• Audrey Tang

Reframing your internal voice means recognising what it is saying first!

There is a presumption that when we need to "change our internal dialogue" it is because it is negative.  One of the founders of the cognitive approach to depression, Beck c1960s, proposed that the depressed mind generates "negative automatic thoughts" (NATs) which frame our interpretation and can keep us trapped within our sadness.  With the cognitive approach that thoughts preceed behaviour, his form of treatment included reframing those NATs eg:  Instead of "I'm not good enough" - you might reframe this to "I just need to work a little harder on X", or rather than "I'm so rubbish because I'm not making any progress" the reframe may be "It's great how far I've come to this point, I must have some worthy skills."  This healthier mind-set then enables you to feel more control over your life, and may even motivate you to take further action...or at least, it stops you from sabotaging all the progress thus far.

However, my mind works a little differently - perhaps yours does too?

For me, my internal dialogue is quite "soft". (I'm a very forgiving "parent" to my "inner child"!) If I struggle, my dialogue "lets me off" - eg "It's ok, perhaps you're not supposed to be great at that - look at all your other talents aren't they nice?"  and "You found that hard and you don't want to carry on - don't worry, you're still great just as you are."  It's a wonder I've achieved anything at all!!

There are three turning points in my life which I have now recognised as helping me "hear" my inner voice in order to reframe it - two resulted in achievements - one is a "wait and see" because it's current.  In these, my re-framing was different to the "norm":

1.  I failed my PhD the first time round.  My options were - re-write it within 3 months with a new lead supervisor, or settle for a Masters.  ...and I really struggled with the choice.  I'd found it so hard.  I knew my writing style wasn't suited to the academic paper, and I didn't enjoy the lonliness of the life.  Also I'd started a new job which didn't really need the title anyway, and I probably wasn't ever going to become a lecturer.  But I wanted it.  Call it shallow - but I wanted the title.  It was that motivation that make me take action.  I said to myself "Well, you can give up, and it'll be fine - but if you can't be bothered to work at it you don't deserve it anyway."  ...then I worked really really hard - and the email I received on December 17th 2012 telling me I'd passed is something I won't forget for a long time!

2.  Learning to ski - it's hard, it's cold, and I have a lot of fear, but after one of my (very good) friends, who had done all the "Come on, you're doing well", finally said to me "You probably need to make a choice between whether you want to do it, or if you're ok drinking hot chocolate" - I took lessons - now I can stop (in that "flashy way") without using the snow plough!

3. "My name's Audrey and I'm a Fat Loser" (thank you "3rd Rock from the Sun")

I've joined Weight Watchers.  I've always struggled with my weight but having been overweight (but fit) as a child because of the amount of dancing I did, I've never had the confidence issues that would normally surround someone with my build.  If I want to wear a bikini, I'll do it, and luckily because I carry my weight in an hourglass shape, I get away with it.  But at my age, it's going on faster than I thought, and coming off less easily - and the reality is for my height, the top end of "healthy" is 9 stone 4  (a weight I've not been since I was 15!) and I'd quite like to see how that looks on me!

They too have worksheets to reframe negative thinking, so rather than thinking "Well I ate that donut, I may as well have the rest of the box" you are encouraged to think "I've had my treat, I'll just plan my next meal so I'm back on track" or "I had that, but I've done really well so far - so I'll keep going."  


But, the problem for me is I'll jump from "I ate that donut" to "I don't need to go back to the plan - I'll be ok with what I'm doing, and I'd rather be happy eating donuts..."

As I said - I'm very easy on myself - and incredibly good at justification!  Except, this laissez-faire approach is not helpful for me if I really want something.  It's just the cognitive version of "The Fox and the Grapes" (Where the fox walks away from the grapes he can't (be bothered to try and... !?) reach saying "I'm sure they were sour anyway".) 

I'm only into my second week at WW, so I'm being quite structured at the moment, but when my motivation starts to waver, it won't be a gee-ing along that will prevent my derailment, it'll be a moment of "Of course it's hard, and if you want to achieve it, you're just going to have to deal with it  otherwise give up on it and lose the guilt too - this was your choice."

Wow - harsh words.

...and as a coach I'd immediately look at that and say "I'd never say that to my clients" and as a friend I'd also say "I'd never say that to a friend."...but is this really true?  I have challenged some clients, and friends, but I do it when I know I have the ability (clients), and time & inclination (friends) to build them back up...and it works.  When I'm dealing with myself I know I have all the tools I need to get it right - I just need to set my mind straight again.

So in my case, my inner-voice spoils my inner-child.  That's been positive in many ways - I do a lot and I dare a lot, but I also give up a lot - when with a slightly firmer hand (or voice) perhaps I could have suceeded.  

Maybe I'm just odd that way - but just in case I'm not - I've written this.  I hope it will, when you are looking to motivate yourself to success, make you think - and hear.


Note that this is not in lieu of professional help, especially for depression, anxiety or other mental health disorders, but it can supplement the work you are already doing, and may help when seeking why your "normal" motivation techniques just aren't working.  Further - we all think differently, and what works for me is not necessarily going to work for you - but will nonetheless bring a different perspective.

1. Identify the area you are going to work on - reframing your thinking is not easy and you need to "stay on it" at least for the first few weeks to avoid slipping back into the habit you have practiced automatically for so long.  Therefore one or two goals are possible, too many and the likelihood is one will "slip" and this will allow you to use the jusitification of "Oh I didn't want it that much anyway."

2.  Recognise what has caused the situtation in the first place, if you can.  In the example of over-eating, it might be the mind-set of "This won't hurt" or "It's ok to be overweight because you are so talented elsewhere."  It might not even be as explicit as that. It might be that you have to unpick your justification which is probably masquerading as a (very reasonable) exit strategy.  My "sliding doors" moment of recognition was when I gave up the "Miss Saigon school" (having got to the last 4 to be cast and didn't get in).  While I could wait for the next round of casting, I just dropped my pursuit of professional theatre there and then, went back to uni, got my Masters - and the rest (as they say) is history.  I wouldn't swap anything now, but perhaps I might have before, even up to 10 years ago!  My voice said, "Well, that's probably as far as you're going to get - and it's pretty good. You're good at academia, go back to that and see what doors it opens." Was this sensible - or an excuse to stay in a comfort zone where rewards are easy?  Do not confuse a retreat to the comfort zone with an exit strategy!!! When have you had a regret and why did it happen (even if it worked out)?  What did you console yourself with!?

3.  Once you know what that voice is - you can decide whether to listen to it saying "It's ok", or whether you need to rebel against it!

For me (and my inner-child thought process) rebellion against the soothing acceptance is the way forward and I need to fight that fight every single day.


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