What is an example of negative self-talk? In this extract from Penny Haslam's Confidence Keynote she explains negative self-talk and her ICE technique to combat it.
Who here has heard of self-talk? Put your hand up OK. And for the rest of you sitting there saying to yourself, "I don't know what she's going on about", that's self-talk.
It's an internal dialogue. We have this narrative, self-talk is this useful voice. It tells us where we are in the world who we are, whether it's warm outside, whether we need to put a coat on without having to verbalise it all the time.
It's actually a thing that we learn at a very young age. Negative self-talk is part of that, but is quite nasty. Pernicious, it can be quite vile sometimes.
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What is negative self-talk?
Does anyone speak to themselves in a bit of a negative way? Yeah?
"Oh, why did you put those gold trainers (sneakers) on? Stupid woman!"
Or, "what was I wearing that hat for the other day? I looked like a right idiot."
Maybe, "Did you really say that last night? Did you? Oh, God, I can't believe you said that."
Listen to Penny talking about how to tackle negative self-talk
Hear all episodes: Penny Haslam Podcast
What is the root cause of negative self-talk?
We fill our brains with this kind of negative chat, chipping away at our confidence. And there's a reason for it. Before I tell you about icing negative self-talk. Let me tell you about why we have negative self-talk in the first place. It goes back to the way early humans had to think to stay alive, fight or flight.
As humans, we remember the one negative comment out of thousands of positive ones
We can't shake it off, can we? It's this thing. And that's why we remember the one comment out of the other millions of comments that were fabulous. We remember the one comment where it wasn't quite nice. It wasn't particularly supportive and we remember it and we'll remember it five years later. We forget the good stuff and quite often we hang on to the bad stuff.
We love the news because it's negative. Negativity tells us what to do so we can survive.
That's why we like the news. So we know what to do. Negativity tells us what to do. We know how to act, we know how to fight and we know how to fly away from it.
Cavemen and women had negative self-talk
Consider a time when you know we all lived in caves, right? Caveman and cavewoman. They had that fight-or-flight instinct. They needed it, didn't they?
Imagine a caveman and cavewoman going to bed at night, on the floor, or wherever they sleep. They're getting ready to go to bed. They're cleaning their teeth with a twig, and they're getting under the covers. It's been a It's been a shocker of a day. It has The kids have been really naughty, been drawing on the walls, but everyone's been drawing on the walls, getting under the woolly mammoth duvet cover.
He's got his dinosaur pyjamas on and they're there and they're about to go to sleep. They're just snoozing off and they hear a rustle at the cave door opening...
Quick aside - I dreamt I was a cavewoman
In fact, while I'm talking about cave people, I had a dream once, God's honest truth, that I was a cavewoman.
I dreamt I was smashing rocks up because that's what cave people do, isn't it? So I was down here (crouching) getting these big boulders and bashing them.
There was no other noise than the grunt of labour happening, hard labour on the beach. I thought to myself, "Oh, God, we've got to get language soon!" So that was my dream. How bizarre is that?
Back in the cave - Quick grab the rocks!
Anyway, back to the cave with the caveman and cavewoman. They're about to go to bed and they hear a rustle at the cave opening.
They jump up, and they say, "Quick, grab the rocks. Protect the kids. It's bound to be a sabre-toothed tiger," right? They don't lie there saying, "Oh, I'm so glad we live in the countryside. You can hear the rustle of the leaves of the trees at night. Isn't it lovely, darling? Yes, it's lovely. Good night, dear."
No, they don't. They're up and they're at, um and it happens today. An email arrives. It's from a client or your boss and you think, "Oh, what do they want now? What have I done wrong?"
Our brains are hardwired for negative self-talk
Negative, instantaneous, negative. And our brains are hardwired to go to the negative. It's an old operating system. It's out of date. It's not useful or supportive. So ice negative self-talk.
I had to ice negative self-talk because I had a really damaging case of it. When I first started at the BBC, I was a secretary and I worked my way up. I typed my way up. Some people say I slept my way up... Eight hours a night in nice pyjamas. Thank you very much.
So I worked my way up. I was ambitious and I wanted to do more. And I found myself finally in BBC Broadcasting House, producing a radio four programme called Money Box. Has anyone heard of Money Box? Great.
