7 Myths About Self-Talk You Might Believe

If your internal voice was a person, how would you describe them? Are they kind and understanding, rude and abusive, or always encourage you to do what feels right in the moment?

How do they talk to you when you make a mistake, let yourself down, or feel like life isn’t going the way you thought it would?

We can talk to ourselves in many different ways and say a variety of things that range from harsh abuse to unconditional forgiveness.

Your self-talk might feel automatic, but how you speak to yourself is an important choice. What you say and how you say it strongly affects your motivation, confidence, resilience, and more. Your style of self-talk also plays an important role in determining how you react to mistakes and failures.

But many people misunderstand the effects of self-talk. They speak to themselves in ways that keep them from being able to learn and grow as much as they could if they spoke to themselves differently. There are many popular beliefs about how you should talk to yourself to be accomplished and happy. But some of these beliefs aren’t true – they’re myths that keep you from talking to yourself in ways that will help you feel good about yourself and make wise decisions.

The most common myths about self-talk include:

Myth #1 – To learn from your mistakes and become a better person you have to bully yourself

Many people think that they need to use self-criticism in order to learn from their mistakes and improve. When they make a mistake or do something they aren’t proud of they speak to themselves in ways they wouldn’t accept from anyone else. They call themselves names and mock their hopes and ideas by thinking things like: “no one could possibly want to be friends with you”, “how could you be so stupid to think that would work”, or “you’re such an idiot”. These are thoughts that cause shame.

Most people who talk to themselves this way believe that if they weren’t so aggressive in their self-talk they would become lazy, unmotivated and lose all self-control. But this belief is wrong. When you feel ashamed, you’re less likely to take on challenges or push yourself to make better choices and more likely to give in to temptations – if you’re a useless failure who can’t do anything right, why bother trying to be anything else? You’re also less likely to try something new because if you don’t do well at it, you’ll make yourself feel like a failure.

Everyone will need to push themselves to get things done at times, but this is different from bullying yourself. Telling yourself “Come on don’t be lazy” is a reasonable way to motivate yourself. Calling yourself worthless and disgusting for skipping your exercise isn’t motivating, it’s shaming.

Bullying and abuse doesn’t motivate people to learn from their mistakes – it sends the message that they’re terrible and always will be, which makes them afraid to try anything they aren’t sure they’ll succeed at, including personal growth.

Myth #2 – Pushing yourself to leave your comfort zone or being accountable for your mistakes is being abusive

Some people never question their actions, reflect after making mistakes or push themselves to do something they don’t want to do because they think this would be bad for their mental health. This type of self-talk can be called self-love.

Self-love – as some people choose to live and define it – is giving into your every desire and craving without restraint, accountability or responsibility. If you ate an entire pizza, that’s fine – you deserved it. If you watched Netflix all day when you told a friend you’d help them move, you did the right thing by taking care of yourself. They don’t push themselves to do things they don’t want to, like saying no to dessert or practicing a new skill because they think that’s how to be good to themselves.

But this type of self-talk keeps you from learning from your mistakes since you don’t hold yourself accountable to any standards or reflect on what you did. You don’t take responsibility for your actions so when you let someone down or do something you told yourself you wouldn’t, you don’t feel regret or guilt, which are feelings that let you know when you aren’t honouring your values. You also can’t grow because you never push yourself outside of your comfort zone, which is where growth takes place.

There are times when you should be easy on yourself, but you also need to recognise when you’ve acted in a way you aren’t proud of without just excusing it away so you can do better next time, and push yourself so you can improve.

Myth #3 There’s nothing in between self-criticism and self-love

You don’t have to bully yourself OR never hold yourself accountable. You can talk to yourself in a way that isn’t abusive but is still responsible.

This way of talking to yourself is called self-compassion.

Practicing self-compassion means you talk to yourself how you would talk to a friend – you’re understanding, realistic about your situation and actions, and ask yourself how you can do better next time.

If you’ve done something you aren’t proud of, you correct yourself but without being abusive. You feel guilty but you don’t make yourself feel ashamed.

