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Create a Kinder Mind: How to Stop Your Mean, Hurtful Self-Talk

Two Kinds of Brains

“You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn't worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens!” ~Louise Hay

In my quest to learn to love myself I did therapy, read plenty of self-help books, and took personal development courses, hoping I could learn to love myself like I could learn accounting.

This was all helpful; however, when I reached the self-talk stage my progress came to a standstill.

Before then, I hadn’t consciously realized that I used powerfully negative words when speaking to or about myself. I was the first to put myself down, the first to criticize and chastise myself, and my own harshest critic.

While this helped me push through some physical and mental barriers and, therefore, achieve things that I never thought possible—such as completing an Ironman triathlon and running ultramarathons—these moments were the exception, not the rule.

I hid behind the excuse that it motivated me in order to justify being mean to myself, perpetuating the cycle. My so-called valid reasons were holding me back from changing my life and loving myself so that I could be happier and more fulfilled.

I recognized that I spoke so terribly to and about myself because I suffered from incredibly low self-esteem.

I was trying to measure up to my own high, unrealistic standards of who I thought I needed to be in order to be loved, approved, and accepted. But these destructive and critical habits were actually in conflict with what I really needed, as they didn’t allow me to give myself love.

I needed to change the way I spoke about myself, and I needed to do it quickly!

I realized I’d formed these habits as a result of both conscious and unconscious decisions I’d made in the past. And if my thoughts about myself came from decisions I had made in the past, I had the same power today to make different decisions to shape the person that I would be in the future.

These are some of the tricks and tools that I’ve used to overcome my self-esteem issues and begin speaking to myself more kindly:

1. Journaling.

Before I began changing my self-talk, I had used my diary to vent what I was feeling. It was painful to read what I had written. Among the negative thoughts and feelings were momentous and joyous events, but the painful memories and thoughts overshadowed them.

When I purchased a new journal I decided to focus instead on what I did or said for and about myself that demonstrated love and kindness.

So for instance, if I felt fat and was beating myself up about my thighs being too big, I would write that I was grateful that my big thighs were strong enough to help me run marathons.

You too will find that after a few days of consistently doing this you will be able to catch mean thoughts before they spiral into something bigger.

2. Eliminating the words should/must do/have to.

I have stopped using these words and replaced them with kinder words such as “I choose to,” as I found that “should,” “must do,” and “have to” were causing me to feel unnecessary guilt.

As an example, when I set my alarm clock at night instead of saying that “I should wake up early and exercise,” I now say to myself, “I choose to wake up early and exercise.”

Stop ‘shoulding’ all over yourself and you too will feel much better about yourself.

3. Smiling.

In my most recent marathon, instead of beating myself up for not being faster, I started the race with the intention of smiling for as much of as it as I could. It was the best thing that I could have done.

It made me feel good, and the spectators noticed it and cheered me on, which in turn filled me with more positive energy.

Try smiling now and see how much better you feel. Imagine yourself doing this all the time when crossing the road or even when answering the phone. You will find that a little smile becomes a big smile in no time.

4. Saying yes to yourself and no to others.

I have learned to say yes to myself, which sometimes means saying no to others.

I now examine my motives for saying yes to someone else. If it is to be loved and/or accepted, it will likely create disappointment when I don’t get what I expect in return.

Imagine if we all said yes to others only when we really felt it in our hearts. There would be no resentment, and when we do things for others it would be done with joy, creating more positive feelings about ourselves.

5. Accepting that we don’t all have to like each other.

I have started to also worry less about what others think of me and my decisions, so long as I am comfortable with my choices, and they come from a place of integrity and honesty.

This has helped me with my self-talk, as I no longer tell myself that I am a bad person if someone doesn’t like me.

Just as we don’t like everyone else, everyone won’t like us, and that’s okay. You might be surprised how liberating it feels when you are okay with not being liked by everyone else.

6. Asking, “How does this decision make me feel about me?”

I measure every choice against how it makes me feel about myself. I ask myself, “Does this make me feel good about myself? If not, what needs to happen for me to feel good about me?”

For instance, before I accept an invitation to see ‘an old friend,’ I now stop and ask myself, “Would spending time with this person make me feel good about myself?” If the answer is no, then I make a decision to spend my time with someone else whose presence empowers me.

Ask yourself this question and you too will make more choices that build you up instead of tear you down.

7. Setting achievable goals and celebrating progress.

I now set achievable goals and celebrate them. I also don’t beat myself up anymore if I don’t achieve them, or don’t achieve them in the way I had hoped to.

