Dealing with Negative Self Talk

I definitely wasn't feeling like this guy... 

I definitely wasn't feeling like this guy... 

A few days ago I had a really hard day in my movement training.

I started my movement practice as usual, but everything was so fucking hard. I kept coming up to the line where a movement gets challenging (where you normally would push through and get a few more repetitions in) and finding that I had to stop. It felt like my body was giving up on me.

But I suspected that wasn’t really what was going on. I pay special attention to my self talk these days. And it was particularly loud on that day. And incredibly negative. Hmmmm….

The ‘voice’

The loudest ‘voice’ told me that I couldn’t do it. It told me to just stop. “Why bother?” it said. Strange… it wasn’t saying “you’re feeling a bit off today, you should take it easy”, it was saying “You can’t do this. You’re shit! Why are you even trying?”.

This sort of negativity in my self talk is pretty strange for me. It has happened before, but not for a long time. So I knew something was going on. Even though the voice was insisting that it was physical to the point that it felt physical, I knew it probably wasn’t. I hadn’t become weaker or less resilient overnight.

Self talk

The good thing about self talk is that it’s just talk. It’s not you. You don’t have to do what it says. But you should listen to it - that way you can learn something about yourself.

So what did I learn from that negative shit of a voice that day? How did I deal with it? First, I considered other information at hand. For example, I knew what the voice was saying was wrong. I can do these movements - I had done them before! Hell, it was a de-load session, so I wasn’t even working at full capacity!

So if I knew what the voice was saying was wrong, then how can I listen to it?

Somewhere within I found compassion for the voice. It was being negative, but I didn’t have to be. After extending some compassion I heard what it was trying to tell me.

“Take it easy today, things are a little off”.

Best friends again! 

Best friends again! 

Just a few minutes earlier this same voice had been swearing at me. The change in tone was incredible. It was just trying desperately to get my attention for fear that I’d think this was another thing to ‘push through’ as we so often do.

So I took it a little easier that day and my body and mind are best friends again.

Don’t assume malice!

Even when you have a very negative voice, it’s helpful to not assume malice. If you assume the voice is trying to hurt you, your resistance to it may deafen you to its message. What if you’re just scared of the movement? What if it’s lashing out to try to protect you? If that’s true, what could it be telling you that it’s not saying? How can you respond in a positive way to your negative voices?

Work with your body

When you have such an adversarial voice inside, it’s easy to just push against it. It’s swearing at you, so you get angry and swear at it! It’s not saying what you want to hear, you ignore it. You have to get the next set done or get through the next 10 kilometres on your bike. “No pain, no gain” you tell your self.

Pushing through hardship is part of how moving helps us. But it doesn’t mean we should totally ignore anything negative. Going back to my negative shit of a voice from earlier: that was unusual for me. I wasn’t experiencing unusual amounts of pain or hardship, but the voice was unusually negative. So I listened to it.

Ignoring voices like these creates an adversarial relationship with your body. Your body isn’t your enemy. Especially not in movement! You need to stress it out so it can respond, but it’s not your enemy. It’s more like tough love between friends.

Hearing and listening to what your body (and any ‘voices’ it may have) and responding with kindness is the way to go. Start to encourage and cultivate a relationship with your body that is kind and collaborative. Listen to it. You’ll find that it will listen to you when you ask it to do things.

Photos by Joshua Sazon and Fatih Altasov on Unsplash

Ego Incompetence

A few days ago I was telling a friend of mine about how I had been feeling incompetent in my new job. Everything is new, I’m not sure what I’ve got myself into and I’m questioning whether I can even do this job. Her response was interesting:

Being new is the worst. I feel incompetent even now and I have been at my job for a year! I wonder if you ever get good at these things.

This got me thinking. Why exactly do you feel incompetent in new jobs? Is it because you actually are incompetent? Have they made a mistake in hiring you? This line of thinking feels awfully familiar. It’s a protective way of thinking while in a vulnerable position. Your ego has reared its head again!

You’re so distracted by whether you appear to be competent to your new boss, that you forget to be competent at the job.

Ryan Holiday put it perfectly:

Just one thing keeps ego around—since it certainly doesn’t serve any productive purpose. It is comfort. Pursuing great work—whether in sports, art, or business— is often terrifying. Ego soothes that fear. It’s a salve to our insecurity. Replacing the rational and aware parts of our psyche with bluster and self-absorption, ego tells us what we want to hear, when we want to hear it.

