Does Positive Self-talk work?

Some days I wake up and Ms “Neggy” is sitting at the end of my bed. And she has a lot to say! Sometimes she appears in the shower with me, or while I am cycling at the gym. Basically she shows up whenever she wants, without invitation, often before my work day has begun and has nothing positive to say. It is always negative. Who is Ms Neggy? She isn’t a strange stalker, or my imaginary friend. She is the negative voice inside my head.

Negative Self-Talk is Common!
  • Intrusive negative thoughts are experienced by 80-99% of the “healthy” non-clinical population (Belloch, Morillo, Lucero, Cabedo, & Carri, 2004)
  • 60% of the world population spend 60% of their waking hours at work (Mykeltun, 2012)
  • Negative thoughts can disrupt performance and are difficult to control (Larsson et al., 2015; Ireland & McAdie, 2015).

  • These are defined as a distinct experience that is unwanted, unintended, and recurrent. (Larsson, Hooper, Osborne, Bennett, & McHugh, 2015)
  • Negative self-talk is being attributed to stress, burnout and high absenteeism (Glozier, 2000; Ireland & McAdie, 2015)
  • Negative self-talk is also common for people experiencing Depression, which the World Health Organisation have indicated will be the main cause of low job performance and worker disability by 2020 (Mathers & Loncar, 2006)
  • Changing negative thoughts to positive thoughts (also referred to as Cognitive Restructuring) is not effective for many people as it can bring more attention to the negative thought.

Thoughts are very hard to change! But why?

“Don’t think about a pink elephant, whatever you do, don’t think about a pink elephant!”  Can you honestly say that you are not thinking about or seeing an image of a pink elephant right now?  It is almost impossible to control thoughts. Have you tried positive self-talk such as “You are great at what you do. You will succeed, you are a winner!”,   feel good for a period of time to then have Ms or Mr Neggy appear again!?  This is because our brain’s have a negative bias.  All linked to that reptilian (pre-historic) part of our brain that was created to protect us from a lion, bear or crocodile about to have us for dinner.  However in 2018 we are not about to be eaten by a dangerous beast (unless on safari) while our pre-historic brain responds the same way.

We cannot control thoughts.

Good News: You can live with them, and still achieve what is important to you!

NEW Strategy for managing Negative Self-talk: Cognitive Defusion!

  • This teaches individuals to instead change their relationship to their thoughts, to notice them without the need to dispute or challenge them in order to change undesirable responses and behaviour.
  • Cognitive Defusion encourages a person to ask: “Regardless of the accuracy of the thought, is the thought helpful?”

To do this we need to learn how to take a step back from the thoughts.

Step 1: “I am having the thought of…”

Step 2: Notice Thoughts.

How? Cartoon Character Play. Firstly, pick a cartoon character with a memorable voice. Mine is Homer Simpson. I have clients that have picked Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and my favourite (although not a cartoon character), was David Attenborough (laugh guaranteed if you borrow this one).

Image result for cartoon image of daffy duck

Step 1: Pick a Negative thought that shows up for you often.  Mine is “you are going to fail” or “you are getting fat”.  Believe it as firmly as possible.

Step 2: Let the thought be said by your favourite funny cartoon character or memorable voice you have chosen (I have supplied some recorded voices below when you do the exercise to help you). Let this character’s voice say your thought over and over again.  How does it sound? Do it a few more times. What happens to that thought?  For me, I often have a quiet giggle to myself and Ms Neggy now fades into the background. This enables me to “defuse” from the thought and internal chatter and get on with my day with more energy and purpose.  It does take some practice.

Try this technique for the next week.  Notice what happens and email me at margie@connect-inspire-transform.com with what you observed or any comments.

Results?  Why do it? The research shows:

  • Significant reduction in the frequency of the “negative thought”.
  • Experience less discomfort of the negative thought.
  • Overall practicing defusion results in greater positive affect.
  • Enables a person to achieve more tasks and goals.

Imagine how much more you and your team could achieve if you could all simply notice negative thoughts, rather than react, and continue to focus on your goals for the day?

If you would like to discuss this topic further, or are interested to know about the science behind it or how it can help you or your team, feel free to Book a 30 minute phone consult here. Or email info@connect-inspire-transform.com. Initial consults are free of charge.

Links to cartoon voices here: Homer Simpson Donald Duck Mickey Mouse

I hope this information has been of value.

Margie Ireland
Leadership Coach and Psychologist