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“What ever made you think you could do this? You’re obviously not cut out for it.”

“You should just quit, tell everyone they wasted their time on you. You’re not tough enough.”

“You’re a loser.”

What would you say to a friend who told you things like that? They probably wouldn’t be your friend for much longer, would they?

But what if it’s you doing the trash-talking to yourself? How can you escape someone who follows you everywhere you go?

The sentences at the beginning of this post are just a few of the things I told myself after a meltdown on Saturday. As you can see, negative thoughts can get ugly.

Why was I being so hard on myself? I’ve recently started sparring again, after a long, long break. To get better faster, I’ve been training with people who are much more skilled than I am. They also haven’t taken a long break from sparring, so they’re more comfortable with it.

Do you know what happens in my martial art when you train with people who are better than you? You get your ass kicked.

I haven’t been hurt, but my ego has been severely bruised. And instead of reminding myself that I’m new to this, I keep going back to how I was a decade ago, when I sparred every day and had no problem being assertive and aggressive.

What would I say to a friend who was in the same situation?

“Don’t worry…it’ll come back. You were great before, and you will be great again. It just takes practice. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

So why am I so much nastier to myself? There was no support, no encouragement at all coming from me to me. And, as you can imagine, my critical thoughts made things worse, bringing on a full-on crying jag (thankfully I was cloistered in my dojo’s bathroom at the time).

I wanted to offer some helpful tips for fighting negative self-talk in this post, but a web search on the topic revealed nothing but sales pitches from self-help gurus or cheesy gimmicks. (I’m sorry, but I don’t think snapping myself with a rubber band would have done the slightest bit of good.)

All we can really do is keep trying to treat ourselves like we treat our friends…with patience, with support, and with love. And like everything else, this takes practice. Some days will be better than others. There will be occasional crying jags in the bathroom (but hopefully not many).

One thing that I have to always remember: never getting knocked down does not make me a fighter. It’s always being able to get back up.

How about you, Dear Readers? Do you ever have a problem with negative self-talk? How do you stop it in its tracks?

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  1. Christine Murray

    I’m my own worst enemy. I magnify every failure, and disregard every success. I’m trying to be kinder to myself lately, but it’s hard.

    I expect more from myself than anyone else, and I always end up disappointed. I’m trying to build up my self-esteem, but it’s hard.

    I’m sure once you get back into the swing of things, you’ll improve. Chin up, and try to keep the negative voices in check x

  2. Cathy

    I’m the same way and even wrote a blog post recently on the very same topic. Great minds think alike! I’m trying to be kind to myself and not let Mr. Ick (Inner Critic)gain control. Some days are better than others.

  3. Anonymous

    Like the two ladies above, I’m a great critic of myself…it would be so easy to just dig a hole and hide…

    But I don’t…

    When the negative self-talk starts I shut it down, tell myself I’m better than than, and jump in feet first before the negative voice can reply. But I have to do it quickly – otherwise I’ll hesitate and all will be lost. I’ve never regretted those times…


  4. Story Teller

    Thanks so much for your comments, ladies. It’s nice to know I’m not alone, although I’m sorry to hear you’re all suffering from the same thing.

    @ Christine – are you a perfectionist, by any chance? I find that striving for perfection is just another excuse to beat up on ourselves. We always fail, because nothing is ever perfect, and if others call us on our negative self-image, we claim that if we weren’t so hard on ourselves, we wouldn’t have accomplished half as much.

    The problem is, thinking hurtful things and hating ourselves takes up time and energy, too. Time that could be better spent on the things that are important to us. Keep trying to break the cycle. With practice makes almost perfect! 🙂

    @ Cathy – I’ll be sure to check out your post. I think we all have bad days, some more than others. I know I’ll have more, but yesterday I went right back to sparring, and it was okay. Not great, but okay. The more I do it, the better it will be.

    @ Lisa – I’m glad you don’t hide, and just look at all you’ve accomplished.

    A lot of negative self-talk comes from our past: parents or other people who told us hurtful, limiting things when we were children. But if we continue to tell ourselves these messages as adults, we are letting them win.

    Don’t let them win!

  5. Chris

    You’re going through a tough time, but when you come out on the other end, it’ll all be worth it. There’s a really great quote that’s attributed to Arnold Schwarzenegger that may be relevant here:

    “Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strength. When you go through hardship and decide not to surrender, that is strength.”

    You said as much at the end of your post. Stay with it, and you’ll be fine.

  6. Vanessa

    I too am my worst critic. My first step was to recognize that I was doing it to myself. After that, I would try to reframe the situation and replace my negative self talk to positive self talk.

    I have also noticed that I am such a cheeleader for others but never for myself. Once I realized it, I noticed that the comment would also need to apply to myself. For example, during a drill where both partners were exerting energy I’d say, “way to go”, “just a few more”, “good job”, “you can do it”… I made a committement to myself to accept my positive feedback and apply it to myself.

    Now when I am tired I try to only say motivational things…..yes I might be winded and tired, but I remind myself that “I can do what I can”….and then say “Ok just do 5 more, or 1 more….or my favorite “just do it.”

    Don’t get me wrong…I still feel butterflies in my stomach when I go back to L2 after a long stint off but I try to be my own cheerleader.

  7. Claudine

    I fall into a negative frame of mind when I compare myself to others. In Gretchen Rubin’s book, the Happiness Project, she established her first personal happiness commandment as “Be Gretchen.” It’s been really helpful for me to just remember to “Be Claudine” – to do my best, but know that I can’t do all the same things as well as someone else (but some I may do better!) It’s also helpful in keeping our expectations in check regarding others – to let them be who they are as well.

  8. Laura Best

    You know I have my days as well, Holli. I think we all do. Whenever I’m feeling like pond scum about my writing (which really seems to be the only area in my life where self-doubt arises) I sit down with a pen and notebook and write it all out. I get rid of all the negative things I’m thinking. I do my blubbering on the page. I don’t stop until I’m feeling better, and sometimes I even shed a few tears of frustration.

    Deep down, I always know that no matter what, I’m going to pull myself back up. I might even tell myself I won’t for even a few moments, but I can’t stop it from happening. It’s just who I am.

  9. Story Teller

    Wow, the response to this topic has been fantastic! Thanks to everyone for their heartfelt comments.

    @ Chris – I really feel like I have no choice but to stick with it. For my kru and everyone else who has spent their time and energy training me, but also for myself. I can’t imagine the emotional fallout if I were to give up and quit. Plus, I’ve come so far! Sure, there will still be tough moments, but I’ve gotten so much stronger already.

    @ Vanessa – you’re right–you’re a fantastic cheerleader for others, and you seem to have so much confidence that I’m surprised you’re not doing the same for yourself. You work hard, and you always give 110%. That’s what it’s all about.

    @ Claudine – that’s a good point about not comparing ourselves to others. My problem stems from comparing myself to how *I* was several years ago…maybe the result is the same. I never expect to be as skilled as Olivia or Wayne, but I do want to be the best Holli I can be! 🙂

    @ Laura – that’s the thing with writing…we can always write out our feelings, and that’s a good thing. I wish there was a similar trick with sparring. So much of success in a martial art stems from where you are mentally, so if you’re in a weak frame of mind, things can get ugly very fast.

    Maybe the fear from thinking (even for a moment) that we’re going to give up is what brings home how important our passion (for writing, for kickboxing) really is. The fear of losing it may make us dig down deep and try even harder to succeed.


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