We’re all familiar with the idea that the best way to get someone moving is to give them a swift kick up the bum. Sometimes it even works. But it seems to me in Western culture we often feel the need to drive others and ourselves with criticism and negativity. “Get hard; Get on with it; Don’t be such a sook; try harder you loser”… etc.
This week on Radio Live Tony and I talked about self-criticism or “negative self-talk”, what it is and what to do about it. (Click here to listen to the interview). Self talk refers to the idea that we all have to varying degrees a narrative running in our head. (We used to talk about this being like a “tape” loop, but now I guess we might call it a playlist on repeat…)
This narrative is quite normal, but what is important from the point of view of emotional health is the quality of that self talk, is it mostly positive or mostly negative? And moreover how do we talk to ourselves when we face adversity or challenge in our lives?
In short, what is the relationship we have with ourselves like?
There is a rich tradition in the treatment of depression and anxiety of focusing very specifically on this negative self talk. The aim is that by examining and challenging it we can change our mood and our feelings about ourselves. But even when this self talk is not severe enough to cause clinical depression or anxiety it can still effect our lives and how we feel about ourselves. And in the last few years there has been a flood of research on a different approach, namely building the capacity for self compassion.
Researcher Kristen Neff is a world renowned expert on the topic of self compassion and her research is clear: people generally believe that being hard on themselves is motivating and being kind to ourselves is self indulgent and lazy.
But actually research suggests the opposite.
Not only does it not motivate us but it negatively effects the quality of relationship we have with ourselves and causes negative emotions and anxiety.
The techniques of mindfulness and more specifically self compassion offer some very clear, research validated and easy to implement ways of tackling self criticism and negative self talk. Kristen says it much better than I do and I really encourage you to watch her TED talk below or if you want to get started right away click this link to download some free MP3 audio of some guided meditations to help build self compassion.