So how do you know when you’re talking negatively to yourself? One way is to feel it. Everyone is different and is going to feel his or her negative self-chatter in different ways, but for me, I get a tightening in my chest, and my shoulders start to slump. My throat tightens up, and my jaw gets tight. In general, my body feels like it’s stuck in paste or glue.
And I get super-frowny. Inside and out.
Take a minute to explore the physical sensations that accompany your version of self-chatter. If you can, find a partner (could be your roommate, spouse, mother, friend, trusted coworker), and share with him or her one of the good old standby negative thoughts you have. It doesn't matter how boring or regular the thought is (that you’re even worried that the thought is boring or normal is self-chatter!), just share it with that partner. As you say it, notice how you feel. If you don’t feel anything particular, say it again. Repeat it once and take a deep breath. Scan your body with your mind’s eye. Where is the tension? How is your breathing? What could be relaxed? If you’re still stuck, ask your partner what he or she sees happening in your body.
If you can't find a partner, try this exercise in the mirror. Watch your body as you say the nasty thought over and over again. If you don't see a difference in your body, try thinking about a positive thought (like that perfect sunset, or when you walked across a big stage to receive a diploma), and see how that impacts your body. Alternate between thoughts until you can feel or see a difference in your body.
Once you’ve got the feeling, jot down particulars about it so you know what to be on the lookout for later. The feelings may not always be this strong or the same combination of factors that you experiencing with your partner, but this is a good place to start in your noticing.
As you progress with this work and pay attention to yourself hearing your negative self-chatter, double check your body -- does the posture you assume when you hear yourself beating yourself up empower you? Or does it make you feel like you're stuck in paste, frowning on the inside as well as the outside?