Your inner voice is sometimes referred to as internal monologue, self-speak or inner discourse. This voice is usually a constant stream of comments that vary in their usefulness.
When we are stressed or tired, we can struggle to think clearly and act rationally. At this point our inner voice often becomes louder and more negative. This is why rest is so important. But what if this negative mindset persists once we have recuperated?
This is when self-care skills can help us to manage ourselves and restore balance.
The good thing is that it’s never too late to learn self-care skills. Due to our brain’s plasticity, we can continue to learn throughout our lives. Self-care skills can be learned and if practiced over time can become part of your daily life.
This month, would you join me to learn something new? Let’s look at some ways that we can learn to introduce self-care into your daily life.
Learning to be kind to yourself
It’s important to understand that if your inner voice is constantly berating you, your brain interprets it in the same way as if a bully was saying the same thing to you. This self-bullying sends your nervous system into survival mode and while that is very useful if you are being chased by a sabre-toothed tiger, it’s not a good place to be long term!
Listening to a negative inner voice is not motivational. Being negative towards yourself long-term increases the time you spend in your threat system which is not good for your mental or physical health.
Please try to show yourself some compassion. Be gentle with yourself, I promise you, you will feel different.
Ideas to try:
Can you imagine how you would feel if you began treating yourself as you would a good friend, speaking to yourself as you would a good friend, and not judging yourself harshly?
Treating yourself with kindness and compassion moves your nervous system into the parasympathetic nervous system where we can relax, digest and engage in person development.
Learning to be aware of how you think
We cannot change what we are not aware of so first I’d encourage you to try to become more aware of how you think. Only then can we help ourselves and be kinder to ourselves.
What are your thinking traps? There are a number of different thinking traps. In psychotherapy we use the term ‘thinking traps’ to describe patterns of thoughts, which can prevent us from seeing things clearly.
Do you catastrophise?
Do you have a tendency to black and white thinking?
Do you dismiss the positive?
Gently explore what this thinking trap is trying to achieve.
Is it trying to protect you?
Is it trying to help you avoid something that you don’t want to face?
Is it the voice of someone who was influential in your early life? Do their words hold truth now?
Don’t argue with your thinking traps, just acknowledge their presence and using the questions above explore why you have developed this pattern.
Learning to feel how you feel
Some people try to talk themselves out of feeling a wide range of emotions. Another skill I think is important is to allow yourself to ‘feel how you feel’.
I am not giving you permission to wallow in your sadness long-term but allowing yourself to feel a wide range of emotions is crucial for mental health. It is not possible to deny only one type of emotion, suppress one and you suppress them all!
Allow yourself to feel what you feel, even for a short time, then you can move on. The body sends more messages to the brain than the brain sends to the body – start listening to what your body is saying. If you don’t, it will learn to scream! This is often why we end up being sick when we take time off work, if we haven’t been listening all year.
Learning to decide what you can influence
This is so important, as we often use so much energy worrying about things we cannot change and not acting on things we can. By making a shift we use our energy to achieve things which increases motivation and decreases stress levels. Using the method below we can determine what to spend our energy on and what we need help to manage.
Circles of Influence Worksheet:
Attached is a Circles of Influence Worksheet pdf to print out. This worksheet is designed to help you to distinguish between what you can influence and what you have no control over at the moment.
Download pdf here
Write two lists; ‘things I can change’ and ‘things I have no control over’.
Use the energy you have to work on the things you can change.
If your head takes you to the other list, gently change focus, saying ‘I know this is difficult but right now I am going to focus on the things I can change, no matter how small’.
Gradually you might find that some items on the ‘Things I have no control over’ list you can influence but this takes a mind shift that may not be available to you yet.
Just concentrate on what you can change for now.
When working through this exercise you may discover you have a long list of things you need to do, from sewing on a button to writing a letter to arranging for your car to get an MOT. Please don’t let this overwhelm you. We can break this down but using the Delegate-Delete-Do-Defer technique.
We all have ideas of what we would like to do in our lives and sometimes these are unrealistic. So, we use this technique to determine what we want or need to spend our energy on.
Delete: this is where you remove unnecessary time-wasters from your schedule, such as projects you never complete or unproductive meetings.
Delegate: this is taking tasks that are important but can be assigned to someone else.
Defer: This means, essential tasks that don't need to be handled right now. This leaves us with the tasks we need to DO!
To-do list are great but please identify a maximum of 3 things per day to score off your to-do list otherwise you may become overwhelmed.
Learning to say no
Often, we feel overwhelmed because we have taken too much on. Many of us feel really uncomfortable when faced with a request and do not have the skills to say no. If you feel this way, then maybe you could use some lessons on assertiveness but in the meantime, here are some techniques that might help:
‘Thanks for asking but I need some time to consider your request. I will get back to you by 5pm’.
‘I’d be happy to help but it is just not possible for another month’.
‘Sorry, I just don’t have any space in my diary for that just now’.
‘Autobiography in 5 Chapters’ by Portia Nelson
A wonderful poem about repeating the same patterns over and over again but gradually learning to change your thoughts and behaviours.
‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go’ by Dr Suess
‘If I had my Life Over’ – there is some confusion about who wrote this poem. Some attribute it to Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges and some attribute it to American poet Nadine Stair. Whoever wrote it I want to thank them. I love this poem. I was first introduced to it 20 years ago and I still love it as much as I did then, maybe more so.
A final note….
As with all new things in life, learning new self-care techniques can take time and practise. In the poem ‘Autobiography in 5 Chapters’ by Portia Nelson she writes about gradually learning to change thoughts and behaviours over time.
Learning in itself is one of the 5 ways to mental wellbeing. It takes us out of our comfort zone and opens up our mind. But the more we learn, the easier it is for our brain to adapt to new situations.
I love learning, it’s so good for you. I hope that you will enjoy learning these new ways to introduce self-care into your daily life.