Self-Talk: What You Say to Yourself Determines Your Experience
by Sandra Zimmer
by Sandra Zimmer
"Words, words, words" says Hamlet in Shakespeare's greatest play about the human mind. Hamlet is trapped in indecision because his head is full of words. Sometimes the words say one thing, sometimes another. Hamlet cannot act with clarity and love because he cannot get beyond the self-talk inside his own mind.
Self-talk plays an important role in stage fright and performance anxiety. Many of the symptoms of stage fright are either triggered or intensified by the way we talk to ourselves inside our minds. This chapter will help you identify your negative self-talk, challenge it and change it to supportive self-talk. Talking to yourself in nurturing and supportive ways will be an important tool for healing the tension of being the center of attention.
WHAT IS SELF-TALK?
Self-talk is what we say to ourselves inside our mind. It is the steady stream of words that play constantly in the mind. For many people, the verbiage never stops. Everything we see and feel and experience is translated into words that become a running dialogue inside our head.
Self-talk is conditioned patterns of thinking. The talk can be positive or negative, loving or critical. Whether positive or negative, how we talk to ourselves creates our experience. Our conditioned ways of thinking generate emotions and activate behaviors. Our whole way of being, acting and feeling is influenced by how we think and talk to ourselves.
HOW SELF-TALK RELATES TO STAGE FRIGHT
How you talk to yourself creates your emotional experience. Thoughts generate feelings. In stage fright, negative self-talk begins as soon as you know you are going to have to present, speak, perform or communicate. The physical body is instantly filled with negative feelings. To make matters worse, self-judgment and perfectionism then kick in. You begin to judge yourself for feeling fear and anxiety. You tell yourself that you are wrong because you experience negative feelings. That compounds the problem and creates even more bad feeling. So it goes round and round and escalates until your body is so flooded with fear and so tense that you are unable to function effectively.
Perfectionism is at the root of this pattern. We expect we "should be" perfect. Anything less is unacceptable to our mind. Deep down we know that we are not perfect and that we have fear like other people. But the mind cannot or will not accept that fact. It attempts to uphold an image of perfection that does not include the possibility of human weakness. The mind knows we can't live up to our own expectations.
As soon as we have to "perform", we risk judgment from others. Our self-talk begins to remind us how very imperfect we are and how the situation is going to turn out badly. After all, there is no way to be perfect, so we have already failed.
This unsupportive self-talk kicks in so quickly and is so automatic that we don't even know it is going on under the surface of awareness. Becoming aware of your inner self-talk lets you know what thoughts are running your feelings and behaviors.
In stage fright, perfectionistic patterns of thinking are running the show. You have no chance of success at presentation until you completely identify them, hear them inside your head, challenge them and change them.
In order to be really successful at presentation, performance or communication, we must risk showing others our authentic self, even if it means admitting fear and anxiety. What the perfectionistic mind does not understand is that human imperfection and emotional vulnerability are compelling. Our willingness to reveal our humanity makes us magnetic to others. Even more, authenticity, in all its imperfection, is the way to power. In order to become all we can be, we must give up perfectionism and surrender to being authentic.
HOW TO TRANSFORM NEGATIVE SELF-TALK INTO SUPPORTIVE SELF-TALK
Many people are not even aware they are talking critically to themselves. Negative self-talk has become so automatic and happens so fast that the thoughts don't even register consciously. To transform negative into supportive self-talk, you have to catch it, identify it, challenge it and change it. To become aware of your self-talk, ask yourself what you know or believe about yourself that you are afraid for others to find out. What is it that deep down you do not want anyone else to see? This will begin to stir up some awareness of the fear that is lurking deep within yourself. Do some writing and fill in the blanks.
"What I don't want anyone to know is __________________."
"What I don't want anyone to see is __________________."
CATCH THE NEGATIVE SELF-TALK
Once you have uncovered what you are protecting, start to listen inside your head to catch the things your mind is saying. If you are not used to listening to yourself, it may take a while to catch the phrases. Keep a pad of paper available to help you in the process. When you catch a piece of self-talk, write it down. For a week or two, just listen and catch your self-talk. Don't try to change it. Just listen and write down the messages as if you are taking dictation and are a curious observer.
Please don't judge yourself for it. This negating self-talk is a part of our human condition. It is in every one of us and it challenges every person in the process of growth and evolution. So rejoice that you are far enough in your growth to be working on it. It is huge to face this!
CHALLENGE YOUR SELF-TALK
Once you have become super-aware of the negative stuff you are saying to yourself, you must next begin to challenge the self-talk as it comes up. When you hear yourself say something to yourself that is critical or self-judging, you must stop it. Say "STOP" in your head. Then challenge that thought by asking "Is that the truth? Is that the real truth?" Question the validity of your self-talk until it diminishes and dies. Most of the time, the negative self-talk is not true. Get it that your negative thoughts are simply not true.
CHANGE THE NEGATIVE SELF-TALK
Once you understand that the negative thought is not the truth about you, then you must replace the thought with the real truth. Now ask yourself, "What IS the truth?" Then tell yourself what is really true. It will usually be something that is between the extremes.
You will feel yourself relax when you are telling yourself the authentic truth. However, you may struggle for a while. You will have to continue to catch, challenge and replace your self-talk for a long time. Every time your negative self-talk starts, you will again have to say, "STOP! Is that the truth? What is the truth? The truth about me is ________________."
When you change a small part of negative self-talk you will begin to unravel a whole string of negative thoughts and beliefs about yourself that are unsupportive. You will change rapidly, feel lighter, stronger, more confident and more joyous!
**continued in next post**