My Journey: Negative Self Talk

For some of us, negative self talk is constantly playing over and over in the background and for others it comes up in response to particular situations. My negative “demons” arrive when I have the opportunity to blame myself for something. My entire life I have been very harsh on myself whenever anything I do has an undesirable result. Sometimes my mind even searches for ways to blame me for things that are not even my fault!

Thanks to ACT and mindfulness I can allow this self talk to come and go gently without causing the difficulty and struggle that it used to. Here’s an example…

Recently I was driving to buy some honey from a family that keeps bees and produces it locally. On the way in the car I had been indulging in some unhelpful thinking about something that had happened earlier in the day. As a result I was already feeling less than average. I stopped just near my destination to get some cash out and fill up the car with petrol when I realised that I had left my wallet at home!

Urges, thoughts and feelings started welling up within me. Rather than give in to the behaviours that would normally follow on from this I just observed: I had an urge to cry, the feelings of frustration, anger and disappointment in myself all at once, I had a strong desire to call my husband and complain about my situation and that negative self talk was in full stead…

You’re useless, this is a disaster, you’re going to run out of petrol, there’s no point trying anything, you can’t do anything for yourself, what a waste of an afternoon.

I sat in stillness and asked myself “What would my confident, positive self do in this situation?” and the answer came to me immediately: “Find out if I can pay for the honey later!”. So I contact the woman selling the honey and made a plan to collect the honey and pay her at another time. This solved one of my problems, but I’m sure you’re not surprised that the thoughts and feelings were still there. I defused, observed, surfed and expanded as I continued on my way. I started to calm down once I had accepted everything happening inside my mind and body but then I was starting to worry about running out of petrol. This started my mind racing again! I soon realised that that this was beyond my control and accepted that IF that did happen that I would be ok.

Phew! What a ride I was taking myself on. I started to think it was over when I realised that I’d taken a wrong turn. Instantly all of my thoughts, feelings and urges returned with more volume than before. I must admit that I had to be very disciplined at this point so that I didn’t revert to unhelpful, ‘automatic’ behaviours. I observed my internal experiences while I turned around and found my way again. This time it was self compassion that helped me through.

By the time I arrived at my destination I had allowed, observed and accepted everything that my mind and body could throw at me and I actually started to feel content, grateful and maybe even a little bit chuffed with myself. I resigned myself to the fact that I may not make it home before I needed fuel and that knew that I would cope if this occurred.

So after picking up my honey, home I went. I was very pleased to have managed so well despite the circumstances and wasn’t even phased when I was stuck behind an incredibly slow truck for most of the journey home. And thankfully I made it home with enough fuel to pick up my wallet and to drive on to get petrol.

Without applying ACT during these events, not only would I have remained in auto-pilot and believed what my mind was saying, I would have also caused myself to suffer unnecessarily. Long standing habits of negative self talk can cause the potential for struggle however ACT techniques have the power to empower you and set you free… just like they did for me!

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The LOVE tip

Here’s a quick little tip to assist you to release the struggle with difficult experiences and to identify what truly matters. It’s L.O.V.E

Let go. When we struggle with something we wish had a different outcome, we experience negative thoughts, unhelpful feelings and can make ourselves miserable. Letting go is not about avoiding problems in an attempt to get rid of them. Letting go is about accepting what is. Acknowledging that attempts to avoid or control only further the struggle. In this step we need to breathe, get present, take some time out and find space to allow both our internal and external experiences to exist as they are.

Open up. This follows on naturally from the first step. Using expansion or defusion we can find acceptance for the feelings, thoughts and circumstances that we cannot control.

Values. Next we need to decide how we would like to behave from this point forward. We have complete control over our actions so it’s important to proceed with actions that are in alignment with our true values. We do this by asking ourselves “What is important now?” and “Who do I want to be?” or “What do I want to stand for?”. The answers will provide you with a choice about how to proceed.

Engage. In this step we take action motivated by our values. If you are used to responding in an unhelpful way you may need to choose behaviour that is new or foreign to you.

 

Taking the time to let go, open up and connect with your values BEFORE responding to any situation will enable you to stand in your power rather than fall victim to unhelpful habits that no longer serve you.

The L.O.V.E tip is taken from the book “ACT with love” by Russ Harris.

Urge Surfing – Mindfulness for unhelpful urges

It might sound like a strange idea but breathing into and accepting your unhelpful urges or “urge surfing” will help to reduce the control they have over you. And what is an unhelpful urge?

Any urge that compels you to carry out a behaviour that you want to give up, reduce or that has a negative impact on your life. Urge surfing is very useful for breaking the pattern of addictions and avoidance behaviours as well as to assist you in making mindful choices rather than unconscious ones.

