Self-Talk: What You Say to Yourself Determines Your Experience

by Sandra Zimmer

"Words, words, words" says Hamlet in Shakespeareís greatest play about the human mind. Hamlet is trapped in indecision because his head is full of words. Sometimes the words say one thing, sometimes another. Hamlet cannot act with clarity and love because he cannot get beyond the self-talk inside his own mind.

Self-talk plays an important role in stage fright and performance anxiety. Many of the symptoms of stage fright are either triggered or intensified by the way we talk to ourselves inside our minds. This chapter will help you identify your negative self-talk, challenge it and change it to supportive self-talk. Talking to yourself in nurturing and supportive ways will be an important tool for healing the tension of being the center of attention.

WHAT IS SELF-TALK?

Self-talk is what we say to ourselves inside our mind. It is the steady stream of words that play constantly in the mind. For many people, the verbiage never stops. Everything we see and feel and experience is translated into words that become a running dialogue inside our head.

Self-talk is conditioned patterns of thinking. The talk can be positive or negative, loving or critical. Whether positive or negative, how we talk to ourselves creates our experience. Our conditioned ways of thinking generate emotions and activate behaviors. Our whole way of being, acting and feeling is influenced by how we think and talk to ourselves.

HOW SELF-TALK RELATES TO STAGE FRIGHT

How you talk to yourself creates your emotional experience. Thoughts generate feelings. In stage fright, negative self-talk begins as soon as you know you are going to have to present, speak, perform or communicate. The physical body is instantly filled with negative feelings. To make matters worse, self-judgment and perfectionism then kick in. You begin to judge yourself for feeling fear and anxiety. You tell yourself that you are wrong because you experience negative feelings. That compounds the problem and creates even more bad feeling. So it goes round and round and escalates until your body is so flooded with fear and so tense that you are unable to function effectively.

PERFECTIONISM

Perfectionism is at the root of this pattern. We expect we "should be" perfect. Anything less is unacceptable to our mind. Deep down we know that we are not perfect and that we have fear like other people. But the mind cannot or will not accept that fact. It attempts to uphold an image of perfection that does not include the possibility of human weakness. The mind knows we canít live up to our own expectations.

As soon as we have to "perform", we risk judgment from others. Our self-talk begins to remind us how very imperfect we are and how the situation is going to turn out badly. After all, there is no way to be perfect, so we have already failed.

This unsupportive self-talk kicks in so quickly and is so automatic that we donít even know it is going on under the surface of awareness. Becoming aware of your inner self-talk lets you know what thoughts are running your feelings and behaviors.

In stage fright, perfectionistic patterns of thinking are running the show. You have no chance of success at presentation until you completely identify them, hear them inside your head, challenge them and change them.

In order to be really successful at presentation, performance or communication, we must risk showing others our authentic self, even if it means admitting fear and anxiety. What the perfectionistic mind does not understand is that human imperfection and emotional vulnerability are compelling. Our willingness to reveal our humanity makes us magnetic to others. Even more, authenticity, in all its imperfection, is the way to power. In order to become all we can be, we must give up perfectionism and surrender to being authentic.

HOW TO TRANSFORM NEGATIVE SELF-TALK INTO SUPPORTIVE SELF-TALK

Many people are not even aware they are talking critically to themselves. Negative self-talk has become so automatic and happens so fast that the thoughts donít even register consciously. To transform negative into supportive self-talk, you have to catch it, identify it, challenge it and change it. To become aware of your self-talk, ask yourself what you know or believe about yourself that you are afraid for others to find out. What is it that deep down you do not want anyone else to see? This will begin to stir up some awareness of the fear that is lurking deep within yourself. Do some writing and fill in the blanks.

"What I donít want anyone to know is __________________."

"What I donít want anyone to see is __________________."

CATCH THE NEGATIVE SELF-TALK

Once you have uncovered what you are protecting, start to listen inside your head to catch the things your mind is saying. If you are not used to listening to yourself, it may take a while to catch the phrases. Keep a pad of paper available to help you in the process. When you catch a piece of self-talk, write it down. For a week or two, just listen and catch your self-talk. Donít try to change it. Just listen and write down the messages as if you are taking dictation and are a curious observer.

Please donít judge yourself for it. This negating self-talk is a part of our human condition. It is in every one of us and it challenges every person in the process of growth and evolution. So rejoice that you are far enough in your growth to be working on it. It is huge to face this!

CHALLENGE YOUR SELF-TALK

Once you have become super-aware of the negative stuff you are saying to yourself, you must next begin to challenge the self-talk as it comes up. When you hear yourself say something to yourself that is critical or self-judging, you must stop it. Say "STOP" in your head. Then challenge that thought by asking "Is that the truth? Is that the real truth?" Question the validity of your self-talk until it diminishes and dies. Most of the time, the negative self-talk is not true. Get it that your negative thoughts are simply not true.

