Following a recent heart-to-heart conversation with a close friend about life choices, I found myself pondering a particular question: “If you looked at your inner voice as a separate person in your life, would you be friends with her?”
My immediate answer — a resounding ‘no,’ prompts me to consciously watch and better train my ‘inner friend.’ Negative thinking, a perilous and all-too-common part of the human condition, places us at odds with our own better self and gives credence to the adage, “You are your own worst enemy.” For most of us, this negative commentary is a well-established pattern,. It’s self-programming of sorts, and it slips beneath our mental-health radar because it’s frequently subconscious.
According to National Science Foundation statistics, the average person thinks roughly 12,000 thoughts per day. A deeper thinker cranks out 50,000 thoughts daily. That’s an incredible number of thoughts running around, and if you’re anything like me, some are certain to be self-deprecating.
Unwilling to accept the status quo, I’ve decided to alter the tone of my inner voice from judgmental to constructive and positive. I discovered 3 key points that I found most helpful in changing some of my knee-jerk negative thought patterns.
Observe your own mind at work
The first step is to really tune in to the intricate workings of your mind. Observe your responses to daily events, focusing on subtleties of thought. Most of us have blatant, instantaneous responses to critical events of our day. For example, if criticized by our boss in public, our transparent response would very likely be embarrassment accompanied by some anger at the insensitivity of our superior.
However, the more concealed thoughts might be even more harmful. Self-loathing, shame and worthlessness are far more detrimental to the human psyche. We need to carefully monitor our minds for these subtle but insidious thoughts which can be so damaging to our happiness and self-esteem.
Retrain your brain
Whenever a negative thought wriggles into your mind, immediately follow that notion with a positive one. Work at becoming your own loving parent, making an effort to correct that faulty inner voice; teach yourself to see things from a more positive and productive perspective.
It’s helpful to consciously work on accepting and loving yourself as you are, which makes it so much easier to give ourselves a “pass” when we fail to live up to some impossible standard that we or society has set. And for those of us who typically count ourselves as paragons of emotional health given our current levels of happiness and success, we can ill afford to ignore the inevitable. Sooner or later, all of us will come to that moment when life simply hands us a catastrophe that rocks the foundations of our self-perceptions. In such a crisis, even the strongest of us will need to rely upon our previous training to find some encouragement in the dark days that face us. Fortunately, for those of us who have done our homework, we will have a positive wellspring from which to draw and sustain that brighter day.
Be patient with yourself
Negative self-talk is wired into the brain over time. Most of us have experienced some form of that negative internal voice all of our lives. It is most often a compilation of our childhood experiences (how our parents raised us), the impact of our educational system, diverse and incessant peer commentary, workplace criticisms and societal positioning. This negative element of the inner voice is firmly entrenched by adulthood and requires considerable time and effort to retrain. New learners need to be patient with themselves and be alert to the likelihood that the negative wiring will resist attempts to establish a more positive circuitry.
Finally, it helps to refuse to take yourself too seriously. To be able to laugh at ourselves and embrace the diversity of the human psyche as fascinating, surprising and heartwarming — is one of the great joys in life. If we retain faith in ourselves, in our inclination to move in positive directions and in our power to do so, we can accomplish almost anything. Ultimately, we must acknowledge that we deserve to be happy and that the key to our happiness resides within us, including a healthy internal voice, now whispering words of compassion, understanding and love.