Advertising
Advertising

How To Stop Negative Self-Talk Right Now

How To Stop Negative Self-Talk Right Now

Are you one of those people who, like me, sometimes (often) talk to themselves poorly? Saying things to yourself with that voice in your head that you would never consider saying to someone you cared about? But you say it to yourself. You berate yourself and, especially when you’re feeling challenged, recite a laundry list of reasons why you suck and will never be a success. I’ve been there. And done that. Still do it. But why…?

It’s because we hate ourselves. Kidding. The truth is, I really don’t know why we do it. Maybe it’s the need for certainty. Meaning, if we fail at whatever we’re pursuing, we don’t have to be disappointed because we already beat ourselves to the punch. Or maybe we don’t feel we’re deserving of being happy or having money or being desirable. Or maybe we do hate ourselves and just like to make sure we know it. I don’t know. Here’s what I do know…

Advertising

Being super critical of yourself is NEVER helpful. It only helps to make you feel the way you talk to yourself: Bad. Worthless. A failure. Fat. Dumb. Untalented. The list goes on… But how do we fix it?

Step 1: Notice It

It’s pretty easy to do actually. Whenever you might be feeling down or anxious, take note of the dialogue in your head. How are you talking to yourself? In a positive and loving way? Like you would talk to your best friend who was having a tough time? Or are you trash-talking yourself and adding fuel to the pain and shame fire?

Advertising

Step 2: Stop It

Stop it. Don’t do that. Stop talking badly at yourself and start talking to yourself as if you were cheering on your best friend. Treat yourself as your own best friend. Tell yourself how awesome you are. How hot. How fun and likable. How inspiring. Just fill up your mind with positivity and don’t allow any space for negative thoughts. Do that for as long as it takes to convince your mind to stop finding things to criticize. It will take a lot less time than you might think.

As simple as that: Positive Thinking

That’s two steps. It’s that simple. “But, Michael it’s NOT that simple.” Oh yes, it is. It’s a simple matter of choice and you have total control over it. But don’t take my word for it. Just ask Dr. Eric G. Potterat, Force Psychologist, Naval Special Warfare Command. Dr. Potterat has 20 years experience in the Navy. Much of that time was spent helping Navy SEALs with the extreme psychological demands of their training and missions. Dr. Potterat found that positive self-talk was a major determining factor of a SEAL’s performance. In fact, they found that those who talked to themselves in a positive way had a much greater chance of completing their basic training (which is arguably the toughest military training in the world). If this technique works under some of the most extreme and challenging conditions a human being can face, it can certainly work for any of us in our day-to-day lives.

Advertising

As a photographer, how does this help my clients on-camera? Quite simply: You will be FAR more attractive on-camera if you’re cheering yourself on while that lens is pointing at you rather than berating yourself. Do you think Kim Kardashian talks to herself in any other way other than awesome when she’s posting those selfies? HECK NO. And with 82.6 MILLION Instagram followers, she knows a thing or two about a thing or two.

The next time you catch yourself berating yourself, stop that, flip the script and speak to yourself as you would your best friend. You’ll thank yourself later.

Advertising

More by this author

How To Stop Negative Self-Talk Right Now The Secret to Attracting Anything You Want in Life

Trending in Brain

1 How Not to Let Cognitive Bias Control Us When Dealing with COVID-19 2 7 Most Effective Problem Solving Techniques That Smart People Use 3 How Cognitive Bias Influences Our Decision Making 4 10 Natural Brain Boosters for Enhancing Memory, Energy and Focus 5 10 Brain Vitamins for Enhanced Brain Power

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Published on June 2, 2020

How Not to Let Cognitive Bias Control Us When Dealing with COVID-19

How Not to Let Cognitive Bias Control Us When Dealing with COVID-19

Why have so many people made so many bad decisions around COVID-19?

On the one hand, many ignored the information about the pandemic at first, dismissing its importance. Plenty believed — and some continue to believe — COVID-19 is no worse than the flu and shouldn’t be a concern. Others thought the US medical system would easily cope with it, as it did with SARS and other respiratory infections. Many think it will blow over soon, disappearing with the warm weather in the summer.

