliar steps because I was reading my email. I fell, cursed, checked my ankle (it was fine), and then looked around immediately to see if anyone saw me. No signs of life. Hooray! Just then a security guard walked up and said, “Are you ok, Ma’am?” I laughed and said, “Oh, I’m just learning the lesson: Don’t look at your phone while walking down stairs.” He laughed, too and we went our separate ways.
Now, I could walk around for the rest of the day thinking about this incident. I could be mortified and beat myself up about how dumb it was, how much of an idiot I am, and how I should pay better attention, damnit! Or I can learn the lesson, laugh at myself, acknowledge that I’m a human being who makes mistakes (that security guard is human, too, by the way), and move on with my life. I choose the latter.
Because it’s a choice.
But the choice isn’t, “Care or don’t care about what other people think.” The choice is really, “Love and trust myself or don’t.”
I know I’m not crazy. I know I’m not an idiot. So why would I care if someone else thinks I am because of some momentary interaction?
Is this choice always easy? HELL NO. It takes a lot of time and practice. This is especially true if you’ve spent most of your life valuing external opinions and devaluing your own, relentlessly chiding yourself when you make a mistake, are in a bad mood, or fail at something. In the therapeutic world, we call this “negative self-talk” and in my opinion it’s one of the best places to begin when you want to stop caring so much about what others think.
So, how do you get rid of negative self-talk? I’ve got some suggestions…
1. Look at the actual evidence
Are you really an idiot who can’t get anything done? Or are you a person who screws something up every once in awhile? When we’ve done something wrong, get embarrassed, or someone criticizes us we often feel shame. Not guilt, but shame. As the researcher Brené Brown has noted, guilt tells us “I’ve done something bad”, while shame says, “I am bad.” Big difference there. That voice saying, “You’re stupid! What were you thinking! They’re all gonna laugh at you!” is shame. Give shame a reality check. Are you really dumb? Nope. Are they really all gonna laugh you? Nah. (Unless you’re a comedian and you want them to. But even then, not everyone is gonna laugh. Sorry.) When you look at the evidence, you’ll probably find that much of it is contrary to that nasty negative self-talk. If you have trouble finding that better evidence, keep digging. It’s there. I know it.
2. Talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend
I say this one all the time, but it bears repeating. If you really can’t seem to talk to yourself in a helpful, loving way then think about how you would talk to a friend who was in your situation. Would you say hateful, mean things to your friend, calling them stupid over and over again and dwelling on their mistakes? Or would you try to comfort them, contradict their shame, and offer to help out? My guess is you’d choose the second option (if you’d do the first, I doubt you’d be reading this blog). So why do you deserve any different? Because you know better? Because you just should be perfect all the time? Nonsense. Why should you be perfect when everyone else gets to make mistakes? Talk to yourself in that same comforting, reasonable voice you talk to your friends with. You might not believe it at first. It’ll probably feel weird. Do it anyway. Just try it a few times and see what happens.
3. Forgive yourself
YOU ARE A HUMAN BEING. I’m sorry, but you’re not a robot. Not yet… You are imperfect and you always will be. None of us are perfect. What even is a perfect person, anyway? If you think about it, the opinions on perfection vary pretty widely. So how can you possibly live up to anyone’s expectations? Be you and when you screw up, and you will, forgive yourself. Sometimes that even means forgiving yourself for talking to yourself badly.
My father died in May after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. This last year, I was just not myself a lot of the time. It was hard to function normally. I made some mistakes in that time and I’ve worked hard on forgiving myself for them. Recently my energy healer (yes, I’ve got one of those) said, “You might need to forgive yourself for judging yourself.” That was hard to wrap my head around. But really, it’s about forgiving myself for that negative self-talk. Because sometimes when we catch ourselves talking to ourselves badly, we can then get down on ourselves for getting down on ourselves! Isn’t that ridiculous? Just writing that sentence feels ridiculous. So, when you hear that negative self-talk, shut it down and try not to judge yourself for judging yourself. Forgive yourself. It’s ok. You’re human.
4. Find the lessons
Talking nice to yourself doesn’t mean you get to get away with not learning anything. Life is trial and error. When you make a mistake, think about how the mistake was made, and then decide whether you want to make it again. Error is useful, but you get no use out of focusing on the error and freaking out about it. Stop, look at what happened, learn the lesson, and try again. I like to think of my computer engineer brother who essentially figures out how errors occur for a living. Understanding how something happened is useful, but you can’t learn if you’re stuck in a shame sprial. Like I said when I fell down those stairs, “Whelp, that’s why you don’t walk and stare at your phone at the same time.” It’s a lesson – a funny one – and that’s all it has to be.
5. Remember: No one really cares what you do
It’s a paradox: People are watching and they aren’t. Most people are so wrapped up in their own lives that they really aren’t paying much attention to what you’re doing. But when they do notice and say something, it’s helpful to trust and love yourself, so it’s easier to brush it off. Because…
When you’re more centered within yourself, you’re less likely to get thrown around by the opinions and actions of others.
Now I want to hear from YOU! How does negative self-talk affect your opinion of yourself? What helps you let go of how others think of you? How can you apply these steps to your creative work? Leave a comment or question and I’ll be so happy to answer.