Saturday, April 17, 2010

Tricks for how to catch yourself in negative self-chatter mode

One of the important ideas to consider when working with the inner voice that’s judgmental of you is that your words can, in fact, create your future. So the more you say unpleasant things to yourself in your head (or even out loud) the more you’re narrowing your future and bringing about the behavior or “fact” that your saboteur is feeding you.

I'm not a huge fan of Henry Ford, but I agree with something he once said -- "Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right."

Our actions are created by our thought, and our thoughts are made up of words. So if you’re not really into the power of words, this article may not be for you – and I understand where you are. Before I tried changing the way I said things, I felt the way you do. "It's just WORDS, it's not like it makes a difference." All I can say now is try listening to yourself saying some of the following words and seeing how they impact you. I’m not you and can’t speak for you. But I do know that all of these things have helped me and my clients.

It can be so easy to ignore a negative thought or not even recognize it as negative. Part of the process of catching yourself saying something negative is to know what to listen for. That’s why I’ve come up with a list of words to help trigger your Observer Brain to let it know you’ve just had a negative thought. When you say the following words, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve said something mean, but there’s a pretty good chance that it’s not nice…

“Should”, “ought”, “must”, “have to,”

There are lots of words that assume rules and standards for behavior that do not exist in reality. They also imply a consequence for noncompliance, and often evoke guilt. For example, we may tell ourselves: “I should have lost five pounds by now.” or “I shouldn't eat cake and ice-cream”.

Who says? Challenge the rules and regulations you've enforced on yourself. Replace the words should, ought, or must with the words “could”, “will,” “may” and realize the gift of choices. Cake and ice-cream becomes much less powerful if we know we could, can, and will eat it if we want to.


There is very little in this world that you can’t do if you really put your mind to it. Thing of something you can’t do. And then I’ll tell you there’s a way you could do it, if you really wanted to. So telling yourself that you can’t do something is just an excuse. It’s also a gateway to a judgment. “I can’t do that, so that means I am _________”

Choose not to. Since you are all-capable, and there’s nothing you can’t do, there are certainly a large number of things on which you choose not to focus your energy. And that’s the difference – ‘can’t” becomes “I choose not to.”


Have you ever been to a hospital and noticed how the nurses talk about ‘discomfort’ instead of ‘pain’? This is generally done because ‘pain’ is a much more powerful word, and discussing your ‘pain’ level can actually make your experience of it more intense than if you’re discussing your ‘discomfort’ level.

Tone it down. In talking (to yourself and others) turning powerful negative words to more neutral ones can actually help turn down the emotionality your experience. Instead of using words like “hate” and “angry” (as in, “I hate traffic! It makes me so angry!”), you can use words like “don’t like” and “annoyed” (“I don’t like traffic; it makes me annoyed,” sounds much milder, doesn’t it?)


When you say something is hard, how does it feel inside your body? Try it. “My job is so hard.” “Losing weight is so hard.” “Finding an affordable apartment in new York is so HARD.” Does it feel like something you can actually do?

Some people are enlivened by this kind of obstacle to overcome. However, others (ahem, most of us) feel defeated by it. So watch out for anything that’s “hard.”

Challenge yourself. Instead, if something is difficult, consider it a challenge. Challenges are not only overcomable, but they can also be fun! Other words you can use to replace “hard” are “difficult,” “tricky,” or another adjective all together that better suits the situation.


If you find yourself talking in absolutes like always and never (or everybody and nobody), there’s a good chance you’re falling into a trap of your own making. “I always eat late at night” is more damning and permanent than “I seem to be eating at night a lot recently.”

Speak to the immediate truth. Are you in a place where you’re engaging in a behavior that makes you unhappy? Maybe you’re ignoring your dishes, being late to work, snapping at your roommate/partner – that doesn’t mean you always do it or never do the opposite. If you speak in terms of the immediate time frame, you give yourself more options for the future, and you’re not pinning your identity to a series of behaviors you happen to be engaging in right now, that may not, in fact, be what you always do.

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