On the other hand, plenty of people have taken aggressive — and unhelpful — actions to address their fears. Many have engaged in panic buying, stocking up on more toilet paper than they can use in a year and getting canned goods that they will never eat. Others turned to hyped-up miracle cures offered by modern-day snake oil salespeople, despite health experts clearly conveying that there’s no known treatment or cure for COVID-19.

Such poor decision making stem from dangerous judgment errors that cognitive neuroscientists like myself call cognitive biases[1]. These mental blind spots impact all areas of our life, from health to relationships and even shopping, as a study recently revealed[2]. We need to be wary of cognitive biases in order to survive and thrive during this pandemic.

What Are Cognitive Biases?

A cognitive bias is a result of a combination of our evolutionary background[3] and specific structural features in how our brains are wired. Many of these mental blind spots proved beneficial for our survival[4] in the ancestral savanna environment, when we lived as hunter-gatherers in small tribes. Our ability to survive and reproduce depended on fast instinctive responses much more than reflective analysis.

Our primary threat response, which stems from the ancient savanna environment, is the fight-or-flight response. You might have heard of it as the saber-toothed tiger response: our ancestors had to jump at a hundred shadows to get away from a saber-toothed tiger or to fight members of an invading tribe.

Advertising

This lizard brain response proved a great fit for the kind of short-term intense risks we faced as hunter-gatherers. We are the descendants of those who had a great instinctive fight-or-flight response: the rest did not survive.

Unfortunately, our natural gut reaction to threats to either fight or flee results in terrible decisions in the modern environment. It’s particularly bad for defending us from major disruptions caused by the slow-moving train wrecks we face in the modern environment, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thus, the people who ignored — and continue to ignore — the reality of the dangers from COVID-19 are expressing the flight response. They’re fleeing from uncomfortable information, ignoring the reality of the situation. The people who are taking aggressive and unhelpful actions are expressing the fight response: trying to take control of the situation by doing what they can to fight COVID-19.

Neither of these very natural responses is the right response, of course. Our natural instincts often lead us in exactly the wrong direction in our modern civilized environment. That’s why we need to adopt civilized (and unnatural) behavior habits to ensure we develop mental fitness to make the best decisions.

You already take unnatural and civilized steps for the sake of your physical health. In the ancient savanna, it was critical for us to eat as much sugar as possible to survive when we came across honey, apples, or bananas. We are the descendants of those who were strongly triggered by sugar. Right now, our gut reactions still pull us to eat as much sugar as possible, despite the overabundance of sugar in our modern world and the harm caused by eating too many sweets.

Just like you take proactive steps to go against your intuition to protect your physical health, you need to go against your intuitions and adopt civilized decision-making habits to protect yourself from COVID-19 and so many other modern-day problems that didn’t exist in the ancestral savanna.

Advertising

The Most Relevant Cognitive Biases for COVID-19

More specifically, you need to watch out for three cognitive biases.

The Normalcy Bias

The normalcy bias[5] refers to the fact that our intuitions cause us to feel that the future, at least in the short and medium term of the next couple of years, will function in roughly the same way as the past: normally. That was a safe assumption in the savanna environment, but not today, when the world is changing at an increasingly rapid pace.

This bias leads us to fail to prepare nearly as well as they should for the likelihood and effects of major disruptions, especially slow-moving train wrecks such as pandemics. As a result, we tend to vastly underestimate both the possibility and impact of a disaster striking us.

Moreover, in the midst of the event itself, people react much more slowly than they ideally should, getting stuck in the mode of gathering information instead of deciding and acting.

While the normalcy bias is the most harmful cognitive bias from which we suffer in the face of the pandemic, it’s far from the only one. In fact, a number of other cognitive biases combined with normalcy bias lead to bad decisions about the pandemic.

