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All my top tips for self-communication

In our parents' and grandparents' day, talking to ourselves was considered a 'sign of madness'. As a consequence, we were also taught not to be show-offs or boastful. So the way we spoke to ourselves was, and most often still is, harsh and judgemental (here's more about our inner bully).

This only began to be addressed in the sixties with the advent of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and positive psychology, which taught how vital self-talk was to our emotional wellbeing.

We've learned that it's Important to speak positively to ourselves. This can be a difficult habit to cultivate and takes time. 'Mindful self-awareness' can help, as we monitor our inner conversations and learn to change the words we say to ourselves from negative to positive. There are other things we can do to better communicate with ourselves too, like body language and tone of voice. But first ...

My 10 rules for good communication with yourself and others

You might know these already, but it's always good to be reminded.

  1. Don't blame and complain. State your case calmly and clearly, to yourself or others
  2. Don't over-explain or overanalyse. Avoid going on and on rationalising, overanalysing and trying to make sense of things or justify things to yourself, or others. Be brief.
  3. Don't catastrophise. Don't make things worse by going over and over it in your brain, making mountains out of molehills. Try de-catastrophising, being positive, have perspective.
  4. Don't react! Respond. Stop – take a deep breath – take a mental step back - think before you do or say. Take a moment to let your rational brain rein in your emotional brain so you don't say something you'll regret later
  5. Don't always-ise ("I/they always do this"); never-ise ("they never do anything for me”, "nothing good ever happens for me"); or generalise ("this happened this time, and now it'll keep happening").
  6. Don't historicalise (drag up or rake over old stuff, ruminating – see the preferred outcome instead), or futurise (worrying and visualising negative outcomes for the future). Rather, visualise positive outcomes for the future – what you want to happen. Visualise the best-case scenario, not the worst.
  7. Try to see the positive in all things at all times. Re-focus your brain onto more positive things and trains of thought with enthusiasm, intensity and desire. "This is what I want".
  8. Be mindful and self-aware to catch negative talk and self-talk. Practice 'mindful self-awareness' to catch yourself doing this, and re-focus on positive thoughts. Don't be judgemental towards yourself or others with 'downing' self-talk; remember points 1 and 2 above).
  9. You can't read minds, so don't assume. If you're unclear about something, clarify it as soon as possible, don't make up other people's minds for them. Avoid making assumptions about what they are thinking, and don't take things too personally.
  10. Deal with issues as they arise, don't stew on them or avoid them. It's hard to have tough conversation with yourself, or others, but really worthwhile.

Body language

Body language impacts the person you're talking to, but did you know it can also have a huge impact on us too? When we feel inferior or threatened our survival brain makes us hunch over to make us appear like a smaller target, and can tighten our voice box to make us quiet. All this serves to do is make us feel even worse about ourselves, and it doesn't make a good impression on others either.

Be aware of your body language. Are you hunching over (I call it 'shrivelling')? Do you find it hard to speak when you feel threatened or nervous?

Practice in front of a mirror, taking a deep breath … lifting up your collarbones … and opening up your chest. Let the breath out slowly and look yourself in the eye. Try out your voice and say an affirmation firmly and positively to yourself. This small, corrective piece of body language can make a huge difference.

Tone of voice

Your tone of voice is an important part of effective communication. Assertiveness training tells us to use a firm, pleasant tone when dealing with others. When you're talking to yourself, your tone of voice is just as important, if not more so.

Think of how you would talk to a friend. You wouldn't yell at them, so why yell at yourself? Talk to yourself in the same tone of voice that you would use with your best friend.

Self-compassion, self-empathy and self-encouragement

When you're discouraged, down or feeling blue, try to be especially careful with your self-communication. Remember you're aiming for a 'best-friend' approach, so how would you feel if your best friend was going through a hard time. You'd want to cheer them up; let them know that you understand how they feel. So treat yourself in the same way. Say encouraging things: "You can do it…you'll be okay.” Give yourself a hug (a powerful piece of body language), and see how much better you feel.

Be self-assertive

Stand up to yourself. Being unassertive is stressful.

Here is the classic assertive intervention formula

  • I have a problem. State problem calmly and clearly.
  • It makes me feel ... Always state your feelings e.g. "I'm sad / disappointed / angry... ", etc.
  • Use empathy. For instance, "I realise you get frustrated when ..." or "I understand how you feel, but ..."
  • I would prefer. No good saying what you don't want if you don't say what you'd rather have.

There you have it. All my top tips for communication with yourself and others in one article.