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Building Better Habits & Routines

Not All Stories You Tell Yourself Are Bad

By November 12, 2023May 25th, 20248 Comments

Recently I wrote about how some of the stories you tell yourself are fictional. They may be rooted in fact but are blown out of proportion. Some of the stories you tell yourself are bad because you tear yourself apart. You use negative self-talk. On the other hand, some stories are great because in the telling, you discover another way to do something, build yourself up, give yourself confidence, all by using positive self-talk.

The stories you tell yourself can set you up to barely engage or engage wholeheartedly.

In this post I’ll share some examples of negative self-talk and positive self-talk. Often you can take the same story and spin it to the negative or the positive. It’s all in your point of view, your mindset, and how determined you are to fail or to succeed. Of course, we all know it’s naïve to think that the only thing which determines failure or success is the story you tell yourself. However, we also know the mind is powerful. The stories you tell yourself can set you up to barely engage or engage wholeheartedly.

3 examples of negative self-talk followed by the positive self-talk spin

1. I’m always late, I’m so stupid

I set my alarm and for once I am out of bed on time. My plan to leave the house gets hijacked because I’m so stupid and stop to watch a news segment on the TV. Sometimes, my morning runs away from me because I let myself get distracted by something like a news segment. I know better than that. If only I wasn’t so stupid all the time. I know I’m going to be late to my appointment – again. I’m so stupid.

In this story, the person tells themselves they are ‘so stupid’ which is defeating. They have identified the thing they are doing wrong, which is terrific. The first step to doing something better is knowing (being aware of) what you don’t want to do. Watching news segments which are designed to draw you in, make you feel like you want to keep on watching so you don’t miss out are not smart things to do if you want to get somewhere by a specific time – or early. This person is not stupid. They are doing something that does not align with their goal of being on time but labeling themselves ‘stupid’ is a mistake.

Let’s tell the same story using positive self-talk.

I set my alarm and I get out of bed on time – good for me. This is a step in the right direction. I’m determined to get to my appointment on time or early today. I know I can do it. I go to turn on the TV news and realize that if I do that, I’ll get caught up in watching the TV. Instead, I put on some classical music and listen to that as I get ready to leave the house. It’s so tempting to turn on the TV because I like having the conversation going on in the background. The music is a better choice. Phew, I did it. I’m out the door on time. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.

2. I’m a slob. I’ll never be organized

All my life, family and friends have told me I’m a slob and have commented on how messy my room or my home is. They tell me if I would just pick up my things and put them away, my life would feel less chaotic.  I’ve tried to put things away but there’s so much stuff. I don’t know where to begin.  I must face facts, I’m a slob. There are no two ways about it. I’ll never be organized.

Unfortunately, in this story the person has adopted the label other people have given them. They use negative self-talk when they call themselves a slob and when they say they will never be organized. Let’s spin this using positive self-talk.

My friends and family say I’m a slob but I’m not sure I agree. Yes. My room and my home have always been messy. I’m trying to get organized and am working with a professional organizer to learn new ways of keeping my things. I know I have spent a lifetime living this way so it’s going to take awhile before it starts looking better. It’s discouraging when I hear myself called a slob so I’m holding on to the thought that Rome wasn’t built in a day. I’m conquering my piles one at a time. Every time I get one space cleared out and organized, I give myself a little reward.

3. It’s hard to get anything done

Today, I am going to get the garden beds cleaned and prepared for the winter. I didn’t get around to doing that last fall and want to this year. There are other things I want to do today also. I’m not sure how I’m going to get it all done. It feels like there’s too much for me to do. I better take the dog for a walk before I get started in the garden, then I won’t worry about her. I’m going to wait until tomorrow to work in the garden. The weather is supposed to be better then. Maybe I should clear papers off my desk. Oh, maybe I’ll wash some dishes. No, I think I better go get dog food after I walk the dog. I don’t know. There are so many things I want to do, it’s hard to get anything done.

It is very difficult to tackle any task when you have so many things on your mind. This person is bouncing from one idea to another and never quite settling on anything other than taking care of the dog. It’s defeating when there are so many thoughts or ideas shouting for attention. Let’s see what happens when we spin this negative story in a more positive direction.

I have lots of things I want to do today. I want to get into the garden, walk the dog, do some paperwork, and lots of other things. I’m going to first make a list on my phone and then set some alarms, so I don’t lose track of time. I know I can do this; make progress with all the things I want to do. OK. I’m going to get started now.

To summarize:

We are our own worst critics. When we tell ourselves stories which focus on the things we did wrong without looking for the silver linings we do ourselves a disservice. Negative self-talk will always make things worse. Spin the story differently. Identify the thing (or things) that are either right or wrong and find the lesson – if there is one. What can you change to do things better? Find the thing to change, use positive self-talk, and act.

Reach out to me if you want help learning new ways to do things to be more organized.

Diane N. Quintana is an ICD Master Trainer, Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization, Certified Professional Organizer, owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC and co-owner of Release Repurpose Reorganize LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia

8 Comments

  • This is very true. I’ve seen it with the younger generation, maybe because they are so busy being attached to their phones which makes things harder to accomplish and they start being negative before they try and have things done or being on time. Thanks for this post.

  • Sara Skillen says:

    I love the light you’re shining on the power of stories! And we do forget that it’s possible to flip the script and look at things from a kinder, gentler perspective. “The stories you tell yourself can set you up to barely engage or engage wholeheartedly.” – so, so true.

  • Julie Bestry says:

    There’s a TikTok channel where a young British woman acts out her life, narrating little skits as if she’s completely confident, assumes the best of herself and everyone, and approaches every situation with almost Pollyanna-ish positivity. it’s both funny (because how dare someone expect good things instead of worrying about bad things!) and sobering, because it makes people realize how negative they often are, both about themselves and the world around them.

    I’m super-lucky, I think, because my inner voice is very kind to me. I worry and obsess over what OTHER people will DO, but was born naturally confident. (For some people, I think confidence looks like arrogance, but really I think it’s just a positive attitude applied to self-descriptions. I may not always succeed, but if I do what I know I should do, things work out more often; if they don’t work out, I know what to change.)

    You’ve done a stellar job gently pointing out the ways you can treat yourself with greater kindness; tell those positive, hopeful stories!

  • That is a very inspiring post, Diane! I love how you gave a solution for each self-talk bashing one may do to oneself.

  • Seana+Turner says:

    So love the way you’ve given us an alternative storyline to tell ourselves. I do this often with family and clients, but I don’t typically think to do this for myself. I’m not sure why not. After all, I probably hear my own voice in my head more than anyone else’s.

    You are so right that negative self talk always makes things worth. It isn’t productive or helpful in any way. If we can accept this truth, it might help us give up the “self shame” habit.

  • How we talk to ourselves matters A LOT! You gave excellent examples of how to reframe negative into positive self-talk. The positive options encourage a growth mindset. Plus, you shared some practical ways of making progress. Identifying progress is hard when we get stuck in those negative loops. I love your reminder that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Learning to reframe the words we say in our minds and out loud to support rather than criticize ourselves takes time, practice, and patience. It’s so worthwhile.

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