How many times have you caught yourself having a negative internal dialogue? How did that dialogue make you feel? Unfortunately, most of us are guilty of this negative self-talk, and partake in it regularly though self-criticism, self-doubt, and general feelings of unworthiness.
Women, in particular, are guilty of this and often say that they feel like “imposters;” this is often highlighted by feelings of unworthiness or incompetence in their workplace.
Social psychologist and researcher Amy Cuddy (Presence) refers to this imposter syndrome in her fabulous TED talk when she recalls her own story concerning a young Harvard MBA student who felt that she did not belong in Cuddy’s class. In her talk, Cuddy explains that she boosted her student’s confidence by telling her that she did in fact deserve to be there and that come tomorrow, she would raise her hand and participate in class and take the place that was rightfully hers. At that moment, Cuddy stopped the student’s internal negative dialogue and reversed the downward spiral (as an aside, this is one of the most moving parts of the talk and worth taking the time to watch).
Dr. Martin Seligman (Learned Optimism) also believes in reversing these negative downward spirals, and approaches this through a unique step-by-step method to countering pessimism. The key to Seligman`s theory is to know your ABCDE`s. Here’s how it works:
A = Adversity: In this stage you must ask yourself, “What is the problem? What is causing my angst, stress and worry?”
Ex: I went out with my friends last night and cheated on my diet. I had wine, chicken wings and dessert.
B= Beliefs: This is your internal dialogue, the way you are currently interpreting the situation (which is often done through a negative lens).
Ex: I am a failure. I don’t even have the willpower to say no to junk food at the end of the day. My friends must think I have no personal discipline. Why do I even try these diets? I might as well accept who I am at this very moment since I can’t seem to change.
C= Consequences: Here is where the feelings come in, such as discouragement, disappointment and embarrassment. Again, these feelings represent the negative take on what you are experiencing due to your negative internal dialogue.
Ex: I feel sad and embarrassed that I pigged out in front of my friends and broke my two-week progress. I also feel discouraged and wonder what the point is of continuing this diet? Maybe I should simply drop it and go polish off the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream tub in the freezer?
D= Disputation: This is where it gets interesting! Disputation happens when you start arguing with yourself and challenging your negative thoughts. In other words, you go on the attack against your pessimistic self. You say “Wait a minute! There may be another way of looking at this.”
Ex: Okay, wait a minute! It’s not like I’m going to gain ten pounds after a night out with my friends. In fact, I had fun and the time together helped me relax after a long week. Plus, I skipped lunch so the extra calories I took in were not that bad. What’s more, tomorrow I am starting a new cross-training class with my sister! That will help me burn those extra calories! You know what, at the end of the day I have another 24 hours to get back on track. It’s part of life to have to restart sometimes. The key is to keep going!
E= Energization: This is where you take stock of how you feel after you argue with yourself through disputation. How do you feel? What new messages are you telling yourself?
Ex: Well, even though I let myself go a little after two weeks of strict dieting, I still managed to temper the situation and get a better handle on it. I also have an action plan to move forward!
As Seligman explains, the more aware you are of the possible adversities that come into your life, the better equipped you will be to deal with them and curtail any negative, downward spiraling self-talk. It would be worth trying to adopt this healthy ABCDE practice in order to keep that inner mean girl voice at bay and allow yourself to fully flourish and thrive!
I would love to hear from you! What do you do or tell yourself to stop the negative self-talk? Have you ever practiced the art of disputation to actively ward off negative beliefs? If so, how did you feel afterward? Please feel free to leave you thoughts in the comment box below!