Please excuse any typos or grammatical errors
In our last segment we started to show how rational self-talk can start to change how we feel about activating events in our lives and gave a couple examples. In this section we are going to talk about the negative self-talk we tell ourselves about ourselves and why it’s not rational.
Perhaps the most detrimental irrational beliefs we hold are the ones we have about ourselves. It’s these beliefs that often lead to depression, self-hate, and destructive behaviors. Most times the activating events that precede the negative self-talk aren’t so clear and therefore it’s harder to pinpoint what you are doing to yourself.
As I have done before, I will now go into examples to help clarify things
The activating event: You are to attend the company Christmas party tonight.
The possible irrational self talk you might have: Nobody likes me at work. I am so socially awkward that I will embarrass myself. I don’t have a date, everyone will believe I am a loser.
The likely emotional response to those irrational thoughts: Self loathing
Why those thoughts are irrational.
Nobody likes me at work: You simply cannot know that and the more damning thing is that your negative self talk is likely going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because you’ve said this to yourself you are more likely to not engage co-workers and thus not make friends.
I am so socially awkward that I will embarrass myself: Well saying that to yourself certainly gives you an excuse for not trying didn’t it? The fact is that those people that you see engaging others most likely have the same doubts about themselves. The difference is that they made the decision to try and do something about it because their goals were make friends, or at the least be friendly.
I don’t have a date, everyone will think I am a loser: Well we are about to tackle labels here in just a minute. This isn’t rational because you have no idea what anyone will think about your situation or if they will give it any thought at all. They are just as likely to think you are a strong individual to show up without a date.
So what could we tell ourselves that would be rational about our impending company party?
This is will be a great time to see my coworkers out of work mode: This is likely to illicit excitement about the party.
I don’t get to do a lot of large get-togethers, this will give me a chance to get more comfortable in these kind of settings: This again will get you to be determined, not have anxiety.
I can’t think of anyone to go with me to the party. Oh well I am sure there will be someone else in the same boat I am, and even if there isn’t I know most of the people there and will have people I can talk with: Again, this sets up a positive outcome and puts you in a neutral mood before arriving.
Now, I want to interrupt the flow of what we’ve been talking about to introduce a concept to you that most people have a real problem with. Labels.
The problem with labels is that they are meaningless and therefore not rational. I cannot be a murderer, only someone that has murdered. What is this I am saying?? I’m not kidding. I cannot be a murderer because at any moment I could decide to never murder again. Labeling me is saying that I am currently a murderer and will always be one and would therefore be meaningless and inaccurate. I am only someone that had committed murder.
Why is this really important? Because we label ourselves some pretty silly things, such as loser. We cannot be a loser because at any time we might win. We can decide to stop doing the things that ended up badly for us. We cannot call ourselves hopeless, loser, an asshole, or any other derogatory thing we often do as they are simply not true as we cannot know the future and we can make a decision in the future to not be those things.
I can be a guy that was an asshole, I cannot be an asshole as a label because I can decide at any time to stop doing those things that society considers assholish.
For me personally, I stopped using labels about myself altogether, but this is a personal decision you have to make for yourself. I don’t label my sexuality, I don’t label myself through my work, I don’t label myself through kinks I might have or might not have. I am not any one thing in my life. I am a father, relationship coach, photographer, adventure seeker and more, but I am not any one of these things in singularity. I am a complex mixture of a lot of things today, and I might be a complex mixture of a lot of different things tomorrow.
There will be at least one whole video on labels and the myriad of problems using them on ourselves and others but for now, back to our topic of the video. Let’s try some more complex negative self talk.
Activating event: You woke up in the morning.
Possible negative self talk around that time: I hate my job, why aren’t I doing what I really want to do with my life? I am the worst parent, I slept in again and I hear the kids got themselves up for school this morning. I loathe my life, nothing in my life is as I planned it.
Here we don’t have a clear cut activating event other than it’s morning and your conscious mind is just starting to rouse from sleep. However it is a time when we are most likely to be thinking to ourselves as we struggle to convince ourselves to get up.
Likely emotional response to those self statements and questions? Depression.
