Many people are struggling with low self-esteem or negative self-talk. They think they’re failing, not good enough. Losers. Every day of their life they have a tiny ghost whispering in their ear about how they shouldn’t accept praise or how they really should know better. In today’s post I’ll be talking a bit about my own experience with negative self-talk, the flash thought that turned it all upside down, and what I’m doing now to keep on the right path.
My history with negative self-talk is as long as it is predictable. With every perceived mistake there was a voice telling me, “told you so”. With every victory, a whisper in my ear telling me it wasn’t earned.
Then one day a weird thought bobbed across the sea of negativity.
“What if I wasn’t a loser.”
It was a blink of a thought, like a mirage. It struck me like lightning and was gone just as fast.
But I was fighting with this thought for days. The thought was like a scrawny kid finally standing up to a bully.
And the thought scared me. At first, I fell into a new spiral of negativity. I was thinking about all opportunities lost, all those years that would have been wasted if it turned out I wasn’t the loser I’ve spent years being. It was like I was in some weird sunken cost fallacy trap. I needed to be a loser because otherwise, I would have missed so much.
But as the days went on I realized that I didn’t want to stay in this self-imposed prison any longer. I keep telling my daughters to be brave, yet I was a coward, clinging to this idea of loserdom to save me from actually having to do something and feel uncomfortable. Because you can’t really ever protect yourself from failure. But trying something that fails does not equal being a failure.
I don’t want this post to seem like I had a flash of insight and now I’m relentlessly working without any fear of failure or negative outcomes. Change does not come that fast. What this thought, this flash, gave me was something to work with. It gave me the push to start reframing what my ghost told me. The simple question gave me a weapon. For instance, when my ghost told me I would never get the job I wanted to apply for I simply asked it back: “But what if I do?” That’s how it started, just asking the question: “but what if?” Later I started adding some more complex reframing so as to actually grow a bit and not just challenge my ghost like a toddler.
I’m taking a lot of inspiration from cognitive restructuring, which is used in cognitive behavior therapy. I see it as a useful framework even when you don’t really need therapy. We all have thoughts that don’t serve us. They don’t need to become pathological to be in our way.
A post focused solely on cognitive restructuring is in the pipeline but a brief summary is that you need to identify your automatic thoughts then examine the evidence and challenge them. After this, you need to generate some alternative thoughts which are based on a more accurate appraisal of the event you are reacting to. This then needs to be practiced. And this is the key part. This does not happen overnight, you need to work on it. Basically, you need to tell your ghost to shut the f up and chill a bit. Over and over again. But I think if you keep at it, you’ll see the results.
So what I want to leave you with is this thought:
What if you’re not a loser?
If your enjoyed this post you might like this video I made about the myth of passion.