If you find yourself chronically unhappy, anxious, or self-critical, there’s a good chance that the problem lies in your self-talk—the voice inside your head narrating the events of your daily life.
And while everybody experiences self-talk, some people’s is overly negative and extreme:
- God, why I’m I such an idiot?!
- I knew she’d hate this place. I don’t know why I even try…
- If only I was more confident, everything would be easier.
If this sounds like you, it’s very possible that the source of your unhappiness is your habits of negative self-talk.
Because here’s the deal:
The way we habitually talk to ourselves determines the way we habitually feel.
Luckily, it’s possible to undo these patterns of negative self-talk and free yourself from the anxiety, shame, and unhappiness that comes from them.
And the first step is to become more aware of your negative self-talk. What follows are 5 of the most common negative self-talk scripts that make people miserable.
Learn to spot them in your own life and you’ll be well on your way to gentler moods and a happier mind.
1. Judging Your Emotions
Read this very slowly:
Never judge yourself for how you feel.
The reason is simple: You can’t control how you feel directly. And it doesn’t make any sense to judge yourself for things you can’t control.
- I shouldn’t feel so anxious all the time…
- Something’s wrong… I shouldn’t feel so sad on my first day of retirement.
- Why do I always feel so down? I have a great life, I should be happy.
Judging yourself for how you feel is as nonsensical as judging yourself for how tall you are.
Unfortunately, when you get into the habit of being judgmental about your emotions and feelings, you create a no-win scenario for yourself and end up feeling bad for feeling bad. And that is a set-up for chronic unhappiness.
So, stop telling yourself how you should feel and start accepting whatever feelings come along.
You may not like feeling bad, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad to feel that way.
Have you ever thought things like this to yourself:
- Ugh, I’m such an idiot!
- Why am I such a failure all the time?
- I’m such a jerk. No wonder people don’t ever stay…
Newsflash: You are not “such a” anything.
You are a human being, which means you are almost infinitely complex and nuanced.
Think about it:
- Sure, you may feel stupid a lot of the time around your peers, but that doesn’t mean anything about your intelligence.
- You may feel like a failure anytime you make a mistake, but that doesn’t mean you are a failure.
- It might seem like you’re a jerk in the moment after acting like one, but that doesn’t mean you are always a jerk.
Now, you may understand what I’m saying intellectually. But the problem is, even if you understand that labeling yourself with overly-simplistic and negative terms isn’t technically accurate, if you say that all the time in your self-talk, that’s how you’re going to feel.
If you want to be a happier, more confident person, you’ve got to ruthlessly refuse to pigeon-hole yourself into categories.
As Whalt Whitman wisely said: “I contain multitudes.”
Drop your habit of labeling yourself one thing or the other, and you’ll start to feel more and more comfortable being exactly who you are.
3. Emotional Reasoning
We all know it’s easier to do hard things when we’re feeling good:
- It’s easier to hit the gym when we’re feeling energized.
- It’s easier to work on that tough creative project when we’re feeling inspired.
- It’s easier to have that difficult conversation with our spouse when we feel well-rested and confident.
But here’s the thing:
You’re not always going to feel good. And if you wait around to take action until you feel good, you won’t end up doing much.
When you’re in the habit of telling yourself that you have to feel a certain way in order to do something difficult, you’re setting yourself up for chronic unhappiness and low self-esteem.
Would Michael Jordan have won six championships if he only practiced when he felt like it?
Would Beethoven have been a world-famous composer if he had only worked on music when he felt motivated?
Of course not!
The relationship between feeling and action is a two-way street.
Sure, feeling good makes it easier to take action. But taking action leads to feeling good:
- Going to the gym despite how you feel leads to feeling good and will make you more motivated to go in the future.
- Working on that novel despite a lack of inspiration leads to a feeling of accomplishment and pride
- Having that difficult conversation about sex with your spouse despite feeling embarrassed will lead to feeling more intimate and confident in your relationship.
It’s always possible to take action despite not feeling it. And in fact, that’s the only way truly meaningful, important things happen.
But you’ll never get there if you keep telling yourself you can only do things if you feel like it.
As much as you think you know someone, the thoughts and emotions running through their head at any given time are just not something you can know with any meaningful degree of accuracy.
Unfortunately, when things aren’t going well, your brain tends to assume the worst: it worries, catastrophizes, and generally thinks the world is coming to an end.
Combine that with the habit of telling yourself you know what other people are thinking and feeling and you’re going to end up believing that everyone thinks the worst about you all the time.
And I probably don’t have to tell you, that’s a pretty miserable way to live.
Here’s a radical alternative:
Instead of guessing what people are thinking, try asking them.
It takes some courage to speak up and be assertive, but in the end, you’ll feel a lot calmer and more confident when you’re not projecting your worst fears and insecurities onto everyone in your life.
In addition to mind-reading, one of the other superpowers most of us humans sadly don’t possess is fortune-telling.
Nope, I’m sorry to say it simply isn’t possible to see into the future and know for sure how things turn out.
And while you may agree with me technically speaking, it’s surprising how often our and self-talk suggest otherwise:
- I’ll never be good enough to make the executive team.
- I won’t ever be lovable enough for someone to want to marry me.
- I’ll never be charming enough to have normal conversations with people.
If you’re constantly predicting that your future is going to be a disaster, it shouldn’t be surprising that you feel like a disaster all the time.
But it’s not enough to know intellectually that all your doomsaying about the future is probably a little unrealistic and overblown. Insight is not enough!
It’s your actions and your habits—and especially your habits of self-talk—that are going to determine how you feel.
If you want to feel less worried about the future and more optimistic about your life going forward, drop the habit of predicting the future.
Remind yourself that as hopeless as things may feel now, nobody knows the future. Which means the possibilities for you are probably much bigger and brighter than you think.
All You Need to Know
How you habitually talk to yourself determines how you habitually feel. This means that if you want to feel happier and more confident, you need to unlearn the self-talk habits that are keeping you miserable.
Start to recognize these 5 self-talk scripts in your own life and work to eliminate them:
Judging Your Emotions