THE BLOG
07/16/2015 04:58 pm ET Updated Jul 16, 2016

Self-Talk and Self-Compassion

We talk to ourselves constantly throughout the day. It is believed by some researchers that we have between 12,000 and 50,000 plus thoughts every day -- although this has not been validated in the research. Regardless of the exact number of thoughts that parade through our minds each day -- when we tune in, we are all too aware of their presence.

Internal talk is a mixture of negative, positive, and neutral thoughts. What I have observed as a psychologist and educator is that a preponderance of the thoughts that people entertain in their minds are negative or anxiety based. Also, most of these thoughts are a repetition of the thoughts from yesterday and the day before that.

Self-Talk Begins in Childhood

Self-talk begins early in childhood and persists throughout our lifetime. It is our constant companion.

Typically the quality of our self-talk has been influenced by our parents, teachers, friends, and the media when we were younger and and subsequently throughout our life. Early on we learn to compare ourselves to others without honoring our selves. Although we are all part of the greater whole of humanity each of us have unique qualities to be celebrated.

Negativity Loop
When we get into a negativity loop -- which is invariably a learned response stemming from hypercritical self-talk, this leads to chronic stress and quite possibly over time puts us at risk for mental and physical disease.

Many of use our inner voices as instruments for self-punishment, even abuse. We can call ourselves useless, stupid, a failure, worthless. Our internal dialogue influences self-esteem, levels of confidence and the quality of our relationships suffers.

It takes a toll on our feelings and behaviors and this can be psychologically damaging and highly demotivating. What is interesting is that we speak to ourselves in a way that we would not dare talk to our friends or even the people we don't like!

Are Our Thoughts Accurate
The problem with our self-talk is that we tend not to question the accuracy of what we tell ourselves, we just listen to the negative statements day in, day out -- swallowing them whole. Eventually we end up believing these thoughts even if they do now hold a modicum of truth or if they do hold some truth, we blow the situation out of proportion. 
 
If we think we are a failure or useless we just tend to more readily accept these self injurious judgments. Negative self-talk affects our brain chemistry and leads to heightened stress, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. 

Develop the Capacity to Change
The good news is that we have the capacity to change this inner dialogue. It is ultimately a matter of choice -- and practice. Research has found that optimists, who have positive self-talk and belief in themselves, have better physical and psychological health than those who tend to be pessimistic with negative self-talk.

Build Your Self-Compassion Quotient
If you were not born or reared with this attitudeyou can still develop the capacity to become kinder and more compassionate with your self. Changing our internal self-talk and becoming more self-compassionate is not selfish or self centered. It is simply allowing ourselves to to have a positive self regard and at the same time to know that we are all imperfect and share the same human experience.

It is about tapping into the same care and compassion you would if you were helping a child, a loved one, a person in distress. We offer that up to ourselves. And that kindness helps us to feel good about ourselves which then allows us to give our best to others.
 
Raising Your Level of Consciousness
The first step in changing negative thought patterns is to become keenly aware of these thoughts. Usually they appear just below conscious awareness, but with time and practice we can recognize them. As we start to tune into our internal self talk and listen to what we are saying to ourselves we can start to identify these thoughts as they arise. Once identified, we can challenge their accuracy.
 
Some Examples of Negative Self-Talk
I'm such an idiot.
I can't believe I'm so stupid.
I'm not loveable.
Other people are better than me.
I can't cope.
The worst always happens to me.
My problems will go on forever.
 
Write Down Your Script 
It may help to write down your thoughts to get a read on your "internal script." Then assess. Are these thoughts true? Are they are being blown out of proportion? Theresearchclearly shows that your thinking style is a habit that can be changed.

Changing self-talk and becoming more self-compassionate takes time and practice. When you consider it has taken a lifetime to attain the level of negative self-talk we have managed to achieve, it makes sense that it would take time to shift this way of talking to oneself.

Create a Repertoire of Positive and Realistic Thoughts

When a negative self-thought arises you can begin to replace that thought with something more self-compassionate and positive. You can gradually build your repertoire of self-affirming, positive thoughts, memories, and traits -- that are real and ideally moving towards the optimistic.

This does not mean putting a positive spin on everything. It is important to be honest and realistic with ourselves. Bad thingsdohappen, but seeing ourselves and the events in our lives as they really are -- in balance is key.

I Have What It Takes
Tapping into self-kindness and self-compassion can be facilitated by practicing saying these thoughts to oneself while relaxed. For example: "I have what it takes." "I am lovable and worthy." "I am a good, decent person." "I am capable of being or doing whatever I set my mind to." It helps to take some belly breaths to first get grounded and then practice replacing the negative with the positive.

I Am Loving Awareness
You may find it helpful when a barrage of negativity hits you to put your hands over your heart and repeat to yourself."I am good. I am love." Ram Dass suggests saying with hands over heart, "I am loving awareness. I am loving awareness."

The more we remain openhearted to ourselves the more available we are to others. We must first become our own best friend so that we are better poised to make a difference in our lives and the lives of others and ultimately impact the greater good for all.