Change Your Thinking, Change your Life
Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness
The Power of Habit
Decisive: How To Make Better Choices In Life and Work
Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard
All of the above books have been New York Times bestsellers, which just goes to prove the universal appeal of trying to not only understand why others do what they do, but also to understand ourselves. All of those books also go one step further and teach us how we can change our behavior (and even that of other people) for the better.
One such book that fits into this understand yourself/understand others/help yourself/help others paradigm is The Success Principles by Jack Canfield. Principle number thirty-two, and the principle that I am going to focus this post on, is “Tranform Your Inner Critic Into an Inner Coach.”
As black women, we can sometimes feel as if we have critics on every street corner and down every avenue. But, as bad as those critics are, the worse critic–the one that does the most damage–can end up being you. Psychologists say that we engage in self-talk thousands of times a day! Are you speaking words of positivity that will make your life better, or are you speaking words that leave you mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and yes, even physically (believe it or not, our words can affect us physically) worse off? Are the words you speak to other black women words of encouragement and appreciation, or words of bitterness, anger, fear, and doubt?
On the post titled “Don’t Be a Rachel Jeantel,” commenter Starzzzy wrote:
“Ok, I understand what this article is getting at. I really do. What frustrates me is that we as Black women have to work so dang hard NOT to be something. It’s always something. It’s like we never get a break. Don’t roll your neck, don’t wear a weave, don’t act “ghetto” (whatever the heck that means), don’t speak using slang, don’t be a Rachel Jeantel, don’t do this, don’t do that. When can we focus on simply being ourselves and defining ourselves by our natural strengths? I don’t want to be constantly wondering who is watching me and judging my every move of my life and frankly I refuse to live that way. Hyper-visibility is just as bad as invisibility for a minority group.”
If you are someone who engages in negative self-talk or you find yourself constantly speaking words of negativity to other people and you want to change this, don’t despair, you can change your manner of speaking.
One suggestion offered by the Jack Canfield, the author of The Success Principles, is to keep a log for 3 consecutive days of each and every time you engage in negative self-talk. Two days should be during the week, and one day on the weekend. After the three days are up, count how many times you said something insensitive, hurtful, or simply negative to yourself or to others. This log-book-of-negativity exercise will make you aware of your harsh self-talk problem, if you have such a problem. Ideally, all if not almost-all of your self-talk (and your manner of speaking to other people) should be positive. Remember: Positive, pleasant, productive, self-actualizing people speak positive, pleasant, productive, self-actualizing words.
Focusing on who you shouldn’t be like, what you shouldn’t do, when you shouldn’t do it, where you shouldn’t go, and why you should’t do it are all actions that focus on the negative. Such negative thinking is not very helpful when it comes to creating lasting, positive change in your life and turning yourself into a positive person who other like and enjoy being around.
To help you in assessing your level of negativity to positivity, Canfield lists the following as acts of negativity:
1) Always-or-never thinking:”You AlWAYS disagree with me!” (Very rarely does anyone ALWAYS do anything; perhaps you are focusing on the times when the person does what you DON’T want, while the times when the person is doing what you want (or not interacting with you at all) are less salient in your memory.)
2) Focusing on the negative:”I lost everything when I filed for bankruptcy.” (But you don’t consider that even though you lost many material things you gained something immaterial which is arguably of more value than what you lost: a fresh start.)
3) Catastrophic predicting: “If I ask for a raise, my boss will definitely say no.” (But your boss might say yes, if you make a good case that you deserve a raise; and, besides, you lose nothing by asking.)
4) Mind-Reading: “She/he doesn’t like me.” (Actually, the person probably doesn’t care about you one way or the other, they have their own thoughts to contend with and none of those thoughts has anything to do with you. And unless the person has actually said they don’t like you, then you’re probably just projecting.)
5) Guilt-Tripping: “I should spend more time exercising.” (Canfield states:”As soon as we feel like we should do something, we create an internal resistance to doing it. You will be more effective if you replace guilt-tripping with phrases such as I want to…It supports my goals to…It would be smart to…”)
There are actions you can take to replace the negative with the positive and I’ll dive into those methods in depth in another post, but for now, try to take the following suggestions. (And you have to actually take the suggestions and do the work.)
Suggestion #1: Write a list of all the things about your life that make you happy, your accomplishments that make you proud,and the people who you love. Read this list first thing every morning when you wake up. The list can be a long as you would like. This suggestion will allow you to start your day on a good foot, with positive thoughts to propel you forward through the day. If you would like, take the list with you wherever you go and whenever you need a pick me up you can read the list. Read this list every morning for at least 21 days; some say that it takes at least that long to form a habit. You want to make starting the day on a positive note a habit.
Suggestion #2: Find ways to change your negative self-talk into positive self-talk. In lieu of saying “I won’t ever finish this….,” you can say “I will finish this, and the following are the things I need to do to finish on time” etc.
And remember, your inner critic ‘bad’ just because she says bad things to do that can hinder your progress. She wants you to do better–she just doesn’t always know how to best articulate her thoughts in a way that will help you to change.
In regards to those times that our inner critic is offering suggestions but in an unhelpful say, Canfield says:
“…there are a lot of things that your inner coach observes about how to improve your performance in future situations. The problem–up until now!–is that it has been presenting the information as a judgement. Once you switch the conversation to a nonemotional discussion of improvement opportunities, the experience changes from a negative to a positive one.”
Jamila Akil is a Senior Editor at Beyond Black and White. Follow her on Twitter @jamilaakil