But it is a short- term fix with a long- term consequence. Which is why we must fight it.

Look, I’ll admit it. It’s easier said than done to fight this feeling. I only ask that when you notice your own mind calling you names like ‘incompetent’ when you’re trying new things, try telling it that you appreciate its opinion, but you’re trying this new thing anyway thank you very much. You have to let it tell you its opinion (or it’ll never shut up) but you don’t have to act on it.

Learn More from Podcasts: My Ego is so much Smaller than yours bro

I had a conversation with Ashley this week about how a person best learns. She recently realised that she learns best from reading written information. If she listens to a podcast or an audiobook, it’s definitely entertaining but she ends up losing the information unless she reads something to go with it. This piqued my interest because I’ve known for a while that I’m an ‘audio’ learner. I find it a lot easier to remember things and learn if I hear it, either through conversations, podcasts, or audiobooks. 

Hearing about Ashley’s experience with audio got me thinking. I also benefit from reading things along with all the stuff I listen to. Sure, I’m more adapted to audio than Ash, but I get a lot out of using multiple ways to consume the information too. My habits are pretty stark though - apart from what I read for my day job where the only option is written material, the most important information I consume comes from audio. I listen to heaps of audiobooks and podcasts. Apart from my aforementioned job and my nightly reading (30 minutes before bed), the only time I read things is when I’m reading my version of ‘trashy’ news: Apple pundits, various tech reviews, and things that I like to follow but I don’t learn a whole lot from. 

I spent some time this week wondering about how do my reading vs. listening habits help me and/or hinder me. If I’m learning important things from podcasts and other audio sources, how could I help myself (and others like Ash) consolidate this information? What if I changed my approach a little? Would I get more out of the information I consume? How could my information consumption habits be tweaked a little to help you? 

I noticed that a lot of the podcasts I listen to don’t have a lot of written content to go with them. That’s because some of the best podcasts are a conversation - they’re inherently hard to capture in written form. The majority of their value is exactly because they’re a conversation rather than a formal written document. But, with people like Ash out there who learn better from reading, I think there’s a need to provide some good written summaries for the best audio content. 

It’s a hard job - conversations are difficult to capture in written form. Nevertheless, I decided to do my best collating and writing some summaries of my favourite audio content for you. Let's start with a great podcast episode I listened to last week: 

Aubrey Marcus Episode 107 - My Ego is so much Smaller than yours bro

Provided episode description:

The high priest of spiritual parody drops out of character to discuss transparency and dismantle identity in one of my longest conversations to date. Dive into some meaty food for thought from the real person behind everyone’s favourite conscious funny guy.

This episode will get you thinking a lot about your ego. It’s about learning to understand what the ego is for (protecting you) and only letting it do that when you need to be protected.

The episode ties into the Brene Brown TED talk about vulnerability. That is, if you’re more open and vulnerable, you’ll get more out of your relationships and other areas of life. Whilst it’s scary to be vulnerable, it’s also where all the nice things in life come from. It’s how we learn! Our egos are there trying to stop us from being vulnerable - this is how an inflated ego can get in the way of learning and progression as a person.

You’ll also notice connections with the work of Ryan Holiday[1] and other Stoic philosophers on ego. Ryan Holiday’s work, especially ‘Ego is the Enemy’ tends towards pushing you to see the ego as, well, the enemy in order to protect yourself from the downsides of ego. Whilst I do think the Stoic idea is useful, in this episode I was struck by the way J.P. and Aubrey described their relationships with their egos. They view ego not so much as an adversarial thing, but more as a friend who might be a little over protective sometimes. In particular, I enjoyed Aubrey’s description of the way keeping a handle on his ego lets him “see, permit, and encourage” his wife for everything that she is.

I encourage you all to listen to this conversation - it’s one I’ve listened to twice already and probably will again soon!

If you don’t know what sort of learning you tend towards, take a moment to think about where you spend most of your ‘learning’ time. Is it YouTube? Maybe it’s podcast’s like me? Or do you read books or websites? Maybe you just talk to people? I’m planning to write more about the way you consume information and how to get more out of less. If you liked this post, sign up below to and I’ll send you my latest posts!

  1. See Ego is the Enemy and The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday.  ↩

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