When you’re trying to pursue a project or a challenging goal, does the little voice inside your head tell you all the reasons why you’re unqualified, incapable, and inadequate?
Maybe that voice names a list of people who’d be much better at this than you. Maybe it also mentions how anxious you are, and that you better wait until you’re confident and doubt free. Maybe it also recounts your biggest mistakes and suggests you just let go of your dream.
And, because our self-talk can be incredibly persuasive, you do relinquish your dream. You don’t pursue the project or the challenging goal. Or you sabotage yourself (by missing the application deadline, not sending an important email, not preparing for a big presentation, perfecting your resume for months before actually applying to anything).
“What we tell ourselves becomes our reality,” said Kate Crocco, a therapist, mindset coach, and author of the book Thinking Like a Boss: Uncover and Overcome the Lies Holding You Back from Success. “If we are constantly belittling ourselves, telling ourselves we will never measure up, or find peace in our lives, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” she said.
However, this also means that supportive self-talk can shape our actions for the better: According to Crocco, when we “continually breathe in words of love, compassion, and grace, we will reap just this.”
And there are small ways we can shift our self-talk to empower ourselves and go after what we truly want. Crocco shared these four suggestions:
- Become aware of your inner dialogue. Many of us don’t even realize the commentary running through our minds, which means we don’t even realize how that self-talk shapes our behavior. Plus, unless our self-talk is particularly cruel–“I’m going to fail,” “I’ll never find happiness”–we assume we’re OK, Crocco said. However, even subtle words can “slowly [take] our independence away from us.” She suggested watching out for these words: “have to, need to, or should,” and carefully exploring why you’re doing these things. For instance, “Is it because you don’t feel confident enough to say no or you’re afraid of disappointing someone?” If either scenario is true, work on your boundary setting. Remember that these are skills you can practice (versus some innate inadequacy you can’t change). You can learn to say no—and use that time for your dream.
- Add an “and” to your self-talk. Acknowledge your self-doubt, fear, or worry. Send it some compassion. And take action anyway. Crocco shared these examples: “I’m not confident AND I am still going to try”; “I’m not ready AND taking imperfect action will help me feel more ready”; “Today I don’t feel so brave AND I’m going to do it anyway.”
- Think of yourself as a small child. “Would you say the things you tell yourself to an innocent child?” Crocco said. Any time negative self-talk arises, picture yourself as a young child, or picture your young child. “Begin having that same respect for yourself today,” she said.
- Envision your life without the negative self-talk. Crocco suggested asking yourself these questions: “What would your day consist of? Who would you be spending the most time with? What would you be starting? How would your life look different?” Jot down your responses, she said, and reread them any time your self-doubt starts screaming.
Years of negative, sabotaging self-talk can be tough to change. But experimenting with a few small tactics can get you started. Simply realizing that your self-talk isn’t gospel is powerful. Because it opens the door to also realizing: Maybe I can pursue this opportunity. Maybe I can act on this dream. And then you do.