You probably heard about positive self-talk and words of affirmation. Maybe, you even tried saying a few things in the mirror while feeling awkward and hoping nobody else overheard you. But it just didn't sit right. It seemed fake and far-fetched from what you actually think of yourself. Your mind rejected it like some sort of foreign matter.
To tell you the truth, I also rolled my eyes at this "speak it into the existence" fantasy stuff and people claiming that the words they taped on their kitchen cupboards helped them change their lives. Sticking something on the wall would not necessarily help to stick it on your soul. Oh, wait, it even rhymes!
Anyway, I went on the quest to discover what actually helps to alter our self-image. How do we eliminate negative things we tell ourselves day in and day out? Things we heard for years about ourselves. Things that got stuck to us like super glue and seem to only come off with parts of our flesh attached to them.
So, if you're looking for a realistic no-nonsense information on keeping the toxic self-talk at bay, keep reading. By the way, I am only sharing things that helped me, and the only expertise I have is living my own life well. Hopefully, you'll find my personal discoveries useful.
1. Why do I view myself as...
Before you start reciting the uplifting words you found on the internet, you should probably figure out why you're not thinking all these positive things in the first place. Why are you not convinced that you're this wonderful, glorious, ultra-successful being that attracts positive vibes anywhere you go? Well, probably because after existing on this planet for however many years, your life experiences told you otherwise. Maybe a few people said some not very nice things about you and you had internalized their words. Maybe you made conclusions based on an unfortunate incident that you're not able to shake off.
Now, if you start saying positive shiny proclamations over yourself without actually believing they are true, you'll just end up feeling like an impostor. At least I did.
But don't words have power? Oh, yes, they do—when you internalize them and make them your own. How would you do this?
First, start by being honest with yourself.
Think of one thing in regards to yourself that you're not happy with. Write down the thoughts about it that bother you, constantly nag you, run through your head on repeat like an annoying cassette tape. List all the possible reasons of why you believe these words are attached to your person. Don't just write"because it's true". Try to figure out what caused you to form these convictions. Dig deeper and identify when was the first time you felt this way. Write down the emotions around it. How do these mindsets make you feel? What are they keeping you from being able to do?
Lets do an example. I think all of us women have a tendency to not like something in our appearance even if we become supermodels. When a woman is not happy with the way she looks, this might cause her to avoid family pool parties and miss work-related social events. Her performance at her job might suffer due to the lack of confidence, and even her relationship with her spouse could be strained because she doesn't trust his affection. Maybe it all started with her mother being overly critical with her as a child, and now she is criticizing herself with negative thoughts running in her mind on repeat. Growing up she wasn't popular with boys and ended up in a relationship that was verbally abusive. Now even with a caring husband she still feels insecure and unloved. When she compares herself to the women on magazine covers or even in her office, she feels inferior.
Now you try.
And here you thought I'd be teaching you super-powerful proclamations that will finally do the trick. Instead, I am making you open up some old wounds. Sorry. Unfortunately, I don't have a magic formula, but if you want a lasting change in how you view yourself, you can't just put a bandaid on something that requires a major surgery. You have to go through the process, and at times it's not easy or fast.
2. Now, what do I do with this again...
So, after you identified the issue you want to address and figured out what the roots are, ask yourself—what can I do about it? There is always something you can do.
The woman in the example above could talk to a trusted friend, go see a counselor, bring the issue to God in prayer and ask Him to tell her how He views her, join the gym, go shopping for new clothes, see her hairdresser, change her diet, read good books on the subject, do something nice for herself, distance herself from her critical mother for a bit, tell her husband how she feels. There are lots of possibilities.
The point is that she would have to put in effort into changing her beliefs. Just repeating the unrealistic words from the list someone else made is like reciting the wealth-attracting mantra while overspending and watching TV on the couch every evening. It won't work. The websites that advertise these things forgot to put a disclaimer: "some action steps are required".
Pick one thing you want to improve, choose a few simple steps to implement and give it a solid try. Be persistent. You have the power to change it.
3. What stops me?
But what if you already tried to work on the issue and failed? What if despite your efforts your internal conversation is still on the "glass half empty" route?
Ok, now finally we are getting to the talking-to-yourself-in-the-mirror part. Here is when words of affirmations and proclamations actually come in useful. While you're implementing the steps to pull out the root of the problem and heal, you need to fill your mind with lots of good information on the subject. A few positive phrases to tell yourself daily would help along the way. But they have to align with the transformations you're already pursuing.
Here's another example. Let's say, you're terrified of public speaking (like me), but unfortunately it's holding you back at work. It has been a thorn in your flesh for years, so you finally decided to tackle it down. You realize that it all started in the first grade when you were humiliated in front of the class. After that, every experience of speaking in front of the group ended in an embarrassing disaster. But despite your fear, you tell your boss that you're finally ready to do that presentation.
In the next few weeks you get ready. You recite your speech in front of the mirror, in front of your family and friends, in front of your dog. You join the Toastmasters International. You use your imagination to see yourself in front of others doing splendidly and receiving standing ovation. You read books and watch videos on speaking with confidence. You see a counselor to address your former negative experiences and reframe your thinking.
Drum roll, please. Here is when positive affirmations start to play a role. You tell yourself daily the things that are becoming true in your life—I am going to be calm and relaxed when speaking in front of audience, I will speak with confidence, people will enjoy listening to me, public speaking is starting to feel more natural and easy, etc. Now go ahead and plaster it everywhere in your house, listen to it on the way to work, recite it internally before you begin your speech. Tell it to yourself, to everyone around you, and stop all the naysayers that tell you otherwise. Then you're going to step in front of your colleagues and do your best. Whatever happens next is just another step in your process of self-development.
The only thing that can stop you from making a positive change in your life is... you. I can tell you how special and wonderful you are all day long (you are by the way), but unless you dig deep and realize for yourself that it's true, these words would just bounce off without doing anything. The shift has to happen on the inside first. You need to study the topic, read the books, listen to people who are already there, surround yourself with supportive friends.
If you're willing to do that and just looking for some simple truths to strengthen your new mindset, feel free to download my personal list below. I hope it encourages you.