Paying Attention to Your Inner Voice
How we talk to ourselves has a direct relationship to how we feel and what we do. This has been documented in psychological research (see references below) and there is a correlation between self criticism and feeling crap. You can see for yourself how true this is by paying attention to your inner voice. If your inner voice is hard to notice at first in daily life, you could pick an activity that you’d like to be able to do well, but haven’t clocked up the hours yet to be able to do well in it. It could be drawing or painting or parkour, for example.
Your Inner Voice Affects How You Feel and Behave
Having set aside some time for this activity you can notice how positive or negative your self talk is while you do the activity. My self talk says different things depending on the activity. When I go climbing, for example, it might say, “I can’t do this,” or “it’s too hard.” Or, if I’m painting, it might say, “this is rubbish!” It can even start before the activity which makes me procrastinate or even postpone the activity.
Our Culture Promotes Self Criticism
When I first started noticing how critical I was of myself I was shocked. It was so normal to me, like breathing. I think it’s this way partly because our culture promotes it. There are myriad adverts telling us we’re not good enough in various ways so they can sell us products that will make them rich. No wonder there are so many people with mental health conditions!
Get Data on Your Inner Voice
You might notice your inner voice in everyday life. If you pass a mirror, for example, and notice you’re saying uncomplimentary things about your image. Or maybe your clothes feel tight and you label yourself as “fat” and “fat” means something derogatory for you at that moment. As you notice your self talk, you might like to record, in some way, how it makes you feel and behave. You could use a journal or a video diary or some other way that you devise for yourself.
Three Little Words to Counteract Self Criticism
Sometimes the inner critic is so subtle that I don’t even catch words; it’s a feeling that makes me think, “I don’t want to do this activity now”. If the consequences of your self talk are not what you’d like, there are some things you can do. One is to say, “and that’s okay,” every time you notice it making you feel bad. When I first came across this simple concept, I felt scornful and thought it was twee – hmmm, that critical voice sounds familiar! I tried it anyway and it worked. I use it whenever I notice that harsh voice saying nasty things. These three little words can make a massive difference. Could you be kinder to yourself?
CASEMORE, R. and TUDWAY.J., 2012. Person-centred Therapy and CBT. Los Angeles and London: Sage.
MCKAY, D., and TRYON, W.W., 2002. Behavioral Therapy: Theoretical Bases. Encyclopedia of Psychotherapy. 1, pp. 277-291.
SEGAL, Z.V., WILLIAMS, J.M.G., and TEASDALE, J.D., 2018. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression. 2nd ed. New York: The Guilford Press.