CHANGE THE NEGATIVE SELF-TALK

Once you understand that the negative thought is not the truth about you, then you must replace the thought with the real truth. Now ask yourself, "What IS the truth?" Then tell yourself what is really true. It will usually be something that is between the extremes.

You will feel yourself relax when you are telling yourself the authentic truth. However, you may struggle for a while. You will have to continue to catch, challenge and replace your self-talk for a long time. Every time your negative self-talk starts, you will again have to say, "STOP! Is that the truth? What is the truth? The truth about me is ________________."

When you change a small part of negative self-talk you will begin to unravel a whole string of negative thoughts and beliefs about yourself that are unsupportive. You will change rapidly, feel lighter, stronger, more confident and more joyous!

KINDS OF NEGATIVE SELF-TALK

There are five kinds of negative self-talk that I have identified:

  1. About your feelings
  2. About your performance and the outcome
  3. About your abilities
  4. About your beingness and essential value
  5. About what others will think of you

These kinds of negative self-talk function as patterns of thinking. The patterns are not very original, but they are quite common. When you expose them to light of consciousness, they are almost silly and sound stereotypical. Yet, most of us allow these patterns to run in our heads and to control our actions and emotions.

THE NEGATIVE SELF-TALK PATTERNS AND THEIR SUPPORTIVE REPLACEMENTS

Examine the following patterns and see which one(s) hit home for you. After each negative thought pattern, I have written a suggestion for a supportive self-talk replacement. Please feel free to use mine or write your own.

SELF TALK ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS - JUDGING YOUR FEELINGS

Negative self-talk: I am afraid. There is something wrong with me because I feel this fear. What is wrong with me? Everyone else looks like they are comfortable. I am the only one who is afraid.

Supportive Self-Talk: I have fear like everyone else. I am human like everyone else. I accept myself as a human being who sometimes feels fear. I am going to learn to release this fear. Meanwhile, I will do the best I can and love myself anyway.

SELF-TALK ABOUT YOUR PERFORMANCE

Negative Self-Talk: I am going to fail. I am going to mess up and when I do, it will have terrible consequences. I will be humiliated and I may lose my job.

Supportive Self-Talk: I surrender the outcome of my talk to a higher power. I ask spirit to support me and speak through me. I will be successful with Godís support. I am not doing this alone. I am sharing myself for the highest good. This situation is not about my performance. It is about what I can contribute to others. I will succeed in sharing my gift with others.

SELF-TALK ABOUT YOUR ABILITIES

Negative Self-Talk: Iím not good enough. Other people are much better than I am so I will just let someone else do it. Iím not smart enough. I donít have the right credentials or training or experience. So I wonít even try. Whatís the use? Iíll fail anyway.

Supportive Self-Talk: I am good enough. I can do it. I can and will give my gifts. I am capable. I do not have to know everything. I will do the best I know how and learn everything else along the way.

SELF-TALK ABOUT YOUR BEINGNESS AND ESSENTIAL VALUE

Negative Self-Talk: I am nothing. I am no good. I will never amount to anything. I hate myself. I am a bad person.

Supportive Self-Talk: I am valuable. I value myself. I love myself. I accept myself just as I am. I am a child of God and I am living energy of love.

SELF-TALK ABOUT WHAT OTHERS THINK OF YOU

Negative Self-Talk: No one likes me/loves me. They think I am stupid, ugly, bad, wrong, incompetent, and unlovable. They do not want to be with me. They will never like me.

Supportive Self-Talk: I choose to love and accept others. What they think of me is none of my business. I share myself and my love with others freely.

MORE ABOUT PERFECTIONISM

Negative Self-Talk is often rooted in perfectionism and is most often about not doing and being "good enough". "Good enough" in negative self-talk is always perfect. Since no one can ever be perfect, the mind criticizes and judges the self harshly.

Until you root out perfectionism from your consciousness, you will always be judging yourself. You will always be setting yourself up for failure, because the truth is you will never be perfect. Even your best will never be perfect. So please let go of perfectionism so you can feel free to give your best.

SUPPORT YOURSELF

When you let go of the need to be perfect, you can begin to nurture and support your authentic self. Self-talk can become a way of supporting yourself. Ultimately, no one elseís support matters. What matters is that you support yourself. You are the only person whose opinion of yourself really matters. You are the only one who can truly validate yourself.

Sooner or later, if you want to be powerful or loving, you must validate and support yourself. I have come to believe that people who are the most powerful and loving are those who have learned to talk to themselves in loving and supportive ways. Take charge of your self-talk. Begin now to talk to yourself in the way you have always wanted others (especially parents) to speak to you. Only you know how you always wanted to be nurtured and supported. Right now begin to give it to yourself. here is no power in waiting for others to give it to you. The truth is that until you give it to yourself, you wonít be able to accept it from others.

The above article was written by Sandra Zimmer. Feel free to reproduce it and share it with anyone else, as long as you include this by line and contact information.

MEET SANDRA ZIMMER.
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