You know that inner voice that turns all Debbie Downer with critical comments, trying to hold you back? In her book Thrive, Arianna Huffington refers to it as her “obnoxious roommate” while in the professional coaching world we often call it the inner saboteur.
I’ve dealt with her (hey, living in my head makes her a female) for much of my life. Twenty-five years ago, I lost 50 pounds, which is one-third my size, mainly by eating healthy, exercising regularly and stop treating Oreo cookies like a primary food group. That huge transformation caused previous saboteur refrains about always being overweight or less attractive than others to shut up. But the inner saboteur didn’t completely away. Over the years, she’d pop up occasionally with thoughts like “you are going to regain the lost weight” or “no matter how much you exercise, you’re never going to have muscle tone.” Yes, talk about a real cheerleader. Then as I approached 50, something shifted. Realized I didn’t have the time, energy or patience for that negative self-talk anymore. And I kicked her out using a dose of kindness. Here are three ways I’ve found to deal with negative self-talk:
1. Practice acknowledgement. Unfortunately, trying to ignore negative self-talk can be ineffective. Instead, I listened intently to what my inner saboteur had to say. A lot of those comments originally stemmed from a desire to protect yourself from being hurt and along the way it got twisted into a negativity fest. Via a journal entry, I thanked my inner saboteur for any original positive intent or benefit that might have been gained from her protection in the past. Then I explained how I’ve outgrown those beliefs and why it is time to behave differently now.
2. Embrace gratitude. Each morning, I write a journal entry focused on gratitude, listing everything and everyone I am grateful for at that moment. I always start the list by focusing on myself. Things like good health, losing 7% body fat by seriously committing to weight training, fitting in a certain black dress that had been buried at the back of my closet, having a great hair day, etc. You get the picture. Let’s call it a list of things I’m grateful for and love about myself at that moment. Twenty years ago, I would never have been capable of this practice and now it is a constant source of joy. Most of the time, remnants of the inner saboteur don’t have a shot at being heard above that foundation of goodness.
3. Change the conversation. Sometimes, we all have a bad day. That’s when the inner saboteur thinks she can climb back over the border and re-establish residency. The key is to recognize when her whispers start in the form of negative self-talk and shut it down immediately. When you hear the inner criticism start, change it to praise. Look for what makes you awesome and give yourself examples to serve as evidence. Change a “you’re never going to wear that dress size again” to “look at that kick-ass muscle tone in my arms, who cares about a number on a label.” Just have this conversation in your head, on paper or a smart device, because addressing your self-talk out loud on a regular basis might yield some raised eyebrows from co-workers, the woman on the yoga mat next to you or the guy behind you in the grocery check-out line.
Kindness, to myself and the impetus for the negative self-talk, completely diminished the inner saboteur in my life. Positive thinking is my normal state and I know how to reclaim it when challenges get in the way. Hope these tips will help show your inner saboteur the door as well.