Start with something you do that is problematic for you and begin to notice when you’re having the urge to do it. Once you’ve become aware of the urge occurring before the action, you then have the opportunity to work with the urge to “ride it out” until it decreases and/or to reassess what’s truly important.

Consider the example of an overweight compulsive eater. It’s obvious that surfing the urge to have an unnecessary snack instead of mindlessly eating is going to be a healthy choice. Even if the surfing only delays the snack initially… the snack will be mindful because of the urge surfing.

With practice, urge surfing can be a very powerful tool to overcome addictive, unhealthy and “uncontrollable” behaviours. Give the exercise below a try:

Transform your negative attitude towards your job

I gave some advice to a friend recently who was struggling with some co-worker’s unhelpful behaviour as well as generally feeling dissatisfied with her work. She is actively looking for alternative employment but I offered her the below techniques to assist her in the meantime so that she is able to feel more positively about her current situation.

If you find your workplace emotionally draining or if you would like to improve your attitude towards your job and co-workers, give these quick strategies a go.

1) Take a moment to sit quietly.

Visualise your route to work filled with love and peace, however that may appear for you. (white light, rose mist etc, no people around etc)

Take a few moments to fill every place along your journey to work with this beautiful energy.

Then see your workplace and all the people within it and surround them all with the same peaceful love.

Take some deep breaths and see this pure light healing all the staff including yourself until only love remains.

(You can do this anytime. It will assist you to experience more positive thoughts and feelings around your workplace)

2) Ask yourself, “what sort of employee do I really want to be?”.

Make a list of the qualities you would like to embody at work.

Recognise that you will find more happiness by behaving in line with these values than you will by blaming others for their unhelpful behaviour.

Make it your goal to be the person you want to be without the need for approval. 

3) Think of someone that you admire and respect (a real life person you know, a celebrity/personality, a fictional character etc), preferably someone who possesses some of the qualities you listed above.

Now, whenever you are challenged or frustrated at work as yourself “What would that person do in this situation?” “How would they feel/react?”.

See what you can learn about operating at your best from this person or character. Change your behaviour to be more like them.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) explained Pt 2

To read Part 1 of this entry please click here

So we’ve had a brief look at the ‘acceptance’ side of ACT, now let’s talk about ‘commitment’. The word commitment is actually short for “Commitment to valued action”, this means taking action that is in line with your values.

And you might be thinking “are you going to make me create a list of my values? boooring!” well indirectly yes. We need to identify what we love, cherish and enjoy so that we can make choices that reflect these. Here’s a creative way to identify your true values and uncover some that you might not find just by ‘thinking’ about it:

  • Relax your body and take a few deep breaths
  • Choose someone in your life that is very important to you (partner, child, family member, friend)
  • Visualise that person 10 years in the future from now (or 15/20 years if your prefer)
  • You now have the opportunity to ‘peek inside’ that person’s mind and discover what they think of you
  • Listen to everything that they appreciate and adore about you
  • Hear your loved one’s thoughts about your achievements over the past 10 years
  • You are able to hear their most heartfelt thoughts even if this person would not normally have the courage to express them verbally
  • Finally hear the person’s favourite quality about you
  • Take note of all the characteristics mentioned and circle those that resonate strongly with you
  • Repeat this exercise using other people in your life

This simple exercise can assist you to decide what you would like to achieve in your life and what qualities you would like to operate with.

TRUE  HAPPINESS  IS  A  LIFE  LIVED  IN  ALIGNMENT  WITH  VALUES

Values are not goals. Goals are important for planning what you want to achieve in life and values are the attitude that you take with you on your journey toward those goals. For example, you cannot value having a successful business (this is a goal) however you can value being organised, motivated and enthusiastic about your business. When you act in alignment with these values you feel great.

Values are only about you. You cannot value being in a perfect relationship or having a great partner however you can value being a loving and supportive parter. Next time you’re about to pick on your partner for something he or she has done that you’re not happy about, ask yourself: Is this behaviour in alignment with my values about the sort of partner I want to be?

Behaving inconsistently with your values perpetuates underlying issues. Let’s say you value being generous with others, yet you find yourself becoming frustrated when they don’t ‘return the favour’. This is showing you that you are not truly aligned with the spirit of generosity which is to find the joy in giving without expectation of anything in return. Perhaps you need to do some work around releasing expectations, letting go of your childhood patterning around lack or re-evaluating your true values.

ACT aims to work directly with core values, promoting authenticity and presence, allowing us to access the freedom within