You can celebrate your small accomplishments by going to dinner with friends or buying yourself a small gift as a reward. Whatever it is, make sure that you are present in the moment when you celebrate, as this will reinforce that you are a wonderful person and you deserve credit for all the good you do.

8. Walking away.

I have also learned to walk away from people who don’t treat me with respect. It’s not an easy thing to do; however, if I allow others to be disrespectful toward me, then I perpetuate the cycle and I am also giving myself permission to do the same to me.

You too deserve to be treated with love and kindness—both by yourself and others.

How does your self-talk reflect the way you feel about yourself? Could you be kinder and more loving to yourself?

Two brains image via Shutterstock

About Vanessa Heuser

Vanessa is a Life Coach who helps people connect with what really matters to them based on their values so that they can love the life they live. She blogs regularly at happywithlife.com.au and can be followed on Twitter. In her spare time, Vanessa is either off running somewhere on trails around Melbourne or riding her bike.

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  • Thank you Vanessa for sharing your story. It is so amazing but I read it and thought you wrote it just for me. It is so amazing how as humans we berate ourselves and yet think it is fine yet if someone else said the same things we say to ourselves to us we would never allow them to get away with it. I have to learn as well to resist the urge to berate myself, Thanks again for a great story.

  • Hi Vanessa,

    I have used journaling in the past for super results. I literally pinpoint my feelings of self, feeling by feeling, and word by word, to get the energies onto a tangible piece of paper. Doing so made a world of a difference in my life because I hated me less and loved me more after releasing the hate on a piece of paper.

    I also burn the paper over a sink or tub. Safety first. Doing so sends a powerful, cathartic message to the Universe. I am done with those hating energies, so my self talk has taken a more loving, grateful and accepting tone since doing the paper bit. Thanks for the enlightening share.

    Ryan

  • Wiseman28

    Superb. Amazed by the power of smiling. Also begged every one of my students to always have enough saved to walk away from any bad boss or job. I call this ‘freedom money.’

  • Talya Price

    Thank you for this.

  • Franziska

    I can also absolutely relate to this. It’s funny how we often think we are all alone, but we actually share a lot of the same paths.

  • Few hrs ago l received my 1st paycheck of` $7845 for working 2 hrs on my laptop past few days.. My neighbor with toddlers, made over $11k her first month. lt’s so cooI to make’ money” this way, when other people have to work for so much Iess. Visit website on my profiIe` to see what I do`
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  • Great advice, Vanessa, thank you. Talking badly about yourself is so devastating. Long time ago I eliminated also the phrase “I don’t feel like it…” Not because of the words, but because of the feelings this phrase is full of – uninterestedness, dullness, boredom. It felt great afterwards.

  • Happy With Life

    Hi Rose,
    thank you too for sharing your experience with me as well. I am a firm believer in the Universe and that things happen for a reason, so I sincerely hope that my experience will help you stop and think twice before you berate yourself. I kindly ask you to give yourself love first and fill your own tank up before you give it to others. Sending you lots of love and light. Vanessa x

  • Happy With Life

    Hi Franziska,
    It is ‘funny’ how we think we are alone and in my experience it is because of this that we feel even more alone. I look forward to hearing how by applying some of my simple tools helps you on your journey. Love and light. Vanessa x

  • Happy With Life

    My absolute pleasure Talya. I am glad you enjoyed reading it. Love and light. Vanessa x

  • Happy With Life

    The power of smile is so strong and the feel good effect that you get is amazing (I am smiling as I am writing this as how can you not smile when you write the word smile). I have written another blog that is on my website about smiling.
    “Freedom money” – I love it! I have called it something else that involves a swear word !!! I much prefer your phrase and if you don’t mind I am going to copy it 😉
    Love and Light to you Wiseman. Vanessa

  • Happy With Life

    Hi Ryan,
    thank you so much for sharing your story with me. I often write goodbye letters to people who I have had to release from my life and like you burn them to let go of the negative energy. I make sure however that when I am watching the paper burn, I am sending the person lots of love and light and thank the Universe for sending that person/situation into my world for the lessons that they have taught me. Do you do the same?

    Sending you lots of love and light
    Vanessa

  • Happy With Life

    Hi Nina,
    thanks for sharing your advice with us all. I love it!! Very empowering.
    Love and light. Vanessa x

  • Sometimes we say mean things to ourselves that we won’t even say to others (unless we’re very angry at them). We need to accept and love ourselves as we are.

