Have you listened to your inner voice lately? You know, that voice that’s constantly in the back of your mind giving unsolicited feedback. For most of us, that voice is overwhelmingly negative — and that has a direct effect on the choices we make, how we feel about ourselves, and our physical health.
Recently, after experiencing a bout of writer’s block, I did an unblocking exercise that revealed shocking results: I am incredibly mean to myself. Some of the thoughts I have running on a constant loop in the background of my mind are:
- You’re not smart enough to be an authority on anything
- Nothing you have to say hasn’t been said before
- You don’t have enough formal training to be taken seriously
- You have no original ideas
- Everything you create is mediocre
Harsh! And those are some of the nicer ones… Would I ever say any of those things to a person I loved? Absolutely not. Do I even believe those thoughts to be true of anyone I know? No way. This negative thought loop was not only preventing me from accessing my creative energy, but it also had the potential to make me sick (read on to learn how these thoughts can manifest physically).
So, why do we (women especially) have a tendency to be so darn mean to ourselves? And, how do we switch up the soundtrack in our heads?
What’s with the mean words?
In part, this may have begun as an important survival mechanism. According to a study by Olivia Longe, Ph.D. at Aston University’s School of Life and Health Sciences, there’s a link between these self-critical thoughts and the part of our brain that keeps us safe from dangerous repetitive behaviors and potentially life-threatening errors.
However, somewhere along the line, some wires have clearly gotten crossed. Publishing a piece of vulnerable writing won’t kill you, though the critical response might hurt. Going after a job you aren’t technically qualified for might result in a painful rejection, but you will survive. Dressing in a style that’s true to yourself but goes against the grain might get people talking, but the hurt will subside. The outcomes our minds are "saving" us from are not life-threatening; in fact, they are quite often very important experiences to have. In this way, a reaction that's supposed to keep us safe is actually causing us a lot of harm.
The mind-body connection
Beyond that, scientists are becoming increasingly aware of the connection between our mind and our body. The mind-body connection describes the power our thoughts, feelings, beliefs and attitudes have to positively or negatively affect our biological functioning. That connection goes both ways. For example, if you eat low nutrition foods and don’t exercise, you might experience depression. Conversely, depression can affect things like appetite and energy levels — basically, it’s a two way street. To maintain health, you need to watch your thoughts just as much as you watch what you eat or how often you exercise.
Uncovering your subconscious thoughts
The key is to first recognize what negative thoughts you’re telling yourself, and then ask: “what am I protecting myself from?”
To do this, pick a goal you’re having trouble accomplishing. Maybe it’s going back to school, switching careers, meeting a new partner, or making a drastic change to your hair. Whatever it is, once you’ve chosen it, take a deep breath, clear your mind, and get ready to write. Then, without overthinking, make a list of all the reasons why you “can’t” do that thing. These are your core negative beliefs.
Some common core negative beliefs are:
- Everyone will hate me.
- I will hurt my friends and family.
- I will go into debt and never recover.
- I'm not pretty enough.
- It will ruin my relationship.
If your list feels intense, you’re probably on the right track. And guess what? None of these beliefs need to be true. To quote Julia Cameron’s revolutionary book The Artist’s Way, these false beliefs often “come to us from our parents, our religion, our culture, and our fearful friends.” Bottom line: you've been incorrectly programmed. To begin undoing this training, sit with each item on your list and come up with at least one reason why each belief might actually be false. Repeat this exercise as many times as needed.
Just as your thoughts affect your body, you can use your body to affect your thoughts. Meditation, yoga, tai chi and qigong are all excellent methods for stabilizing the body, which in turn stabilizes your thoughts.
Were you surprised by the negative thoughts playing in your mind? What goals are they holding you back from achieving? Let us know in the comments below.