My negative self-talk has been within me for as long as I can remember. When I was a little girl, it would manifest in many different ways: my grades at school, my dance classes, or my singing lessons. From the time I was twelve, I remember thinking that I was never good enough. I compared myself to others and strived for perfectionism within myself. I set up impossible standards that I could never reach. Often times, I would find myself alone and crying about my inability to do things in my life. I let myself spiral into periods where I would berate myself for anything in my life that wasn’t working out. I felt like I was on a constant roller-coaster of emotions — when things in my life were good, then everything was fine. But, the moment something went wrong, I plummeted down into a cycle of negative self-talk, which ultimately left me feeling exhausted and defeated. I couldn’t, or never tried, to hush my negative thinking.
As I grew up, I let this negative self-talk lead to over-analyzing and overthinking nearly every decision in my life. So much so that I became scared to try new things in life, because I didn’t want to let myself down.
During my early to mid-twenties, I embarked on a journey into yoga, meditation, and studying psychology. I have always been very introspective; however, this was the first time I finally was able to deeply analyze my life and see it from a whole different perspective. My studies in psychology helped me to realize that it was possible to have some measure of control over my mental state and emotions. I finally felt able to break the cycle of the negative self-talk I had been experiencing for so long.
As I continued down the path of deep introspection, I came across several books on mindfulness written by Thich Nhat Hanh. The first book I read was Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life. This book was a real eye opener for me. I was seeking balance in my life, and mindfulness seemed like the answer. Mindfulness philosophy seemed to focus on self-acceptance that that was exactly what I needed.
Back then, mindfulness became a compassionate friend to assist me in my life journey. Mindfulness helped me to become aware of my cycles of negative self-talk, which helped me to see the connection to that negative inner dialogue and the emotions that would arise within me.
I also noticed that, when I started a cycle of negative inner dialogue, I was always focused on the past or the future. I was preoccupied with thoughts about things that I had not done well in the past. Or I was worried about what the outcome would be in the future. I started to see that I had never actually been living my life. I had been living in moments before or what came after—not the actual moment I was currently in.
This awareness brought great change in my life. I started making conscious efforts to become aware of the moment I was in—through my breath or by just being present—and I started to see the transformation. I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. For so many years, I had struggled being wrapped tightly in a cocoon of negative self-talk that was strangling my ability to just live in the present. Mindfulness helped me to break free of that cocoon and emerge with my wings to fly and experience life in the present moment. I was finally able to just be me.
Now it was time for me to finally start trying new things in my life. I wouldn’t let any negative emotion sabotage the chance for me to try new things anymore. So I enrolled for two classes of my childhood passions: a jazz dance class, and a clay ceramics class. While in those classes, I let myself just be fully present in the moment. I didn’t try to place an emotion on the experience I was going through at the time. I felt the energy of life flowing through me, and just focused on being conscious of moment I was in. I was finally able to be free to just live, rather than always living in my head. In my dance classes, I focused on the music I was hearing and consciously on the movements I was making. In my ceramics class, I became actively engaged in each process of creating an object. I felt the clay between my fingers, and connected to my breath to help create a balanced piece. To be present in these classes allowed me to see the connection between actively engaging in activities I was doing, and how rewarding the experience felt. I was invigorated and felt totally alive.
For the next few months I worked diligently in my classes, but not focused on the outcome of them—something I had always been focused on before. When my clay ceramics class came to a finish, I put the last details on my teapot I had been working on for weeks. When it came out of the kiln, I put water inside to check that it would pour properly, but no water came out—not a single drop. Several weeks later I performed in a recital for my jazz dance class and as I re-watched the video for it, I realized I was behind tempo some of the time. The old me would have scolded myself for not performing up to the standards I had placed on myself. But the mindful me smiled at those experiences, because I knew they were perfect just the way they were.
I realized then that mindfulness helped me to fully awaken to the life I was living, and appreciate each moment for exactly what it was. I didn’t chase happiness or avoid moments of negativity, but rather just became present by using my breath and being aware of that moment. I knew I was composed of many emotions—but I no longer let those emotions control my life. By truly being conscious of the moment I was in, I was able to focus on the gift of life.
The shadow of negative self-talk is still within me, it’s in my core of who I am, and I’m okay with that. When I find those feelings bubbling up within me, I don’t tell them to disappear or avoid them. I treat them the same way I treat all my other thoughts and emotions. I invite them in—like old friends—to give them care and compassion. I breathe into the moments and just let the moment be. Within those moments, I feel a deep sense of equanimity and the stillness of my internal self. It is within those moments that I feel absolute peace and love for everything in life, including myself.
* Originally posted in Everyday Mindfulness by Anna Alapatt