reader recently emailed me about how to deal with negative self-talk — you know, those awful conversations you have with yourself late at night about how you’ll never be star of the football team, how everyone is secretly laughing at you when you’re not looking, and how mom and dad never told you that you’re secretly adopted.
We all deal with this sort of negative self-talk. Even those of us who score A+ on our happy tests, we still engage in the ol’ “beat yourself up brain” from time to time.
I’ve stated many times on the blog that one of the things I’ve found most liberating in my own life is the understanding that I really don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about.
This is true in the philosophical sense and the psychological sense, but I don’t think most people immediately grasp how practical and important this understanding is either.
Sometimes I’m terrified that I’ve peaked as a writer and that nothing I produce will ever rival the popularity of my articles from 2013-2015. Then I remind myself that I have no idea what I’m talking about. The future is long and I don’t even know if being popular or read by many is necessarily that good of a thing. Who knows, maybe a year from now I’ll get sick of writing and want to go do something else. No one knows.
Sometimes I worry that I’m an idiot for getting married and that my marriage is going to fall apart 5-10 years from now once we get older and things change. Then I remember that I really have no clue who I will be years from now, what my needs will be, what my wife will be like, so it’s impossible for me to accurately judge anything in that department, so why try?
(It also helps that a number of older married couples have told me that this feeling is normal and never goes away, even after decades together.)
Basically, remembering how clueless I am liberates me from these seemingly “certain” anxieties that are bound to come in my future.
But there’s a caveat here. And this caveat is what I think makes it so hard for some people to freely admit their own cluelessness.
That caveat is this: if your negative self-talk is wrong, then it must follow that your positive self-talk is wrong as well.
So you feel like a badass at the golf course? You’re probably not. Think you’re the smartest girl at the office and destined to make millions one day? You really don’t know, nor do you know whether or not that’s even a good thing. Think that you’ve been screwed over in life and that if it weren’t for all of the imbeciles around you, you’d totally be some big famous bigwig — well, you get the point.
It’s often much easier to doubt our negative self-talk than it is to doubt the positive self-talk. But I’ve found doubting the positive is just as important, if not more important.
For one, it prevents things such as arrogance and self-absorption. It humbles us and allows compassion to flow more easily between us and others.
But most importantly, it relieves pressure.
If I believe I’m destined to be the next Leo Tolstoy or Albert Einstein, that is a LOT of fucking pressure to live up to. And that pressure is likely to cripple me and turn me into a neurotic fuckwad. That pressure is likely to close me off to any and all important feedback. I wouldn’t be able to write a word. I’d second guess every single sentence, including this one.
The issue isn’t negative self-talk, it’s simply self-talk. Or, you could even extend it further and say the problem is just talk in general. What matters is your actions and results in the present moment. And the more you’re able to refocus your mind onto that, the better off you will be.