How to use your internal monologue to combat negative thoughts
Most of us have an internal monologue. It’s that voice we hear inside our heads whenever we think… well, anything.
For some it’s a constant chatter, whereas other people might not have an actual voice at all – they might think in images and pictures – but what is certain is that we all talk to ourselves in one way or another.
This ‘self-talk’, as it’s also known, can be hard to shut up sometimes. Particularly when we’re stressed, anxious or depressed. Our inner voice can create a spiral of negative thoughts that can be really difficult to climb out of – and it can seriously impact our mental health.
But there are techniques you can use to change the way you interact with your own internal monologue – essentially rewiring negative thoughts into positive thoughts.
Vida Carmel is a qualified neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) practitioner.
She teaches her clients to subtly alter the voice inside their heads to encourage positive patterns of behaviour.
It’s really not as complicated as you might think, and it can be incredibly useful for boosting confidence in the workplace and banishing negative thoughts.
‘You can change patterns of behaviour by paying attention to how you’re communicating with yourself and other people,’ Vida tells Metro.co.uk.
‘NLP is really structural, and it’s very practical.
‘If I said to you now, “close your eyes and don’t think about a pink elephant,” you will immediately think about a pink elephant.
‘That’s because the mind cannot focus on negatives. That instruction – to not think of something – your brain can’t compute that.
‘In the same way that if you search in Google, “I don’t want a picture of a pink elephant”, you will get loads of pictures of pink elephants.
‘As another example, if someone says to you, “don’t forget your passport,” what they’re really saying to you is, “forget your passport”, because the mind will just create its own internal representation of forgetting your passport, because it can’t understand the negative.
‘So instead, it would be more useful to say, “remember your passport.” And that’s just a really simple example of how you can shift your attention from a negative to a positive.
‘We are constantly communicating with ourselves, I encourage my clients to focus on how they are doing that, and then analysing whether what they are doing is useful, or if it’s holding them back.’
What is neuro-linguistic programming?
NLP is the practice of understanding how people organise their thinking, feeling, language and behaviour to produce the results they do.
It is an outcome focused model based on how our minds (Neuro) and communication (Linguistic) interact with each other. By focusing on our patterns of behaviours and beliefs (Programming) we can get different results.
So how does this work in real life?
Vida says mastering these strategies and techniques can improve confidence, self-esteem and overall mental well-being.
‘Self-talk is a huge thing,’ she says. ‘We say things to ourselves that are holding us back all the time. I see it particularly with women. Their self-talk will include phrases like, “I’m not good enough,” “I can’t do this,” or “my opinion isn’t important.”
‘So when you show people how to pay attention to their self-talk, you can show them how to change the quality of that talk.
‘Sessions are always interactive, I take people through exercises to help them notice unconscious patterns that are so ingrained they would never think twice about them – things as simple as brushing your teeth every morning.
‘Someone who was bitten by a dog when they were little, they may have learnt to be scared of dogs. They then have this strategy that every time they see a dog, they get put into a state of high adrenaline – fight or flight mode, and they they try to get away from the dog – that maybe isn’t such a useful strategy.’
A practical NLP strategy to try
Anytime you notice that you’re having a negative thought about something, just ask yourself; what do I want instead?
Because immediately, you’re re-framing yourself towards a positive outcome.
There’s only so long you can stay in the problem.
It’s useful to realise that there is a problem, but once you have recognised that, it’s time to refocus on to – now, what do I want to differently?
It’s also useful to experience the chaos.
My definition of learning, or growing or developing, is that I will feel uncomfortable. Because otherwise, if I feel comfortable, then it’s something I know already.
So open yourself up and be curious. Take the opportunity to actually to feel a bit uncomfortable. And if it’s challenging, then that’s OK, it should be.
It sounds really simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
The higher quality of life you have, the higher quality a problem you will likely have.
Vida Carmel, NLP master practitioner
How can you use self-talk to your advantage?
Vida says that so many of the women she sees have really negative self-talk.
She says that this constant loop of negative affirmations that is happening inside our heads, really limits our beliefs about our own abilities and, ultimately, holds us back.
Changing the voice that you use to communicate with yourself is a vital step in breaking negative cycles.
‘I often ask people – is it your voice? Is it someone else’s voice? Is it loud or quiet? Is it in one ear more than the other? Is it moving? All these different elements of how we self-communicate that we don’t really realize.
‘But when we realize that we have a choice, and when you become aware of the things that you’re saying to yourself that may be holding you back, then you can do what you really want to do.
‘My belief and philosophy is that everybody has the skills they need to do what they would love to do. It’s just a question of finding out how.
‘For me, my biggest learning so far has been about finding my voice, and learning how to say no.
‘Both professionally and personally. NLP has helped me realise that with certain relationships, I have actually been contributing to the problem in terms of the dynamic of that relationship, through the way I’m behaving.
‘By saying “yes” all the time I was actually damaging myself, I ended up getting really ill.
‘So an important part of NLP is realising that it’s not always the world doing something to you, it’s having agency and realising that you do actually have a choice.’
Vida has run rehabilitation programmes in prisons across the UK using these methods, but they can be applied to everything from workplace confidence to improving you relationships with your family and friends.
The voice inside your head is powerful – it’s in your hands to make sure it’s telling you what you need to hear.
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