Prefer to listen? Check out my podcast episode on this topic (you can also find it on Apple Podcasts).
I know what you're thinking. At least, I might know what you’re thinking (or rather, HOW you're thinking). If you are anything like me, you might sometimes slip into negative thinking patterns caused by your inner dialogue. The more I chat with people, the more I realise this is quite a common human phenomenon (so we’re not alone!).
Are we merely at the whim of this negativity? I don't think so. The challenge is to re-frame our inner dialogue- harness it for good!
I spent the 2018 and 2019 living in NZ. I’ve realised that I did a lot of work on re-framing my inner dialogue in the lead up to the move and while I was living there. There are a few key things I learned through this experience and I hope they might be useful for you too.
A tiny bit of context. I lived in NZ a long time ago and basically compared it to Australia and looked for all the ways it fell short. This left me wondering if I would actually have a good time in NZ this time around (weird right? That really was my thought process though!). I was nervous. What if I hated living in NZ? What if it was raining all the time? What if…just what if?
Instead of falling into a negative spiral of what ifs, I actively chose to put on my glasses and live my NZ life Bespectacled. I WANTED to live there, I WANTED it to be great, and I was going to do everything I could within my power to do just that.
So, here are 5 big things I learned which helped me to re-frame my inner dialogue. I hope they might help you too!
Recognise that age brings wisdom
I was so young when I went to NZ the first time and in my naivety, compared it only to Australia in regard to what DIDN’T measure up. My negative self-talk was loud and I unconsciously chose to listen to it. Instead of looking for the positives, I looked for the things I missed. This time: I realised that comparing NZ with where I grew up in NNSW was like comparing ice-cream and strawberries. 2 totally different things. I realised it was ok to love my own country and feel proud to be Australian whilst also learning to love NZ. It became less about comparing and more about appreciation.
Take away message: use your past experiences to grow your wisdom and recognise you are not stuck or static. You can’t change your past, but you can at least choose how you will look at your now.
Hear your inner dialogue, but don't always agree with, or listen to it
I worked hard to not put weight on the negative things that popped up in my inner dialogue. Things like, you won’t handle the weather. You’re a wus, you don’t go out in the warm rain let alone the cold rain! You’ll miss home so much it will be terrible. Instead I focused on the positives and the endless possibilities of living abroad. I mean HELLO, most people don’t get this kind of opportunity- was I REALLY going to take it for granted like a petulant child?!
Perspective helps here too. Sometimes, that inner dialogue can be so much like a toddler having a tantrum! As an adult, we can zoom out and use perspective to realise how ridiculous we are being. Reminding myself that leaning into those silly doubts was literally like acting as if my life was hard because I had to live overseas? That is literally crazy. I chose to ignore those silly comments that popped up, I told my brain to get in line and follow the new path of positive. I responded to my own inner dialogue with positive thinking and or ignored the other stuff.
Take away message: your inner dialogue isn’t the enemy, but sometimes it acts like one. Learn to discern when it might be a good idea to push back. Inject some truth and reign it in!
Sometimes, its necesarry to just keep on keeping on.
I’ve realised that there really isn’t such a thing as completely conquering your negative inner dialogue- that voice is there for a reason and should be listened to sometimes. What I am trying to say is that we have the power to choose how we respond to our own thoughts. Sometimes, even when our inner critic is saying we are bad, crazy, fat, not good enough or plain old lazy, we just need to move on. Actions speak louder than words. Making peace with the negative inner dialogue sometimes means you will just have to move on despite your doubts. You might be surprised at how much you can achieve!
Take away message: when you hear a thought that causes you to doubt, it can be really powerful to just bounce that thought back to its dark little corner and keep moving forward anyway. Getting some points on the scoreboard will help you to see that you can do more than you think.
Test your negative self-talk.
Is your negative self-talk REALLY true? What is the evidence that it is? And even if it is, is there a small way you can create a win and push back against that? Ask yourself, what is the most likely outcome here? We tend to think in extremes- this ALWAYS happens to me, I NEVER get to do that. Instead, we need to focus in the place somewhere in the middle, which is often where the truth lies. For me in NZ this meant I had to re-assess my fears about going back to NZ. I had to remind myself that I could totally have a crappy time if I went along with some of the things my inner critic said. I could totally stay indoors, feel depressed and miss Australia and all the people I loved, or I could tell myself the truth- possibilities are where you look for them. It doesn’t actually only rain in NZ. Summers are actually pretty warm in Auckland.
Take home message: speak life and truth when your inner dialogue is trying to speak in extremes. Wind back the extreme talk (always, never) and replace these words with more realistic ones (sometimes, occasionally). Try combating the negative with positive truth.
Choose to be positive. Always.
How can you turn the negative into positive? Sometimes, its really tough. I’m not saying my NZ experience was tough. However, in the face of my own negativity, I set some challenges which were really useful and enabled me to stay focused on the positive. I challenged myself to run in the rain (and ended up laughing nearly the whole way one time!). I set a big goal (50k walk) so I had a reason to be accountable and get outdoors to explore. I looked for opportunities to meet new people and learned as much as I could about the culture and lived experience of being in NZ. Instead of seeing what was different (IE cold water at the beach and no waves in many spots in Auckland), I chose to look at the beauty all around me and have gratitude for it.
Despite what we might think, we DO always get to choose how we see things. Obviously sometimes that is easier than others and in my case it really was easy to find positives. I know life throws us curve balls and sometimes its tough to find anything positive. Please don’t think I am saying life is a bunch of roses. I’m talking about the everyday small challenges we face. The more we look to the positive, the more we will find it.
Take home message: if you are finding that your default is to fault find, look for problems and see the negatives, it might be a good time to start looking for the positive and finding gratitude in daily life.
So, what was the outcome? I had the most incredible 2 years. Honestly, I learned so much from people. I learned about different cultures, I learned so much about Matt living where he lived and really enjoying the things he enjoyed. I would not change any of it. I learned how powerful that internal dialogue can be, for positive and for negative.
The question I will leave you with is this: what do you have to be thankful for today? Let me know in the comments!