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The Thought That Counts: Combatting Self-Criticism While Increasing Creativity and Productivity


The Thought That Counts: Combatting Self-Criticism While Increasing Creativity and Productivity

We all know a person who causes stress just by thinking of them. Maybe it’s a hypercritical boss, a nitpicky friend, a moody neighbor, or a difficult relative. However, there’s a good chance that there’s one person in your life who’s even more critical, one voice that’s even more negative. 


It’s you and your own inner monologue that, more often than not, is criticizing, doubting, worrying, and subjecting you to far more anxiety than any exterior influence could do. In fact, it’s estimated that the average person has anywhere between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts each day and, astonishingly, an estimated 80% of those thoughts are negative. To make matters worse, approximately 96% of those thoughts merely repeat the ruminations of the previous day, the vast majority of which were negative. In other words, negative self-talk traps you in a sort of doom loop of self-criticism, self-reproach, and self-surrender


There’s a flip side because, while you can’t control what other people say and do, you can, with time and effort, learn to transform that negative inner monologue into a positive voice for good in your own life, work, and relationships. It’s called cognitive restructuring, and it may well be the path to true peace, inner quiet, and improved productivity and creativity you’ve been searching for.


I Think, Therefore I Am


It can seem as if unspoken thoughts are really pretty harmless. They often rarely even rise to the level of our own conscious awareness. Nevertheless, the profound influence of those fleeting thoughts and subconscious beliefs determines how we see ourselves. The inner monologue, for good or for ill, often determines how we perceive the world and our place in it.


So powerful is the impact of the negative inner voice that it has been directly linked to a myriad of physical and psychological harms, from depression and anxiety to dementia (1-3). This cumulative psychological and cognitive distress has, in turn, been linked to a 134% increase in the risk of premature death. And yet this is only half the story. 


Research increasingly shows that cognition shapes performance, and that the quality of your inner monologue–whether positive or negative–strongly influences your chances of success or failure.  Studies have found, for instance, that elementary school children performed better in mathematics when taught to use positive, competence-affirming self-talk prior to and during the assessment (4). Similar studies have found that competitive athletes and creative performers whose thought patterns were largely negative were more likely to “choke” at critical moments in the competition or performance (5, 6). 


There is also evidence that what is true for athletes and artists is also true for the average person as they navigate the challenges of ordinary daily life. From children’s performance in school to university students tackling final exams to seasoned employees endeavoring to process new information and hit productivity and performance benchmarks, success is predominantly a state of mind (7, 8).


Peace and Quiet


It’s one thing to recognize the impact your inner voice may have across all domains of your life, from your physical health to your relationships and career to your general happiness and well-being. Knowing how to improve it, though, can be another thing entirely. 


You have far more control over your cognitive patterns than you may realize. There are a variety of things you can do each and every day to bring your thought processes to conscious awareness and to purposely reshape them in healthier, more productive, and more positive ways. This, ultimately, is the mission and meaning of cognitive restructuring: It’s all about recognizing, challenging, and replacing the negative–and often false–beliefs that weigh you down and skew your sense of yourself, your relationships, and your being in the world.


Becoming Aware


Cognitive restructuring doesn’t just happen. Changing your thought patterns takes intention and requires action. The reason why cognitive restructuring demands meaningful action is actually fairly simple: A large percentage of our cognition occurs at the subconscious or the preconscious level–at such a low level of awareness that you hardly notice it, if at all. 


So, if you want to get rid of the negative self-talk and end the self-criticism, you must first understand what it is you’re actually telling yourself. You must first learn to listen to the thoughts that are playing in your head on auto-repeat, day in and day out. It’s only when you become aware of that negative inner monologue that you can begin to neutralize the mind traps that have you wrongly believing you’re not good (or smart, or strong, or talented, or whatever…) enough. 


The first step, perhaps not surprisingly, is to get quiet. This is key because our minds and bodies are designed to respond to external stimuli. When the outside environment is buzzing and bustling, our autonomic nervous system is, too, and that triggers a physiological stress response that can make it difficult, if not impossible, to slow the speed of your thoughts and to truly become attuned to what it is you’ve been telling yourself for so long. 


Even worse, the surge of cortisol, adrenaline, and other stress hormones that occurs when your environment is chaotic and your nervous system is overwhelmed by stimuli means that what you are most likely to think and feel in these moments is stress, worry, fear, and even panic. There is mounting evidence, in fact, that the impacts of environmental stimuli on the autonomic stress response can endure across the lifespan, meaning that, without proactive changes, not only do your negative thoughts endlessly repeat but so, too, does the state of anxious arousal that makes those thoughts so prevalent and so seemingly inescapable (9).