Now, all of these statements and questions aren’t rational because they are not furthering your goal to be a happy and healthy person, however they are not so clear cut as other examples we’ve done. Let’s take a look at each of them in turn.
I hate my job, why aren’t I doing what I really want to do with my life? Well we can say for certain that the beginning part of this statement isn’t productive, but the question part might be. The problem is that the question is attached to the first part and therefore not likely to be very productive. The “I hate my job” section is just going to reinforce negative feelings about your current situation and likely start a cascade of other negative statements such as “I don’t want to get out of bed for a job I hate” or “I simply cannot go through another day working at the worst job I’ve ever had”. Both of these statements are irrational. The why am I not doing what I really want to do might be rational if it were attached to positive self examination instead of “I hate my job”. We’ll look at how that might work in just a bit.
I am the worst parent, I slept in again and I hear the kids got themselves up for school this morning. This isn’t rational because it’s easily disprovable. While staying in bed late all the time is clearly not productive, it’s certainly not the worst thing a parent has ever done. There is a fine line between self questioning your decisions in life and beating yourself up over your decisions. The determining factor is how you go about questioning your decisions. This is an example of how not to do it.
I loathe my life, nothing in my life is as I planned it. Again, here is a statement that isn’t productive because it guarantees a negative emotional response. In this case feeling sorry for yourself.
Now, in previous sections I’ve given examples of what you could be saying to yourself that would be rational and I’ll do so again in the following section but this time I’m really going to try and tackle each negative statement with a positive statement that directly addresses the same issues.
Instead of saying you hate your job you could start your self-dialogue along these lines when you wake up. This job is obviously not something that I want to do long term, but right now it’s paying the bills and I should be thankful of that. So many are out of work altogether. I will deal with it but also I need to make a plan on how to switch careers to something that better suits what I want out of life.
That self talk tackles the same concerns about being in a job you don’t want to do but is productive in that it gets you motivated to make a plan of action.
For the next statement about sleeping in – Instead we might say. Oh man, I slept in again. Thankfully the kids got themselves up. I don’t want to be this parent that doesn’t interact with my kids in the morning so I had better figure out how I start arranging my schedule to include being with them in the morning. Again, we can see the same pattern with this statement. It addresses the issue without demonizing yourself.
Lastly, instead of telling yourself how your life has not gone as you wanted it to, you say something along these lines. Well, life sure throws us curveballs and I have made a lot of decisions in my life that have lead me to where I am today. If I really want to change where my life is headed, I have to start making different decisions and doing things differently. There is nothing preventing me from changing things up, I just have to make a plan on how to do it.
In each of the examples I have given over the last three lessons you can clearly see that one set of thoughts is self destructive, or induces an emotional disturbance while the positive examples work in the opposite. The biggest obstacle I’ve seen from people is their stubborn belief that how they think and thus feel is set in stone. I hear things such as “I have never been a positive person and I’m never going to be”. “I am 45 years old, I can’t change how I view things now”. “No one really thinks like that”. You get the idea.
In every excuse why you can’t do this lies the reason why you are not currently happy with yourself or your life now. You are preventing yourself by your own statements about what is possible for you and what is not. The first lesson that I have to teach anyone is to start believing that they can change. That what has happened does not have to be what will always happen.
None of this can work until you tell yourself that it is possible to change how you think. All it takes is a commitment and work. We are creatures of habit. It’s why you resist change now. However with that revelation comes hope. If you can make a habit out of new behaviors, they become just as ingrained and you will find it hard to stay emotionally disturbed about anything.
Now, understand that we have just scratched the surface here. While cognitive, or rational thinking, is the key to everything else we will talk about, it’s not going to give you answers to navigating relationships or even the how to deal with everything life can through at you. It’s just the foundations we have to start with. If you can’t get that you feel the way you think, nothing else we talk about will make sense and if you can’t change how you think, then you are stuck with what is forever. If you are here, I am betting that you are not so content with what is.
In the next section we will continue to talk more about rational thinking but will concentrate on identifying self talk and how we go about changing life-long habits.
I am Diego Abrams and this is Triscele Life and Relationships. See you for part 4.