In our last article on turning around difficult situations, we touched on the important concept of self-talk.
Self-talk, or internal dialogue, represents the words we tell ourselves quietly as we move through life and just like the words spoken to us by the people around us, they have power and resonance. Young people and adults who experience bullying or verbal abuse tend to be traumatized by this – and while our internal talk is invisible, it too can scar us in many ways.
So what is your self-talk like? Do you extend the same kindnesses to yourself as you would to others? Highly unlikely. Most of us are far more forgiving to others than we are to ourselves. And if this is the case, we may be damaging our self-esteem and sense of balance daily in ways that seem small, but accumulate quickly.
Negative self-talk leads to low self-esteem, low confidence and low resilience. If we do not believe in ourselves, we will embrace a very fixed mindset about our ideas and capabilities.
As teachers we see this a lot in the classroom. Children who get the idea that they are no good at a subject, a skill, a sport or even school in general not only feel less safe and less comfortable, they are less willing to try to improve. This can have a dramatic impact on their school experience and their school success.
By harnessing our self-talk, and focusing on treating ourselves with kindness and positivity, we can completely turn around our attitude and performance in a particular area.
First, you have to become conscious of the language you use inside your mind, and the areas in your life in which you are the most unforgiving to yourself. This is my first challenge to you – try to become conscious of areas in which your self-talk is an issue. Some of us will have very different mindsets on different elements of our lives. Some students are incredibly confident and resilient in Maths, but when it comes to English, they maintain they simply don’t have the skills to improve (although arguably, many of those skills are the same!). Similarly, for parents you might be a dynamo in the workplace who confidently moves through any challenge you are faced with, but at home, ponder whether you give your children enough time and are helping guiding them to be the kinds of people you hope they become. It could also be as simple as functioning in the kitchen… do you think you can’t cook? I think very few of us are confident we are on top of every area of our lives. Becoming aware of which areas are your “danger points” is the first step to taking control back of your mindset.
Secondly, when you notice these negative thoughts – challenge them. Ask yourself if what you are saying to yourself is really true. Are you terrible at every element of Science, or is Physics just a challenge for you? Or was it jut this one particular task? Are you really a bad parent, or did you just have a bad day? Is this one situation that you are feeling bad about? Is it really something you do all the time? Try to get a greater perspective on all of this. You might even choose to ask a friend or another person around you if they perceive you in the same way your negative self-talk paints you. If you are brave enough, this could be really useful feedback and it might even surprise you!
And finally, why not work to replace some of that negative self-talk with more positive phrases. You could devise a few nice things you want to tell yourself – “ I may not be the best steak cook, but I make a great cake!” or, “I am great at soccer, but my basketball skills still need a little work!” – a phrase that you work on repeating to yourself internally could soon function as a replacement for any unkind statements that are holding you back.
I teach the students in my class the power of “yet”. Adding “yet” to the end of any negative self talk changes the statement immediately. “I just don’t get topic sentences” becomes “I just don’t get topic sentences yet”. Whilst not exactly POSITIVE self-talk, it is a small change that can make a big difference. “Yet” indicates to my students that change is possible. That feeling less confident in a particular area is not a permanent state. It’s just how they feel right now. “Yet” also lets them know that if they take charge, use good strategies and work in a targeted way, they absolutely can become better. Everyone can become better at everything.
You might like to embrace the power of “yet” too.
When working with young people in any way, shape or form, we have to help them with this process. Fortunately, often self-talk does get verbalised in some kind of way. It might be in an expression of frustration whilst doing their homework, or practicing an instrument or sporting drill. That expression might suggest they are “no good” at something and “never will be”.
We have to make them conscious of their self-talk once they verbalise it, and coach them through the process above. You may have to directly ask them the questions in the second step, and use positive phrases when discussing their capacity or performance in an area. Model this for them enough, and your phrases may help replace their negative self-talk.
At the very least, be conscious of the power of the simple addition of “yet”.
Want to know more? There are some great examples in this article about the kinds of negative self-talk that dominate our thinking, and also some phrases you could use to replace those unhelpful thoughts. I also love the idea of choosing your own mantra – like the ones in this article – which can help you choose a motto for yourself that helps you embrace life more positively. I love mine so much, I often wear them on my wrist! That helps remind me each day of the power of taking control of my self-talk.