You listen to it. Yeah. Radio 4. Saturday lunchtime. Do you understand it? I didn't. So I arrived there and everyone knew about personal finance news. And the personal finance news is pretty tough.
Actually, you have to be really alive to the story, the twists and the turns. It's exciting for some people, but quite boring for most of us. OK? And I arrived knowing about student loans, overdrafts, rents, you know, unauthorised overdrafts, credit card debt, that sort of thing.
I was bringing a kind of other angle to the investments and stocks and shares and laying down of wine as an investment which the rest of the team knew about. I was like, Right, OK, I've got this top job. It's gonna be brilliant.
My out-of-control negative self-talk
Oh, and that's when my self-talk went out of control. Negative. And honestly, I'd be just going to the bus to work in the morning. I'd be sitting there minding my own and all of a sudden a voice popped into my head, (irritating voice) "Oh, off to broadcasting house, are you? What are you going in there for? You don't belong there."
Then I'd be at my desk making a phone call, say, to a press office of a big company or a department of government and my negative self-talk would say, "Oh, yeah, you think you know what you're doing? You look like you know what you're doing, but you don't."
Or in the studio, I'd have faders and microphones up and be interviewing somebody, and I'd be asking them questions and seriously, negative self-talk was saying. "Oh, your questions aren't very good."
Don't let negative self-talk stop you from enjoying your success
Honestly, it was on all the time, all the time. Negative, negative, negative. Doing me down. It annoyed me. It really, really annoyed me. And it meant that I couldn't. I couldn't enjoy my success, actually, because it was taking away from that.
And I couldn't think about my future because I had my head full of this negativity. It was cluttering up my head space so I couldn't enjoy my present and I couldn't look to the future and think about being ambitious. It was a drag. It really was.
How do I stop negative self-talk?
So I kind of I kind of got the idea that this wasn't me. I got so annoyed with it. I thought this isn't me. Who's this? This is dragging me down.
Ask yourself, when was I at my most confident?
It's not healthy, and it's not useful. What am I gonna do about it? So I had a bit of a think and I thought back to a time when I was actually really confident.
I used to work as a nurse, I had quite a senior role in a small cottage hospital. And I love my job. I was in the flow. I knew what I was doing. I had great, you know, colleagues and people around me. And in fact, I've got a picture from that time.
Penny playing nurse
Nurse Susan and Dr David
And I read it and I read it. And inside it had helpful nurse Susan and doctor David. Experts who could share their knowledge with me. And I had all my teddies lined up against the skirting board in shoe boxes with my dad's hankies over them.
You know, we did what we could with what we had, and I loved it. And I think you've got to be aware of this stuff. So that was the time when I was confident, I didn't have negative self-talk.
How to identify and confront your negative self-talk
In the process of identifying this self-talk, I thought, I'll give it a name because it's not me. I will call this voice Self-talk Sybil!
"Oh, hi, Sybil. You're back?"
"Yeah, I'm gonna follow you around."
"No, you're not, go away Sybel, get off the bus!"
I actually confronted it, I identified Self-talk Sybil. Or bring-me-down Brian. Run-me-around Rita.
Name your own self-talk any way you like, but if you identify it, you can begin to talk back to it.
"You're out of date Sybil. You're useless. You are an old operating system."
And finally, over time, I was able to extinguish Sybil. She pops up every now and again. Constant vigilance on your negative self-talk is needed.
Sometimes she pops up when I'm playing Candy Crush late at night, I'm moving coloured Candies around the screen and Sibyl says,
"Oh, you're not very strategic, are you?"
The ICE technique to stop negative self-talk
So ICE your negative self-talk. Identify. Confront, Extinguish negative self-talk.
It's really really useful. And ice is powerful, isn't it? Imagine a gin and tonic without it! So powerful. The captain of the Titanic knew how powerful it was as well!
So ice is powerful. ICE, Identify Confront and Extinguish. And, of course, ice helps reduce pain and inflammation.
By Penny Haslam
MD and Founder - Bit Famous
Confidence Book - Free Resources
Penny's new book is coming in 2024