In our monthly series, GIVING UP, newsroom staffers deprive themselves of a habit and track how it went. In August, Social Media Editor Sarah Bourassa, 30, gave up negative self-talk.
Tori Press’s illustrations on her Instagram account, revelatori, very accurately portray how I feel about negative self-talk and worrying.
What are you giving up? I *attempted* to give up negative self-talk for the month of August. You know, that counterproductive voice inside of your head that likes to nag, worry and put yourself down.
What made you decide to give it up? Everyone’s version of negative self-talk is different. Mine comes in the form of rumination. I am an expert worrier (in fact, I worry about worrying too much). And I’ve noticed that when I am in my state of worrying, I start beating myself up.
For example, right before I started this challenge, I lost my apartment keys. I could have just thought, “Oh well, accidents happen,” and then moved on. Instead, my thoughts were as follows: “I can’t believe I lost my keys. What if someone finds them and somehow knows where I live (even though they are unlabeled) and breaks in? I’m going to have to pay so much to replace them. That is so irresponsible of me. I am such an idiot. How could I have done this?” (Then I repeat the same cycle in my head a few more times.)
This line of thinking is completely draining. It’s instances like this that made me decide to give up negative self-talk.
How did your friends and family react? I didn’t tell my friends and family about the challenge until the end of the month. Most people I told had a similar reaction: They said that they wanted to try giving up negative self-talk, too. I didn’t realize how common this habit is, but it was comforting to know I wasn’t alone.
My fiancé’s reaction was a bit different. I told him I was writing an article about how I gave up negative self-talk for a month. He promptly laughed out loud and said, “I don’t recall that happening.”
(Yes, I admit there were slip-ups. And, unfortunately for him, he’s usually the one who has to listen to me when I vocalize these thoughts out loud.)
Did you do any research before you started? These thoughts I have are more formally called “automatic negative thoughts,” which are unfiltered viewpoints that often pop up in your head in a reaction to something emotional. I read several articles about how these types of thoughts can lead to more stress and anxiety. I kept this in mind as a way to motivate myself for the month.
Did you slip up? I was far from perfect (does saying this count as negative self-talk, too?) but I definitely became more aware of when I was doing it. I also noticed my loved ones naturally challenge this voice for me.
For example, my fiancé and I were driving to the mountains for a wedding when we hit really bad traffic because of an accident. I immediately spiraled into negativity, musing out loud that we might miss the rehearsal dinner and that I was a terrible bridesmaid.
“It’s an accident. Things happen. They’ll understand,” he replied.
I realized if I could talk to myself the way my loved ones talk to me, I would be right on track.
When did you first feel deprived? To be honest, it took me awhile to even admit that my thoughts were negative. I told myself I was being practical by thinking the worst just because it made me prepared. But the truth is that it’s exhausting and unproductive to expect the worst in every scenario.
Any awkward social encounters? There wasn’t really any awkwardness. I definitely became more conscious of other people talking negatively about themselves, though.
Notice any changes to your mood? Definitely! When I challenged these thoughts, it felt like I was lifting a heavy weight from my mind. I felt more calm, focused and balanced.
Changes to your productivity? It turns out worrying and nagging at yourself takes up a LOT of time and energy. I was able to focus my attention on other more productive thoughts.
Changes to your relationships? The biggest change I noticed was in my relationship with myself. I tend to be a very positive person when I am talking to my friends and family but clearly that’s not the case internally. By the end of the month, I started talking to myself more like I would with those loved ones.
What does an expert say about doing this? Is there any benefit? Studies have shown that consistent negative self-talk for a long period of time can lead to higher stress levels, anxiety and depression.
“Like it or not, everything you say to yourself matters. The inner critic isn’t harmless. It inhibits you, limits you, and stops you from pursuing the life you truly want to live,” Jennice Vilhauer, a clinical faculty member at Emory Univeristy’s School of Medicine, wrote in Psychology Today. “There is always a different, kinder, better way to treat yourself that doesn’t involve negative labels and self-destructive mindsets.”
Would you do it again? I am absolutely going to make an effort to limit negative self-talk in my daily life. Just being aware of this voice is half the battle. And it truly is incredible how much influence that inner voice can have on your mood, productivity and relationships.