Let me tell you a story about the first time I flipped the script on my negative self-talk.
The day I met my Mother in Law for the first time, I was NERVOUS. I had no reason to be, I’d met other boyfriends’ moms in the past and it always went well. But for some reason, I was especially nervous to meet her. Maybe it was because I didn’t have a show to brag about being in, maybe it was because I had just lost my side hustle and felt a little lost, or maybe it was because I knew that *this particular* boyfriend was different than all the others. Either way, when the day arrived I sheepishly admitted to my- now husband- that I was very nervous. He chuckled a bit and assured me that everything would be fine and then he said,
“Or you could do what I do when I’m nervous and give yourself a high five!”
Perplexed, I looked at this sweet man and said “What? Like, slap my own hand?”
“No!” he laughed. “You go into the bathroom, you look at yourself and say ‘You’ve got this’ and then high-five yourself in the mirror.”
I erupted in laughter. No way was I going to high-five a mirror. No way that would help. I am a professional performer, I don’t need confidence tricks like that.
Fast forward to halfway through my gnocchi.
I was starting to get nervous- the kind where it’s going well so you’re nervous it’s going well- I excused myself to the restroom. I needed to stop the negative self-talk. So, I took a deep breath, looked in the mirror, and said “You’ve got this!” looked both ways and gave myself a high five. And I’m not going to lie, despite feeling immensely silly, it worked. What’s even crazier is, this seemingly silly technique is backed by science!
David Sarwer, psychologist and clinical director at the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at the University of Pennsylvania says that speaking to oneself in the mirror is one of the first tools he uses with new patients. He says that physical transformation is not always enough if a person does not change how their body looks in their mind’s eye. Mirror affirmations are a step toward adjusting the way we think of ourselves. This goes way beyond our bodies too! Studies have shown that positive self-talk can affect how you handle and experience anxiety, improve technical performance, and help us cope with your emotions and mental stress.
On the flip side, research shows that negative self-talk can lead to cycles of self-fulfilling prophecies.
Basically put, if we are telling ourselves that we will never be good enough or thin enough or talented enough, we are less likely to work on those things and then, when we fail, think “See, I knew I couldn’t do it.” Additionally, some studies suggest that repetitive negative thinking is a risk factor for the persistence of depression and anxiety.
Now, before you get down on yourself, it’s important to know that negative self-talk is perfectly normal. Many people use it as a way to regulate behaviors they were taught were “bad” as a child – or even use it as a way to manage their expectations. But it’s important to know how to adjust those thoughts so you can get yourself out of a negative mindset and into a space that’s more conducive to your emotional and mental well-being.
A few weeks ago I was in an advanced dance class. The teacher was excellent, the choreo was fun, and I was surrounded by my peers. But those final two counts of eight felt like they were taught at warp speed. I wasn’t nailing the turns, and I couldn’t seem to hit the transitions- making me fumble through the next four counts of choreography. The first time we ran it in groups I made an absolute mess of it. I was embarrassed and as we switched groups I looked around and thought,
“Is this class too hard for me? Maybe these aren’t my peers. Am I in the way? Maybe I don’t belong here.”
I sat in that for a moment and realized what I was saying to myself. So, instead, I said to myself,
“You are a professional dancer. You have a degree in this. You have danced on massive stages. You can get this, but you need to focus.”
The next round, I nailed both the turns and the transitions.
Instead of allowing my negative self-talk to overwhelm my thoughts and disrupt my focus, I flipped the script. I affirmed my skills without negating the challenge ahead of me and I felt empowered. I had not only gotten the choreography, but I stood up to myself and gave myself the same encouragement I would have given a friend. This brings me to another effective tool for flipping the script on negative self-talk:
Talking to yourself as if you were someone else helps reverse negative self-talk.
Take a moment and picture someone you love. Maybe it’s a close friend, a niece or nephew, or maybe a younger sibling. Once you have this person, take a moment and imagine saying whatever you’re saying to yourself to that person. Odds are, you wouldn’t be as cruel. In fact, you might even be encouraging instead. Using that other person as a filter helps create distance between you and these thoughts.
I get it. Sometimes, mid-pirouette, it’s hard to imagine how you’d speak to your little sister. So what then?
Well, I have a little trick for you. Studies have shown that using your own name instead of the “I” or “me” pronouns is just as effective at improving emotional regulation and self-control. The research team at MSU’s clinical psychophysiology lab discovered that using third-person self-talk can decrease emotional distress within one second of its use!
I know, SO COOL!
We have the power to change how we feel about ourselves immediately. This is because talking about yourself in the third person leads you to think about yourself as you would another person, creating distance from the situation–just like the visualization exercise above.
So, next time you find yourself in a spiral of negative thoughts, take a moment and recognize what’s happening. Can you reframe your words to encourage rather than tear down? Now, insert your name and talk to yourself–it may feel silly at first, but once you start to notice a difference in how you feel it might become a daily habit! Have an audition? Have a chat with yourself in the mirror. Feeling the comparison thoughts pop into your head? Talk to yourself about how proud you are for showing up.
And if the thoughts become too heavy or too hard to talk yourself down from, it never hurts to reach out for professional help. In the meantime, these tools can be a big help. So, give it a try and let us know what you find! We’d love to hear all about how you’re cheering yourself on!