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Why self-talk is such a big deal, and how we can use it to help reduce stress

Updated: 3 days ago

The saying goes that we’re often our own worst critic, and sadly this is true for most – if not all – of us!

So, how did it happen? Why do we say things to ourselves that we wouldn’t even say to our enemies, let alone to our friends?

If you observe your inner voice for a while, you’ll probably find that you recognise some of its phrases. They most likely came from parents, teachers or other significant people in your life – people that you looked up to and whose words you respected, or at least felt that you were supposed to listen to. Some of what your inner voice says might also have come from the media – things like beliefs around weight or money, for example.

Another important thing to realise is that the human brain is wired with a ‘negative bias’. This is a protective mechanism, designed to help us spot any threats so that we can defend ourselves, or get well away from the danger. However, while our lifestyle has generally evolved a long way from our cave dwelling days, the more basic parts of our brain haven’t really kept up. We no longer need to fear being eaten by predators but our alert system hasn’t been updated to allow for this. It’s still there on the lookout for potential danger, it’s just that now it’s taken on the role of the ‘doom and gloom pessimist’, homing in on the worst case scenario, often tied in with feelings of shame (but that’s a whole other story!)

The process then goes like this:

The thoughts that we think create the perspective from which we look at things. This influences the filters through which we interpret the world around us. This determines our experiences, which help to form our beliefs about that world. Our beliefs are what our thoughts are based upon, and so the cycle continues...

Understanding this helps us to see why a critical, pessimistic voice can have such an impact on our sense of wellbeing.

Thankfully, though, the reverse is also true: when we can turn our inner voice around, cultivating a more uplifting and supportive outlook, it does so much to improve how we feel!

But how can we do this? How can we change such an old, ingrained habit and start speaking to ourselves with more loving kindness and sense of hope?

The first thing is not to ‘fight against’ the old voice because all this actually does is give it energy. Where our attention goes, energy flows and the habit grows. It’s much easier to focus instead on creating a new habit.

And the way to do this is to become mindful and conscious. Start by getting into a habit of observing your inner talk, without resisting and without getting upset with yourself when you slip back into self-criticism. Instead, just notice, interrupt the negative train of thought and have a think about how you might reframe it to be more uplifting and supportive. It’s also good if you can spot whatever it was that triggered the critical thoughts as this can give you a clearer understanding of the needs behind the thoughts and help you be more prepared for similar situations in the future.

From here it’s a matter of persistence and continuing to ‘play’ with this new skill, approaching it with lightness and a sense of fun, being gentle with yourself and starting to build in a deeper understanding of what triggers your inner critic, and what insecurities lie beneath this, so that you can start to address these needs and nurture your sense of self-compassion and love. The more you do this, the better you will begin to feel, and you’ll just want to keep developing this habit still further.

Remember too, that Life happens, and it can get messy at times, which might send you spiralling, temporarily, into old patterns. That’s ok. This is a practice, and it’s about appreciating that we are perfectly imperfect – it’s not a test and you haven’t ‘failed’. It’s just a learning point and, once you’re grounded again, you can get back up and start again from the foundations you’ve already laid (ie it’s not a case of starting from scratch again 😊)

If you’d like to have a chat about any of this you’re most welcome to contact me, either by email at, or by booking a slot in my calendar, which automatically creates a Zoom link to connect with me:

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