The Attentional Bias

One of these, attentional bias, refers to our tendency to pay attention to information that we find most emotionally engaging, and to ignore information that we don’t[6]. Given the intense, in-the-moment nature of threats and opportunities in the ancestral savanna, this bias is understandable. Yet, in the modern environment, sometimes information that doesn’t feel emotionally salient is actually really important.

Advertising

For example, the fact that the novel coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China, and caused massive sickness and deaths there didn’t draw much attention as a salient potential threat among Europeans and Americans. It proved too easy to dismiss the importance of the outbreak in Wuhan due to stereotypical and inaccurate visions of the Chinese heartland as full of backwoods peasants.

In reality, Wuhan is a global metropolis. The largest city in central China, it has over 11 million people and produced over $22.5 billion in 2018. It has a good healthcare system, strengthened substantially by China after the SARS pandemic. A major travel hub, Wuhan’s nickname is “the Chicago of China”; it had over 500 international flights per day before the outbreak. If we assume an average of 250 people per plane, that’s 10,000 people a day flying out of Wuhan.

Europeans and Americans, with the exception of a small number of experts, failed to perceive the threat to themselves from the breakdown of Wuhan’s solid healthcare system as it became overwhelmed by COVID-19. They arrogantly assumed this breakdown pointed to the backwardness of central China, rather than the accurate perception that any modern medical system would become overwhelmed in the face of the novel coronavirus.

In the savanna environment, our ancestors had to live in and for the moment since they couldn’t effectively invest resources to improve their future states (it’s not like they could freeze the meat of the mammoths they killed). Right now, we have many ways of investing into our future lives, such as saving money in banks. Yet our instincts always drive us to orient toward short-term rewards and sacrifice our long-term future, a mental blind spot called hyperbolic discounting[7].

This helps explain why so many people are not focusing sufficiently on the long-term impact of the pandemic. Many are rushing to “get back to normal,” failing to realize that doing so will leave them very vulnerable both to COVID-19 and the disruptions accompanying the impact of the pandemic.

The Planning Fallacy

We tend to feel optimistic about our plans: we made them, and therefore the plans must be good, right? We intuitive feel that our plans will go accordingly, failing to prepare adequately enough for threats and risks. As a result, our initial plans often don’t work out. We either fail to accomplish our goals or require much more time, money, and other resources to get where we wanted to go originally, a cognitive bias known as the planning fallacy[8]. Moreover, we don’t pivot quickly enough when external events require us to change our plans.

Advertising

Thus, the vast majority of us were unprepared for a major disruption like COVID-19. Moreover, a great many people tried to go ahead with their plans when they should have pivoted, such as holding weddings, going on vacations, and so on.

Addressing Cognitive Bias

To address these cognitive biases in relation to the pandemic, you have to adopt a realistic and even pessimistic perspective. We have no way of coping with the pandemic save a combination of shutdowns and social distancing. We will see wave-like periods[9] of tight restrictions that result in less cases, then loosened restrictions with spikes of cases, and then again tightened restrictions.

Such waves will last until we find an effective vaccine and vaccinate at least the most vulnerable demographics, which in the most optimistic scenario will not be until late 2021. If things don’t go perfectly, it might be more like 2023 or 2024: that’s the moderate scenario. In more pessimistic scenarios, we might not have an effective vaccine until 2027 or even later.

Does that feel unreal to you? That’s the cognitive biases talking. We still don’t have an effective vaccine for the flu, as our current version is only about 50% effective in preventing infections.

Ray Dalio, who leads Bridgewater Associates and manages over $150 billion in investor assets, said early in the pandemic : “As with investing, I hope that you will imagine the worst-case scenario and protect yourself against it”[10]. So what would it mean for you if you plan for the worst while, of course, hoping for the best?

The Bottom Line

You need to pivot for the long term by revising your plans[11] in a way that accounts for the cognitive bias associated with COVID-19. By doing so, you’ll protect yourself and those you care about from our deeply inadequate gut reactions in the face of such slow-moving train wrecks.

More Tips on Overcoming Cognitive Bias

Featured photo credit: Ani Kolleshi via unsplash.com

Reference

Read Next