I sit silently at my desk at work, mentally blocking out the office chaos that surrounds me. I don’t notice my coworkers laughing over an inappropriate joke or the fact that my lunch has been going cold for nearly half an hour. I’m deep in thought trying to figure out how to handle an unhappy client email while also fighting back the voices in my head screaming, “You’re not good enough. You’re not good enough!”
However, the problem with turning inward when you’re dealing with something difficult is that negative self-talk inevitably makes an unwelcome appearance.
The Science Behind Introversion and Self-Talk
While everyone — even extroverts — experiences negative self-talk from time to time, there is a link between introversion and our tendency to dwell in self-inflicted pain. According to neuroimaging studies, introverts show a higher level of blood flow in the part of the brain associated with self-talk.
According to Psychology Today, “Your self-talk combines your conscious thoughts with your unconscious beliefs and biases.” Positive self-talk can lead to a deeper understanding of the self and others. It can also boost confidence and mood. Unfortunately, up to 70 percent of daily thoughts are negative.
If you consider that the average introvert likely spends the majority of the day in their head, that leaves a lot of space for negativity. Ruminating on negative self-talk is extremely destructive. Left unchecked, these thoughts can lead to severe anxiety and depression.
The key to healthily managing negative self-talk is transforming the experience from subjective to objective. One of the best ways to do this is by practicing mindfulness.
Benefits of Mindfulness for Introverts
Mindfulness helps reduce anxiety by reducing our tendency to ruminate on negative thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness can also help us get in touch with our unconscious beliefs and biases and view reality through a more objective lens.
According to Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types, all introverts lead with a subjective cognitive function. As introverts, we are wired to make sense of the world based on our own perception. So, in a sense, our thoughts and feelings truly do shape our reality.
Mindfulness is not meant to eliminate negative emotions, but to accept them and manage the amount of mental energy they take up.
Mindfulness Techniques for Introverts
Here are four mindfulness practices that can help you combat negative self-talk.
1. Accept that negative thoughts will happen.
Have you ever found yourself trying to put a positive spin on something even somewhere as private as your journal or in a conversation with a trusted loved one? This form of positivity bias happens because we consciously want to feel like we’re in control of our future and our lives.
It might even feel like our negative thoughts are too evil to acknowledge, so we suppress them by trying to focus on the positive. Another factor is simply that negative thoughts make us feel bad.
While it’s beneficial to focus on positive thoughts (more on that later), an essential part of being mindful means accepting that negative thoughts happen — and they are perfectly normal.
2. Choose a time to focus on negative self-talk.
We tend to ruminate over negative thoughts and feelings that seem incomplete. An unresolved fight with a spouse or uncertainty over changes at the office can keep us up for nights on end. While we can’t control how another person will respond or what will happen tomorrow at work, we can control the time and energy we allow for these thoughts.
Set up a daily or weekly routine to write or talk about your negative feelings. The idea of putting them on paper or speaking them out loud may seem intimidating at first, but the experience is actually really therapeutic. Making the self-talk “real” by getting it outside your head will help you view it through a more objective lens and make the worry seem less troublesome.
You may want to try an exercise called mental chatter. This exercise involves writing your thoughts as frequently as possible for two weeks. During this time, be careful not to police your thoughts or throw a positive spin on the negative.
3. Choose a time to focus on positive self-talk.
Just as it’s healthy to take time for negative self-talk, it’s important to focus your energy on positive self-talk on a regular basis. I prefer to do this during my morning commute. I use this time to set my intention for the day and focus on the positive opportunities ahead.
For example, if I have to lead a work meeting (yikes!), I spend the time reminding myself of my skill and experience instead of dwelling on stress and fear. Of course, negative thoughts will sneak in, but actively concentrating on the positive can manifest a happy mood and an overall better daily experience.
As someone with an overactive mind, meditation has never come easily to me. However, I recently learned a technique that’s helped me stay focused during meditation. This breathing exercise can also be done during a quick work break or anytime you feel stress creep in.
Set a timer for the amount of time you want to focus on the exercise (one to five minutes is a good starting point). Take a deep breath. When you exhale, begin to slowly move your thumb along the bottom of your pointer finger starting from the bottom. Continue exhaling until you’ve moved your thumb entirely up and down your pointer finger. Repeat this exercise until the time is up.
Focusing on this hand gesture helps the brain focus on something other than the breath, which makes it more difficult to get distracted. It also ensures that you’re exhaling for the appropriate amount of time. Many of us focus on a deep inhale but not a deep exhale.
If hand movement exercises don’t work or are not an option, guided meditation can also help you start a regular mindfulness practice. I recommend the Headspace app. It’s free to sign up and listen to one guided meditation each day.
When it comes to negative self-talk, many introverts choose to take one of two options — repress the emotion or dwell on it. Neither is a healthy, long-term solution. Practicing mindfulness will strengthen your relationship with self-talk, boost your confidence and mood, and improve your quality of life.
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