When you’re going through a hard time, you remind yourself why you shouldn’t feel like a failure or a victim. You do your best to cheer yourself up, while still being responsible and reasonable. You consider the context when you make mistakes and forgive yourself if appropriate, but also commit to doing better next time and think of ways to make this possible.

The most important behaviours of practicing self-compassion are:

· Being kind to yourself instead of judgemental or dismissive when you make mistakes or do something you regret

· Recognising that everyone experiences failure and it’s part of being human

· Taking a balanced approach to negative emotions and keep them from controlling you by viewing them realistically and moving on once you’re ready

People who practice self-compassion know when they’ve done something they aren’t proud of, but they learn from these mistakes. This sends them the message that they’re capable of change and they should keep trying to improve.

Myth #4 Self-compassion is weakness

The biggest misconception about self-compassion is that it makes people less disciplined, less motivated, and complacent. But it has the opposite effect.

Self-compassion emphasises seeing mistakes and failures as learning opportunities. You don’t enjoy failures, but they aren’t reasons to feel destroyed either. This perspective makes people who practice self-compassion more likely to take risks, like asking someone out on a date or trying a spin class even though they aren’t sure it will go well. If they do fail, they quickly recover and can even feel stronger for having tried and failed. This is known as resilience.

Not being afraid of failure or taking risks because you see them as opportunities to grow isn’t weakness – it’s a healthier way to react to challenges that builds personal strength.

Myth #5 Self-compassion is self-pitying and self-serving

Self-pity is asking “why me?” or telling yourself “this isn’t fair” when things go badly. Self-compassion is saying “I know this is hard and feels unfair but you can get through this”.

The goal of self-pity is to get sympathy and attention from others while focusing on the problem, rather than making any improvements or learning from mistakes, which is essential to self-compassion.

When you practice self-compassion, you acknowledge when you’re struggling, but you don’t just feel sorry for yourself. You can take a bit of time to mourn the way things could have been, but then you find a solution.

When you’re facing challenges, you can feel completely isolated and as if no one else knows what you’re going through. But self-compassion includes being realistic so you remind yourself that everyone struggles at times, you aren’t alone in your pain and it will get better.

If you practice self-compassion you can comfort yourself up so you spend less time pitying yourself.

Myth #6 To be self-compassionate you need high self-esteem

Self-compassion can be mistaken for self-esteem, but they aren’t the same thing.

The amount of self-esteem you have depends on achieving goals and feeling accomplished, so if you aren’t doing well or are going through a hard time, you can have less self-esteem than normal. But self-compassion stays consistent because it’s a way of speaking to yourself. You change the tone and content of what you say to yourself depending on how well or badly you’re doing, but the attitude of self-compassion – that you don’t shame yourself for mistakes and failures – stays the same.

People who practice self-compassion can still struggle with their self-esteem, but they don’t let their accomplishments determine their self-worth.

Myth #7 Self-compassion is toxic positivity

Self-compassion includes emphasising the positivity in a situation and not letting hardships overwhelm you, but it doesn’t require people to shut out all negative emotions.

When you practice self-compassion, you ask yourself how challenging situations make you feel, but you’re also realistic about these feelings. You might feel like every single person in your office thinks you’re an idiot because of how badly a presentation went. Applying self-compassion in a situation like this could be acknowledging how embarrassed you are but also reminding yourself that everyone has performed badly in public and eventually your colleagues will forget all about what you did. When you’re ready, you could even look for reasons to be positive about the situation, such as at least now everyone knows your name. You let yourself experience the negative emotions, but you don’t let them control you.

Choosing to practice self-compassion doesn’t mean you have to be positive all the time – it means choosing to be realistic about hardships instead of thinking the worst.

You don’t have to be critical of yourself to learn from your mistakes, and you can hold yourself accountable and learn from your failures without being too hard on yourself.

By striking a balance between abusing yourself for every mistake you make and never criticising yourself, you can learn from your failures and guide yourself towards being the version of yourself you want to be.

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