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  • Happy With Life

    Well said @LucyChenFineArt:disqus – why is that? Why do we allow ourselves to speak to others better than we speak to ourselves – after all we are the ones that we have to live with for the rest of our lives. I hope my blog helped you change the way you speak to yourself. Love and and light to you. Vanessa x

  • This is a beautiful piece–so helpful. I especially love the part about changing “should” to “I choose” because so much of our time is spent worrying what we should do for others and or what society expects of us instead of what we REALLY want to be doing. The smiling tip is great! Sometimes I remember to do this and I drive around town with a goofy smile on my face, but it always makes me feel better. Thank you.

  • Happy With Life

    Thanks @disqus_xa9qmh7Hrf:disqus for taking the time out to share with us your experience and also what resonated with you. I agree with you we do need to follow our hearts more; whether it is buying a new dress or do choosing a restaurant, I check in with myself and see if decision makes my heart sing! As for smiling – it is contagious, just reading the word smile makes me smile so thank for putting a smile on my face right now. Love and light to you. Vanessa x

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  • LaTrice Dowe

    I’ve always felt comfortable in my own skin, despite objections. I could careless what others have to say, so their opinions don’t matter to me, and it’s none of my business.

    For instance, I can decide who’s welcomed into my life, and who’s no longer welcomed. I’m in control, and will continue to sit in the driver’s seat, following my own direction.

    Thank you, Vanessa, for writing an excellent article.

  • Happy With Life

    Hi @latricedowe:disqus, I feel very empowered by your comment. Thank you for sharing, especially where you have decided who is welcome and not welcome into your life. I really enjoyed hearing that language and the use of the word ‘welcome’. Love and Light to you. Vanessa x

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  • YaBoyTrillTime

    I am a student at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, studying accounting. I also just did my first Ironman (Wisconsin) at the age of 20, something I never saw myself doing until much later on. Most people think I have my life together because I accomplish all of the things I do and provide great advice at appropriate times; however, I am never satisfied. I know that most people probably think this is a great quality to have, as it tends to lead to success, but it is actually really damaging. I view myself in a very negative light due to constant negative thinking, comparing myself to other people, and over analyzing everything. I’m exhausted, really. I fear that if I don’t correct myself soon, I will slip into depression and have to make major adjustments to get back on track. As a result, I’m willing to try these few things and see where it lands me. I never thought of myself as having low self-esteem, but after constantly criticizing my actions and thoughts for so many years I have slowly worn away all belief in myself. As a person who also loves the art of writing, great article! Everyone deserves happiness.

  • TrumpsToupee

    Of course the author/life coach is from ‘Straya; They’re regularly ranked the happiest people in the world. That “I choose to” trick will be invaluable for me. Being a negative perfectionist, I’m often paralyzed with the idea of having to do a thing. I’ll still do the negative journaling, just to get it out of my system. But I’ll start throwing the page out/deleting it once it’s done and replace it with a positive take on the situation.
    Thanks for this! You’re doing good work.

  • BlueBoomPony

    Not so easy in some professions, especially technical ones where you can’t just hire on at any old company. I’m an older engineer and the tech world is utterly saturated with ageism. Forget the fact that I’m still earning patents, all anyone sees is hair beginning to gray.

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  • Van

    I had a similar experience with journaling– made it a place to vent, criticize, complain… not to mention withering SELF-criticism. Somehow I got this idea that if it ain’t negative, it ain’t honest. Not seeing the good is also a form of dishonesty.

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  • Incredible words! I will be the first to admit I am guilty of negative self-talk. Your words are incredibly motivating. I recently learned to weed out the people who do not respect me, family included. It is difficult and liberating at the same time.

    -Tara

  • Hi @YaBoyTrillTime. First, congratulations on on completing the Ironman! Not an easy task. I related to what you said about people thinking you have your life together and expect that you have no issues. If only that were the case, right?

    I actually just wrote a blog post yesterday that I think you may enjoy/relate to. It helped me out so much just writing it. After reading my own words, I basically had to call myself out on my own nonsense. Something we should all do anyway.

    I will share the link if you would like to go and check it out!

    http://soullifeblog.com/on-lessons-in-growth/

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  • ImmortalIronFist

    Thank you for this. I am in (I think) the darkest period of my life. I am now eager to try journaling to get the junk out on paper, and then hopefully get some replacement things in place. I went from drawing every day to nothing so this will help prime the creative pump and get back to the world of the living and productivity/health. Thank you and thank you also to other commenters for some good input, too. #grateful.

  • Wonderful tips Vanessa! I’ve just started using “choose” instead of should, because I also realized the intense guilt that “shoulds” gave me. So far, I feel great and I actually get more done because I’m allowing myself to do what lights me up. 🙂