Sometimes I get a little down, a little too stuck inside my own head, and I start to believe my own negative publicity. At these times I tend to view everything through grey-tinted glasses. Every negative thing that happens is directed at me. Every grumpy face is my fault. Some days even The Thankful Thing can’t pull me out of it, because there is a little voice in my head telling me I’m not good enough, and I am paying it way too much attention.
I’ve been lucky, though, because I have learnt to recognise that little voice for what it is: a lying little toad, bent on my destruction. Ok, maybe that’s a bit strong, but the one thing you can say for sure about that little voice is that it is not accurate. Reality is a matter of perspective, and when your perspective is skewed, you can lose contact pretty easily.
Psychologists dealing with the chronically depressed often advocate challenging that voice – asking yourself how realistic it is. Is it true that nothing ever goes right for me? Can I find a single example of someone who doesn’t hate me? Was that earthquake really my fault? That sort of thing.
Of course, when you are miserable and making yourself more so, finding the space to draw breath and ask yourself those questions can be tough. It’s much easier to keep spiralling downwards than to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. That’s where meditation comes in. Even if you don’t practice it regularly, it can provide that breathing space and allow you room to ask those questions. Even if the closest you get to meditation is staring at the trees waving in the wind from time to time, it can be surprisingly strengthening, and allow you to take a positive perspective.
It’s all about self-talk. Self-talk can quickly drag you to rock bottom:
“I’ll never get a job,” “I’m just a fat slob”, “nobody likes me”, “It’s all too hard,”
but used consciously it can also drag you back up:
“I will get a job”, “I look great”, “I am loved”, “I am strong and I can do this.”
In trying to persuade my daughter to be more positive, I have started to become more aware of my own self-talk. Unsurprisingly it is strongly correlated with my state of health, but that doesn’t mean it’s outside my control. If I can become aware of my self-talk, then I can change it.
There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who, when presented with a glass that is exactly half full say “this glass is half full.” And then there are those who say “this glass is half empty.”
The world belongs however, to those who can look at the glass and say “What’s up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don’t think so. My glass was full. And it was a bigger glass!”
Terry Pratchett. The Truth.
One of the worst things about negative self-talk is its impact on our relationships with others. If you are constantly talking yourself down, then any negative sentiment (real or imagined) coming from someone else receives an enthusiastic cheer squad inside your own head. “When will you have that report done?” becomes “He’s mad at me for being so slow. God I’m hopeless!” “I don’t think that’s a good idea” becomes “She thinks I’m stupid. Of course she does, I’m such a loser!”
These are extreme examples, but we talk to ourselves this way a lot. Maybe it’s just me, and none of my readers will identify with any of this – but I suspect that’s the little toad talking.
I’m going to go out and get myself a bigger glass. What are you saying to yourself?