Before you read further, stop and notice of what you are thinking in the moment. Is it something positive or something negative?
From the time we wake up until we fall asleep at night, our thoughts run wild.
Research conducted by psychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D. shows that our brains are hardwired to focus on negative things and ignore good ones. It’s called the “negativity bias”. In fact, 70-80% of the thoughts we think each day may be negative.
Thoughts occur randomly, and it seems like we can’t control them. However, you do have the power to take control of your mind and turn many of those negative thoughts into positive ones.
What you say to yourself matters. It may even be the most important factor in how happy, fulfilled, and successful you are during this lifetime.
Self-esteem refers to how confident you are in your abilities and how well you think about yourself.
Your level of self-esteem determines how well you cope with difficulties, how resilient you are, what opportunities or risks you choose to embark on, the health of your relationships, your level of mental health, and even the health of your physical body.
If you work to raise your self-esteem, you will change your entire life – for the better.
But how do you do that?
The best way to turn that negative inner critic of yours into a positive and supportive advocate is by taking notice of your thoughts and consciously changing them into something positive.
Cognitive distortions are tricks your mind plays to get you to believe things that aren’t true. When you have a negative thought, such as, “Nothing ever goes my way”, your brain uses these tricks to convince you that it’s true, even if it’s not.
For example, one form of cognitive distortion is overgeneralization. You take one incident and assume that it applies to all situations, now and forever. Another one is called “filtering” because you look at a situation, filter out all the positive aspects and focus on the negative ones instead.
If you remind yourself throughout the day to start noticing when that inner critic is spouting off those negative thoughts, you can catch yourself. And if you take the time to consider the cognitive distortions you’re using to convince yourself that it’s true, you can put a stop to it.
Tips from Science to Help Tame Your Inner Critic
Scientists have studied the effects that negative self-talk has on both physical and mental health. Our thoughts are quite powerful. Here are some tips you can implement today to help turn that inner critic into an inner advocate.
1. Use the Third Person
Psychologist Ethan Kross did experiments to determine how self-talk influences your behavior, and he discovered that referring to yourself in the third-person has many benefits that work together to raise your self-esteem.
For example, instead of telling yourself “I should make that phone call”, say “Mary, you should make that phone call”.
Referring to yourself in the third person creates an emotional distance. You will be more rational, observe more clearly, and treat yourself more kindly. You will also gain focus, enhance self-control, ruminate less once an event is over, and increase your chances of successfully completing activities.
2. Use Positive Affirmations
Using affirmations might seem like a bunch of New-Age nonsense, but science shows that it does help. Psychologist Clayton Critcher at the University of California Berkley found that using positive affirmations (e.g., “I am strong and capable”) cushions us from negative criticism. Affirmations also empower us to stand up to outside threats, as well as persevere during difficult situations.
3. Use Instructional Self Talk
Using instructions to talk yourself through a situation has been shown to increase self-confidence and reduce anxiety, as well as improve your technique when you complete a task. For example, say, “Ok, first grab that handle. Then….”
In conclusion, you can raise your self-esteem if you start to notice that inner critic and gently work to turn it into a positive supporter instead.
Negative self-talk happens, so don’t fight it. If you focus on it, it will persist. Instead, gently notice it, choose a more positive thought, and just let the negative ones pass through.
“More often than not” is a powerful saying. Embracing a “More often than not” mentality increases motivation and makes reaching goals a possibility.
Creating good habits, whether they be work habits, exercise habits, or eating habits, requires goals. It takes time to bring our goals into alignment with the realities of lifestyle and schedule. This means that during that period of alignment, failure is inevitable. Instead of thinking, “I failed because I only implemented my new goal 4 out of 7 days this week”, think, “I implemented my goal more times this week than I did before I set the goal.” In other words, I reached my goal more often than not. This subtle shift of thinking makes way for motivation, rather than triggering feelings of failure and doubt.
What do you believe about forming a new habit? Before setting your goals, it’s important to understand the truth about forming habits. How long does it really take for this to become second nature? How long until it isn’t such an effort? New studies have revealed that the old saying, “It takes 21 days to build a new habit” is actually false. The length of time to create a new habit can take anywhere from 2-8 months, and the process is one of falling down and getting back up again. So instead of feeling like a failure if you don’t hit the mark 7/7 times, take a look at how often you did hit your target. Success comes when we have agile expectations. And when you fall, fall forward and take aim again tomorrow.