This article is adapted from ‘Know Anxiety, Know Yourself’ A resilience-architecture guide for professionals.
If you’ve ever heard that internal voice which tells you that you’re ‘not good enough’ you’ll know how limiting it can become, and can prevent you from achieving goals in life. Find freedom from self-talk with these simple tips.
Identifying Self Talk
In the field of developmental psychology, self-talk is referred to as the super-ego. This is the voice of morals and ethics, modelled from your parents, as part of your moving from childhood to adolescence. Each of us creates a superego, so that we can take over from our parents in growing ourselves up, as part of the individuation and maturation process. However, the super-ego has a dark side as well as a light side. It will both chastise us and simultaneously motivate you. When a person has an overly strong super-ego, the processing of that (superego) can become self-sabotaging and even internally violent.
Anxiety and the Super-Ego
People who struggle with anxiety will often say things to themselves like “I’m useless”, I’m hopeless”, “I’m worthless”, “I’m not good enough”. They tend to use absolutist language like “always”, “never”, “nobody”, “everybody”, “everything”, “my whole life” etc. This absolutist language was, according to Korzybski, originally designed in human language to generalise about reality, to speed up cognition and therefore reaction time, to meet with the ever-increasing complexities of reality. In developmental psychology, absolutist language becomes prevalent in children at the age of around 7-12 as part of becoming an adolescent. At later stages of development, adults tend to transcend and include this language (and let it go) in favour of more nuanced language, in order to communicate more complex ideas.
People with an overly strong super-egos also tend to awfulise and catastrophise about the future. They imagine (make movies in mind) about how things are probably going to turn out. In our experience, this catastrophising has a positive intention, but negative outcomes. For example, the positive intention might be to get myself prepared for any eventuality (if I can imagine the worst, it can only get better in reality). An example of the negative outcomes is that you are more likely to create the worst-case outcome by focussing on it (cognitive bias).
What can we do to change this?
Here are some powerful personal growth techniques that will help you to become aware of, and change your self-talk:
1. Meditate and watch your self-talk – become aware of what it says and inquire into its origin and its intention for you?
2. Journal your self-talk – become aware of what it says and inquire into its origin and its intention for you?
3. Change its voice to a favourite cartoon character or movie character and run exactly the same dialogue with their accent.
4. Do this for 2-weeks and at the end of each week, identify 0-10 the quality of your mood changes throughout the week.
5. Keep practising until your mood changes
One increasingly popular habit which could potentially help with increasing access to positive states is journaling 3 things a day that went well, that you can be grateful for (counting).