I’ve toyed with writing this post for months. I’ve started it about 700 times this morning already. And then deleted the first sentence every time. I started in 2014, then left it half finished, languishing as a draft til the New Year rolled around. The thing is, I learned a lot about myself last year. I’ve learned that, actually, I can do a whole load of stuff if I set my mind to it. I’ve learned that if there’s one word to describe me, it’s determined. I’ve learned that I can really push myself. But this process has also taught me, that actually, I’m not particularly nice to myself on a day to day basis.
OK. Time for some real talk (and it appears that there has become quite a lot of it). Hands up who has referred to themselves as “an idiot”? Who’s called themselves “stupid” or looked in the mirror and said they looked “disgusting”? Who has described their behaviour as “pathetic” or “ridiculous”? Who has called themselves “useless” when they’ve failed to do something trivial, like forgetting to pick up cheese from the supermarket? We all do it. And we all do it too much. Every woman I know, at one time or another, has spoken to themselves or about themselves in a way they wouldn’t even dream of talking about their friends or family. This is having a massively negative impact on their lives – on our lives. And it has got to stop.
Negative self talk is an epidemic that is, I think, particularly prevalent amongst my generation. There are so many pressures to be perfect, to live life to the full, to seize every opportunity that comes our way, sometimes it seems like we, I, are setting ourselves up for failure. And that’s where our inner monologue can become cruel and unreasonable. First up – I think it’s important to say – we are not failing. We’re hounded by bad news stories of an apathetic generation with little to no direction but when I think about some of the incredible people I know who are around my age – be they friends, colleagues, family – I am in awe of their strength, courage, spirit, determination, drive, dedication (yeah, damn right I’m talking to you reading this, you’re an absolute ROCK STAR).
So how do we combat this culture of negative self talk? How do we deal with it, so that we can become healthier, happier people who are more kind to themselves? Or are just as kind to themselves as they are to others? I’ve been reading around this topic for a while now and I’ve gathered up a couple of ideas.
- Be forgiving. You know, you don’t have to be perfect all the time. You don’t have to get everything right, every time. To paraphrase pretty much everything that’s ever been written about challenges, ever – these things are sent to try us and they are what makes us into stronger human beings. So next time you make an ill-judged joke in front of a colleague, fall over on the bus or even something a bit bigger, don’t beat yourself up over it. Take a breath and, in the immortal words of Taylor Swift, Shake it Off. Listen to the song too, if it helps.
- Talking of breathing, I find being mindful is also a really good way to check the negative thoughts when they creep in. There’s an exercise I learned from Headspace where you visualise all of your thoughts as trains passing by. You watch then move past you, but you don’t engage with them. I think that’s the way we should approach negative self talk. Engage with the positive thoughts and let the negative ones about yourself drift off. The more we do this, the more we let go of these negative vibes, the less frequent they’ll be, and the only trains stopping at your station will be good vibes.
- Celebrate. Let’s face it, we’re British, so celebrating our own achievements is not high on our day to day agenda. We’re all guilty of entertaining bad thoughts about the things we’ve done, but what about all the great stuff we’ve done? These don’t have to be things like running marathons – some days getting out of bed is an achievement! Pulling on your stuff to go for a run is a win in itself! Making that delicious dinner for yourself – chalk that up as a reason to give yourself a bit of praise. Because let’s face it, little victories build up to something bigger. And you’re working your backside off, so take a moment to celebrate that.
- Don’t give up. Something is bound to come along that will make you feel crappy and will let those thoughts creep back into the mainstream media of your day-to-day life, so don’t punish yourself when this happens. That is a sure fire way to get back into the crippling vortex of negative self talk. If it happens a couple of times – let it. Don’t be consumed by it. And don’t give up on trying to beat it. Take every day as a new opportunity to be brilliant and to be kind to your badself.
A couple of months ago, I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Though I don’t advocate all of her approaches to life, there are definitely a couple of things in there that I think everyone can learn a lot from, notably her 12 Happiness Commandments (this sounds a bit wanky but bear with me). This is a list Rubin put together at the start of her year long Happiness Project, a handful of overarching principles by which she tries to live. Since reading The Happiness Project, I’ve been trying to create my own set of rules and it was at this point I realised, actually how hard I am on my self.
I haven’t created a full list of commandments, but I have a few to start me off. If you’re interested, these are those:
- Heaviness is easy, lightness is not
- Don’t be so hard on yourself – speak to yourself the way you speak to others
- Make time to learn
- Don’t read so passively
- Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles, it empties today of its strength
- Exercise for sanity, not vanity / be strong, not skinny.
I’ve also been reading the wonderful FatGirlPHD‘s #30DaysofGoodStuff this month and she certainly
puts these things it better sentences than me (that actually just happened, that’s not even for effect) she is quite the positive thinking warrior, so drop by her blog if you’re looking for a bit more of this kind of thing. I also love reading Bangs and a Bun if I want to give my head a wobble and need a bit of life direction. I especially enjoyed her new podcast. You can also check out my inspirations board on Pinterest if you want some wise words from some other people.
This is a completely different kind of post for me and I feel weirdly nervous about it. Let me know what you thought about it in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you! Especially because it turned into something totally mammoth, so if you made it to the end of the post, GO YOU. That is a victory for today.
UPDATE: An edited version of this only bloody well got published on Huffington Post! WAAAAH!