I have probably spent most of my life subconsciously (and consciously) bathing in negative self-talk. I thought I was being humble by acknowledging my flaws and not walking around with an I Am Amazing attitude. But little did I know, what I was actually doing was reinforcing the negative view of my ‘flaws’ and pummeling myself into a pit of self-deprecation and insecurities, incapable of building self-esteem and self-love. Since I came to realize that my inner monologue was swaying more toward the negative than positive, I immediately and so very desperately wanted to change the structure of my thoughts. Once I started to view my mind like my body in that it needs exercise, nurturing, good nutrition, rest etc…I was able to start making some real progress. I started exercising my brain. I began listening to podcasts, watching Ted Talks, meditating, reading books, articles, I even saw a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist for a while. All of it helped significantly in my progress to getting to where I am now, but I recently started to feel those negative thoughts come creeping back. So I went on the hunt for some new material to get me back on track. I came across Unf*ck Yourself as an Audible recommendation based on other books I had read and as a lover of profanities combined with self-help, I was immediately intrigued!
What can I say….the book was so powerful and full of hard truths, I finished it in less than a day. I listened to the audiobook version which is narrated by the author Gary John Bishop himself, so I had the added impact of his intonations and Scottish accent along with the compelling content. To some people, perhaps what I learned is not new to them. Perhaps for many, it is hard to understand or empathize with those who have known nothing aside from insecurities, self-doubt, low self-worth, and a never-ending stream of negative self-talk. On the flip side, I could not imagine a day in the life of someone who does not experience those things. But to those who get it, to those who probably thought on countless occasions ‘this is just the way I am’, I am here to tell you it doesn’t have to be like that. Change is possible, and to live our best lives, it’s necessary.
We often think our lives, attitudes, and character are determined by what has happened to us, our experiences, opportunities, and choices….both good and bad. But in actual fact, our life, our attitude, and our character are determined by us. How we conduct ourselves, how we interact with others, how we think. Our self-talk. Our inner monologue. Our streaming narrative. However we phrase it. It is our subconscious and conscious thoughts we have with ourselves, about ourselves that determine our behavior. Neuro-plasticity…..is the process of directing our thoughts in a way that consciously modifies our neural pathways for ourselves and has been scientifically proven to physically change the structure of our brain. The same way we can work a muscle in our body and make it stronger, leaner, and more efficient, we can do the same with our brain. We can shape ourselves, inside and out.
Bishop states that the easiest way to change our thought processes is to take charge through conscious and decisive self-talk, that cuts through and takes control of our lives. We can determine our emotions by steering our thoughts and we can shape our thoughts by being conscious and diligent of our words and the language use. This means noticing when you say things like ‘I have always been bad at x thing’ or ‘I am an insecure person’. This is putting a 20kg dumbbell in the arm of your negative self-thoughts and allowing it to do 100 bicep curls. You just reinforced the neural pathway to making those thoughts become beliefs to the point that they seem like a genuine truth. ‘But I am an insecure person!’ I hear you cry. Sorry, nope. Trust me. I thought this was one of my personality traits. I honestly considered it was just part of what made me….me. More nope. The only reason I considered myself to be an insecure person was because I gave so much importance to the thoughts in my head that continuously reinforced that idea. I allowed them to continue and develop into an affirmation that felt weaved into my veins. I didn’t know how the f*ck I was ever going to unravel them. I just knew I had to and that I really, really wanted to.
It started simply with an awareness and an effort to be present with my thoughts and be conscious of the words I used about myself, either outspoken or internally. Let me tell you, it’s not easy in today’s world to go around consciously listening more to what’s going on in your head instead of everything else that’s going on around us. It wasn’t a short process. It certainly didn’t happen overnight but I did my best and honestly, I was shocked at the things that ran through my head. So I picked up that dumbbell and I started curling. It was heavy. Really f*cking heavy. And yes, I’m talking metaphorically but it was also incredibly emotionally exhausting to be consciously in my thoughts all day. Trying to maintain an awareness and attempt to re-frame my thoughts while you know, getting dressed in the morning, taking care of my cats, feeding myself, going to work, holding conversations, riding my bike… At the same time, I was kind of hating on myself for not having realized this sooner. For having accepted a fate that was self-inflicted and constructed solely by me. I was completely devastated. Forgiveness can beautiful, but it is not always deserved. But if there’s anyone in this world we should forgive, who absolutely deserves our forgiveness, it is ourselves. So I did just that. I said I’m sorry, and I forgave. Only once I had done that, could I really begin to work on building an awareness of my internal monologue and try to unravel my tightly wound negative thought processes and shift my thoughts to be more positive and self-affirming.
It has only been a few weeks since I read the book and began making a conscious effort to make a change. While I don’t consider that I have unraveled my negative thought processes completely, I have certainly triggered a significant loosening that has felt honestly quite life-changing. I can now catch myself making movies of worst-case scenarios in my head, or giving a lot of time and importance to thoughts that are causing worry, stress, anxiety, and negativity towards myself. First of all, I just stop. I take a few deep breaths, and sometimes do the 4-7-8 breathing technique which I have found incredibly helpful at helping me reset. It lowers my heart rate and gives me something else to focus on, even if just for a few minutes. By the time I have done that a few times, sometimes I don’t even remember what thought I was hooked on. If I am still hooked, I can look at it as it presents itself, as a thought and nothing more. I analyze it, decide on a level of importance it requires, and try to change my perspective. Most importantly I keep reminding myself, it’s a thought. I choose what I think. I choose how much importance and time I give to my thoughts. Since reading the book and trying to put what I have learned into action, I have felt so much calmer, more confident, happier, and honestly just a little bit lighter. I am so glad to finally know and truly believe that I am not my thoughts. I can choose what I think and what I give importance to. I choose happiness.
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