Imagine you are driving down the street thinking about all the things on your to do list and wondering how you are going to get them all done today. Suddenly, the light at the next intersection turns unexpectedly yellow, and that car ahead of you actually stops. You slam on the breaks but not soon enough to bump into the car in front of you.
Now this is not a major problem. No one is hurt. There is barely any damage to either car. There is the annoyance of the delay as you exchange insurance information with the other driver, but after a few minutes you are back on your way.
But you have not left that accident back at the intersection where it occurred. You are carrying it with you. And likely you are talking to yourself. What are you saying?
If you are anything like me, you are saying things like, “If you had just paid more attention, that ‘fender bender’ would never have happened. Why can’t you be more attentive? What is wrong with you?”
And you likely take that self talk with you for much of the day. Imagine how you feel with that kind of dialogue going on. I bet you don’t feel very good about yourself.
This kind of internal dialogue is at best distracting and, at its worst, it is actually disempowering all the way around. So what do you do about it?
I have found that just changing the dialogue by telling myself something else, like, “yes, you made a mistake, but you are really a good driver,” does not work because I really do not believe myself in that moment.
But if instead, I try to talk to myself with self-compassion, I can get further. “Oh, you are going through a lot right now, and you have a lot on your mind. I am sorry things are so difficult right now. But I still love you.”
It is not as powerful as giving myself affirmations, but sometimes it is all I can believe, and it does have a much more positive feeling tone to it than my original self talk.
I have learned a lot about this topic from Kristin Neff, and I recommend you watch her TEDx talk: The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self Compassion (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvtZBUSplr4).
And then try it yourself. Become aware of your self talk. Notice how critical you are of yourself. Ask yourself if you would talk to a good friend that way. And then try to talk with self compassion instead.