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Why Are All My Runaway Self-Talk Conversations Negative?

Jacks Smack 043023

If you are anything like me you can get into an epic argument with a loved one without leaving the comfort of your own mind.

Or, you can feel really down on yourself in less than five seconds and never actually hear another person’s voice.

“if the majority of your runaway self-talk conversations are negative, then we’re in it together.”

What am I talking about?

Are you one of those people who engage in self-talk conversations that never seem to end, and when they do, they leave you feeling down in the dumps? Well, if the majority of your runaway self-talk conversations are negative, then we’re in it together.

You know those moments in your brain when a ridiculous, unfounded notion pops onto your radar? And instead of ignoring it or acknowledging it and dismissing it, it leads to a barrage of follow-up thoughts that run you down into the abyss of discomfort, anger, or even worse, straight to Imposter World? Like a runaway train on a track to nowhere.

What’s A Runaway Thought?

Runaway self-talk feel like a bullet train racing through my most sacred space: my head.”

Maybe you don’t have runaway thoughts. Or if you’re unclear as to what I am talking about – runaway thoughts are little gremlins that run wild in our minds, hijacking our attention and leading us down a never-ending rabbit hole of mental meandering. 

They happen to me all the time. Without my explicit permission, by the way. I can be sitting in a meeting, trying to pay attention, and suddenly my mind wanders off to the embarrassing potty incident I had when I ran the Cooper River Bridge 10K in Charleston, South Carolina, last April. Next thing I know, I’m reliving the whole cringe-worthy experience, complete with an adrenaline rush and sweaty palms. That, my friend, is a runaway thought.

Or I am quietly making my morning pour-over coffee and before I realize it I am in a full-blown argument with my partner over …. something, anything. Meanwhile, he’s still sleeping. Upstairs. Yup, that’s a runaway thought, too.

Runaway self-talk feel like a bullet train racing through my most sacred space: my head. They pop up at the most inconvenient times, and once they get going, they’re hard to stop. They’re just a natural part of our brain’s functioning, but sometimes they can get out of control.

We Pay More Attention To The Negative:

Turns out our brains are wired that way. For good reason, by the way. Back in the day, when our ancestors were living in caves and dodging saber-toothed tigers, our brains developed a handy little feature called the negativity bias. This bias helped us survive by being hyper-vigilant about potential threats in our environment. So, our brains are hardwired to pay more attention to negative experiences and thoughts than positive ones.

Why can’t the runaway thoughts be positive?”

We come by negative runaway thoughts honestly. But in today’s world, it doesn’t always serve. It’s like our brains have a default setting for negative thoughts, and once they start running, it’s nearly impossible to stop them. On the other hand, positive thoughts don’t come as easily or naturally, so it’s harder to get them to run away with us, pleasant though that experience might be.

I hate this about my brain. I also hate that sometimes I am participating in what seems like hours of this sh!t talk before I even realize it. When this happens I get so frustrated and angry at myself. Why can’t the runaway thoughts be positive? Why don’t I unwittingly find myself on a grand mental stage wowing an audience with my brilliant speech? Why don’t I suddenly imagine checking my online banking balance and seeing tons of extra zeros at the bottom line of my bank balance? 

Personally, I’ve been working on mitigating or at least somewhat managing my negative self-talk. To that end, I’ve been researching, reading, listening to podcasts on the subject, and more. While I get that I can’t rid myself entirely of the cast of surly characters in my mind, I do believe I can re-write their script. At least some of the time.

How Do I Re-write Runaway Self-Talk?

Giving myself advice, as an outsider, improves the chances that I will actually make a change.”

Well, the first step is to acknowledge these unseemly thoughts. Then it’s best to bring your attention back to the present moment. Recently, I learned a few tips and tricks to aid myself in this much-more-difficult-to-do-than-expected shift of behavior. I want to share them with you, just in case. But in full disclosure, my success rate, so far, is still pretty abysmal.

Ethan Kross, the “chatter” expert professor of psychology from the University of Michigan says we shouldn’t work towards eliminating the negative self-talk but rather harness it. He says we are not our thoughts, but rather we can control them, and move them around as we see fit. 

Turns out I unwittingly practice what they in-the-know call distance self-talk. When I lecture myself — or as I put it, have a sit-down with myself — I utilize my full name. It is not uncommon to hear my inner voice say something like, “Jacqueline, you’ve been exercising most of your life, sure you’re in a slump, but this is NOT who you are.” Or, something of the like. Giving myself advice, as an outsider, improves the chances that I will actually make a change. This linguistic shift seems to work for me.

Mental Time Travel:

Recently, I did learn a new trick called mental time travel or temporal distancing. This, I’ve discovered, is a hack to utilize when we are caught in a never-ending internal negative dialogue loop. In particular, I find this trick helpful at 2 am. 

Again, I address myself in the third person. “Jacqueline, how will you feel about this thing bothering you tomorrow morning, next week, or even a year from now?” The mental time travel oftentimes puts the demons in my head in perspective and releases their grip on me. 

Letting myself realize that my thoughts and feelings on whatever it is I am perseverating on will fade, eventually – helps. Tremendously. Feelings and thoughts are impermanent and fade. We all know this. Somehow that instant reminder provides hope and allows me to quiet my mind and drift back to sleep.

So I guess I must be satisfied with progress, rather than perfection. If I believe all the science, I get that I am stuck with my negativity bias. My only hope now is to arm myself with an arsenal of tools to help me notice when the train has left the station and how to alter its destination. Who knows, maybe someday I will find myself unexpectedly accepting a huge Publishers Clearing House-sized check on a grand stage. That train is exactly the one I want a ticket on.

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