Given the choice, few people want to visit or live in a country in a state of civil war. Likewise, few people want to visit or be someone who is at war with themselves. When you’re facing internal battles you are just like a country in a state of civil war. You’re distracted, you have little attention for anything besides your unrest, you may be irritable, you may collapse and isolate yourself, and when you do finally see the light, it’s hard work to fully recover.
Many people don’t even realize that they’re in a state of civil war. Like those who live in war zones, they get used to being on edge, to living in conflict, to that feeling of malaise, and to being in survival mode all the time. They don’t remember what it feels like to be happy and at ease, or to be confident and decisive, or how to thrive instead of just survive.
What Are You Saying About Yourself?
Consider the following:
If we could put a sound system in your head and amplify your thoughts, what would we hear you saying about yourself? All of us have bouts of self-criticism that focus on our bodies, our weight, our abilities, our actions, our procrastination, our failings, our past, and more. Many of us spend a good part of each day brooding, fuming, or thinking about the same problems over and over again.
All of this negativity wears on you over time and besides the damage it does to you, it also repels the people around you. Civil war zones are lonely, unpleasant places.
Constant self-nagging is habitual and through repetition, convinces us over time that the things we’re saying about ourselves must be true. It eats away at our confidence and makes us search outside of ourselves for approval. When we don’t get it, it’s emotionally disastrous because outsiders are our only source of love. When we do get outside approval, it’s never enough to fill the hole we’ve created. Not only that, we become needy and irritating, especially when we disregard or don’t believe compliments that people give us.
It’s even conceivable that self-hatred can cause illness. Entire books have been written about this phenomenon. The theory is that if you constantly tell your body how awful it is, it might eventually fulfill your promptings. Why take the chance that you’re creating a self-fulfilling prophesy? As Norman Vincent Peale says, “Never build a case against yourself.”
PR Fix It:
Ask Before Your Affirm
What could you achieve if you were consistently telling yourself positive things? The answer is not as obvious as it seems and has everything to do with whether or not you believe yourself. Studies have shown that unless you already regard your affirmations as true, you will end up with an inner struggle.
What to do? According to psychologist, Dr. Sophie Henshaw, we should draw awareness to our self-statements, positive or negative, and tweak them into questions. For example, change ‘I am…’ to ‘Am I…?’ Then, mull over possible answers and come up with additional questions. One of her favorite questions is, ‘What if..?
Be mindful of your self-talk and when it’s largely negative, ask, don’t tell. This will lead to more honest, balanced self-reflection, which can motivate you and spur on creative ways to achieve your potential. It will also help you break the cycle of negative self-talk. When you become aware of your thoughts about yourself, you will see how unfair and inaccurate they often are.
Practice Making a Case for Yourself
Take it one step further by making a case FOR yourself. Remember and account for your best gifts, your greatest achievements, your proudest moments, your happiest times, your personal milestones. Write them down and refer to them often, especially when you’re feeling low. Know that doing this exercise is not boasting or prideful. You are not sharing this with anyone. This list is for you. It’s a way to remind yourself how wonderful you truly are so that you appreciate and value yourself.
You might notice that none of this works right away, that you keep sabotaging yourself or continuing the negative self-talk. What to do? Practice. It sounds simple but it’s true. Those who have tried to quit smoking know this well: it usually takes multiple practice runs of quitting before they quit for good. Whatever it is that you’re doing to sabotage yourself, stop doing it once. If you start doing it again, stop again. And so on until you can become your own best friend instead of your own worst enemy. It will happen over time.
Have you heard that it takes 21 days to make or break habit? Well, it’s not true. It takes much, much longer. Dr. Wendy Wood says, “The length of time it takes to establish new habits depends on the person and the complexity of the behavior.” PsyBlog confirms this. “Although the average was 66 days, there was marked variation in how long habits took to form, anywhere from 18 days up to 254 days…” In other words, it could take one month or it could take one year to accomplish what you’ve set out to do. The only thing for sure is that you have to keep practicing.
Read, Tap, Snap to Make Self Love a Habit
How can you get into the habit of loving yourself more and more consistently? There are many programs, theories, and techniques to try. If you’re sabatoging yourself, throw everything you’ve got at what causes you dis-ease. Try one (or several) of these this week:
1) Read Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey. You may even be able to find a free Immunity to Change course online on edX.
2) Try EFT tapping. It’s weird but it works for many people. It’s based on applying acupressure to the body’s meridian points – the same areas targeted in acupuncture.
3) Try snapping a rubber band each time you berate yourself or repeat a destructive habit. The tiny punishment stops your current negative thought or behavior and gives you the chance to redirect it to a more positive thought or behavior. There’s more information about this in Dr. Tim Ursiny’s The Confidence Plan (see below).
4) Read The Confidence Plan: How to Build a Stronger You by Dr. Tim Ursiny.
Do whatever it takes to make peace with yourself and end the civil war.