We all have an inner dialogue running in our heads. It instructs you to do tasks, reminds you of a meeting, or comments on a random observation in your environment. You may not have given it much thought, but nevertheless, this internal narrative plays an integral role in our mental health. It influences how we view the world around us, what perspective we take in situations, and how we see ourselves.
Self-talk can be conscious and unconscious, positive and negative. It is neither good, nor bad, but it is important to pay attention to how it sways you.
Positive self talk centers around self-compassion, understanding, and giving yourself space to be all that you are. This internal narrative sounds like, “It’s okay. You gave it everything you got!”, “This may take some time and effort.”, “It doesn’t have to be perfect, just get it out there for the world to see!”, or “I am capable. I can do this.”
Negative self talk replays negative thoughts like, “I wish I was as thin as her.”, “You’re not talented enough to post this.”, “Don’t publish that. You have no credibility.”, or “I knew you’d screw this up again.”
You may be more familiar with the latter. This negative self-talk voice is known as the inner-critic or “saboteur”. The saboteur embodies feelings and thoughts that keep us from growing. It’s the voice that sabotages your success and riddles you with fear. It is hardwired into us and it’s not going anywhere.
But before you throw your hands up in frustration, let me calm your nerves. Your saboteur isn’t bad. In fact, the voice is there to help you survive, to protect you, and keep you from danger. Evolutionarily speaking, it was the voice that kept our ancestors from hazardous situations - “These kinda look like the berries that killed Bob last week...”
Today, the saboteur works in a similar fashion. It keeps us living a comfortable, habitual, status quo life, to assure the safety of our mind and emotions. While it may be protecting us from the threat of shame, embarrassment, and rejection, it simultaneously keeps us from moving forward and getting what we truly want. It keeps us from living a BIG life.
So, how can you develop a better relationship with your saboteur?
Much of the saboteur’s power comes from being unidentifiable. (The saboteur is simply fear wearing a multitude of disguises.) Some of our internal dialogue has been on repeat for so long, we don’t even notice it anymore.
So, the first step is identifying the voice. Hello Saboteur. Nice to meet you.
Second, listen closely. What is the saboteur saying? What is the lie? Is this thought or conclusion based on facts or assumptions? How is this thought making me feel? Is it serving me?
Third, put it in its proper place. Elizabeth Gilbert came up with an analogy for working with the inner critic. In her book Big Magic, (if you haven’t read it, I HIGHLY recommend it) she describes her creative process as a minivan road trip adventure, one in which she, inspiration, and the inner-critic are invited.
She encourages compassionately working with the saboteur, “rather than constantly trying to either pretend [fear and anxiety] doesn’t exist.” Ms. Gilbert goes on to say, “I think it’s much more interesting to find ways to make peace with all the things that you are and then go from there. So yeah, everything gets to stay in the minivan; fear gets to stay there, shame gets to stay there, anxiety, depression, all of it. It’s all part of the family and none of it is excluded or can be excluded.”
But there is one rule. The saboteur can’t drive.
She explains, “Just let it be there, sharing a space with you, it becomes less of a battle. Fear is a really good sign that you’ve got skin in the game, that what you’re doing matters to you and it has an impact on your psyche. That’s often a very good indication that you’re on the right track, that you’re doing something that’s really scary. That’s good.”
This means when thoughts pop into your head like, “No, you shouldn’t ask your boss for the promotion.” or “See, another publisher rejected you. This book sucks.”, you will kindly say back, “Oh hello saboteur. Thank you for trying to protect me, but I’m going to try even though it feels scary.”
Finally, take action. After you’ve gently hushed the saboteur’s voice you are now free to do. You can make proactive changes in your life, taking actions that push you closer to your goals and the person you want to be.