How Can We Stop Talking Ourselves Out of Everything?

Someone asked me at another website why it is that some of us habitually talk ourselves out of great opportunities and activities that might be enriching, engaging or fun — and how can we break this habit?

I think we acquired this habit because somewhere back there we learned to be ashamed of ourselves, to so dislike various aspects of ourselves that we did not dare reveal them to the outside world, which we were sure would mock or punish us.

We became our own worst critics, mocking and punishing ourselves for our own desires and qualities in valiant attempts to beat the outside world to the punch. As in: Yeah, yeah, I know you hate me. But guess what! I hate myself too! So I will talk myself out of opportunities and potential fun.

As for what to do about it, I think the first step is to unplug some of our harshest self-judgments. We call ourselves boring dullards or shrinking violets or weird freaks or unfashionable geeks. But what really defines any of those terms? What is “boring,” really, and to whom? I’m sure many of Emily Dickinson’s contemporaries thought she was extremely boring. And did Albert Schweitzer need to be fashionable?

Maybe we can talk ourselves into taking chances and “just doing it” by telling ourselves: It’s not that I’m incompetent, it’s not that I’m dull and unacceptable — but rather it’s that I can see a lot more of what’s really going on in most situations than nearly everyone else can. Low self-esteem has a way of making us hyper-perceptive. And being hyper-perceptive can make what’s easy for others extremely difficult for us, because we are the ones who keep asking: What if, what if, what if, and what could possibly go wrong?

I know firsthand how hard it is to “just do it.” One strategy I have developed to overcome talking myself out of stuff is to ask myself silently: What law is there against whatever quality of mine I’m internally criticizing? What law demands that I have certain specific qualities and that, if I have other qualities instead, these qualities of mine are all that bad, shameful, or mockable? If I’m down in the depths thinking No no no I can’t do XYZ or go to ABC because I’m too ugly, stupid, boring or whatever, I try to tell myself, “Hey, at least I’m not a burglar or a murderer.” You’d be surprised how well that works.


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