Here are some practical steps to slow your mind and become aware of and change your inner voice.


  • Taking Time Out: Making time every day to be still and quiet, especially if you can find a nice, secluded space outside, will enable you to slow down, turn inward, and become more mindful of your thoughts and feelings. 

  • Meditation and Mindfulness: Meditation and/or mindfulness training can amplify these benefits, as they offer practitioners a variety of methods, from rhythmic breathing to guided imagery, to help relax the body and center the mind (10, 11).  

  • Keeping a thought journal: Thought journals are another highly effective way to learn to identify (and ultimately replace) your negative self-talk and are commonly used in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). Simply keep a journal with you and write down your impressions, thoughts, and feelings as you become aware of them, particularly in moments when you are experiencing a negative emotion, such as anger, worry, stress, or fear. Not only will the act of journaling help you to become more consciously aware of your inner dialogue, but it will also give you a record of your thoughts which you can review, analyze, and counter with a more positive (and often a more factual) rebuttal. This is, in fact, where the actual process of cognitive restructuring begins.


Accentuate the Positive


Cognitive restructuring, at its core, is about shifting your perspective: it’s about taking control of both what you choose to focus on and how you choose to perceive it. This is not to suggest that you must live in denial or refuse to allow yourself to feel sad, angry, hurt, or scared. That is a part of being human. To repress that is to set yourself up for trouble.


But cognitive restructuring isn’t about that. Instead, cognitive restructuring is a means of fostering emotional resilience. It’s about accepting and acknowledging the inevitable pains of life, including the mistakes and failures that all of us will encounter along the way, and learning to learn from them. 


In contrast, negative self-talk typically involves catastrophizing and internalizing mistakes, disappointments, and perceived failures. It is often rooted in a paralyzing self-blame that attributes disappointment, whether you’ve failed an exam, lost a business contract, or experienced a divorce, to some fundamental and intractable inadequacy. 


However, cognitive restructuring means that you begin to recognize such experiences for what they truly are: one of the challenges of life that, though they cause us pain, also offer an opportunity for learning and growth. Indeed, research suggests that developing the psychological and emotional tools to grow and evolve through trauma is one of the secrets of a truly happy and serene life (12, 13).


In addition to avoiding the temptation to catastrophize and blame yourself when you experience disappointment, it’s equally as important to celebrate your successes. All too often, we minimize our own achievements, particularly if we fear that acknowledging them would be arrogant or unbecoming. But when you’re trapped in a cycle of self-criticism and relentless negativity, giving yourself permission to recognize and celebrate your successes is imperative. 


After all, your successes will be the tangible, undeniable proof you need to shatter that false narrative. Your achievements are positive evidence that will drain the power of self-reproach and self-doubt. 


Creating Quiet, Healing Spaces


At FSorb, we understand the power of quiet. Our acoustic solutions can be found in hospitals, schools, workplaces, and homes the world over, and have created peace and quiet in exterior and interior spaces across the globe. Whether you are an architect, engineer, designer, or business owner, we have the tools you need to create spaces that will foster the health and well-being of all who occupy them. Reach out to your local FSorb representative today to explore FSorb’s vast line of customizable sound mitigation solutions.


 

FSorb

At FSorb, we are motivated by improving human health and do so by creating eco-friendly acoustic products. Our mission is to help designers build beautiful spaces that reduce excess ambient noise while calming the human nervous system. With over 25 years in the acoustic business we stand behind FSorb as a durable, environmentally friendly, and low-cost product. If you want an acoustic solution that is safe to human health at an affordable price, then we are your resource.


(844) 313-7672


 

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  4. Thomaes S, Tjaarda IC, Brummelman E, Sedikides C. Effort Self-Talk Benefits the Mathematics Performance of Children With Negative Competence Beliefs. Child Dev. 2020 Nov;91(6):2211-2220. doi: 10.1111/cdev.13347. Epub 2019 Dec 17. PMID: 31845326; PMCID: PMC7754294.

  5. Lubert VJ, Nordin-Bates SM, Gröpel P. Effects of tailored interventions for anxiety management in choking-susceptible performing artists: a mixed-methods collective case study. Front Psychol. 2023 May 18;14:1164273. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1164273. PMID: 37275685; PMCID: PMC10232982.

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