4 great ways to help conquer anxiety – part 3 – The 6-year-old rule

by Paul Howard

In part 2 we discussed “The Guessing Machine” and the reason why some people take a lot more notice of their internal self talk, which can lead to higher levels of anxiety. So, how then can we differentiate between appropriate negative self talk and inappropriate negative self talk?

What we have to do is establish when negative selftalk is appropriate in the first place.

negative self-talk

What is negative self-talk

We use our internal self-talk to reason, question and to keep us safe. If we have a problem to reason out we will use our self-talk to work out the pros and cons so both positive and negative points of view are appropriate.

What is negative self-talk?

Negative self talk can be caused by a variety of factors, including past experiences, beliefs, and perceptions. Here are some common causes of negative self-talk:

  1. Childhood experiences: Negative self talk can stem from childhood experiences, such as being criticised, bullied, or neglected. These experiences can lead to negative beliefs about oneself that can carry into adulthood.
  2. Perfectionism: Striving for perfection can lead to negative self-talk because it sets unrealistic expectations that are hard to achieve. When you don’t meet these expectations, you may start to criticize yourself and feel like a failure.
  3. Low self-esteem: People with low self-esteem may struggle with negative self-talk because they don’t believe in themselves or their abilities. This can lead to a negative cycle of self-doubt and criticism.
  4. Comparison to others: Comparing yourself to others can lead to negative self-talk because it can make you feel inadequate or inferior. You may start to focus on your flaws instead of your strengths, which can lead to negative thoughts and feelings.
  5. Stress and anxiety: Stressful situations and anxiety can trigger negative self-talk because they can make you feel overwhelmed and uncertain. You may start to doubt yourself and your ability to handle the situation, which can lead to negative self talk.

It’s important to remember that negative self-talk is a common experience and can happen to anyone. With practice and self-awareness, you can learn to manage and overcome negative self-talk.

Examples of negative self talk

We also use self-talk to answer questions about our surroundings and how we should handle particular situations by using the “what if” construct. We will ask ourselves “What will happen if I do x” or “What will happen if y happens”. So again both negative and positive thought processes are useful.

Finally, we use self-talk to protect us and keep us safe. We do this not only by what we say in our head but also by how we say it; i.e. tonality, volume, inflection and so on.

Changing the negative self talk

We can change the meaning and the importance of what we say in lots of different ways. Of course, there are many other different types of self-talk not only negative self talk. Obviously, if we use predominantly one, either positive or negative self talk, then we will not be able to make quality decisions.

Negative self talk effects

You may not think that what you say to yourself is that important. However, in my experience, it is critical to develop more rational and reasoned thought processes when treating anxiety. My clients often say to me “If only I could stop these negative thoughts then I could…..”. In the main, they have self-talk that is what I call doom ladened in content and tonality.

Types of negative self-talk

For instance, the client might say something like “If I get in the lift I might have a panic attack and be unable to breathe” or “What if the lift gets stuck and I run out of air”, both of which would be said in a tone of voice that you might expect from Vincent Price in a horror movie.

How the subconscious interprets negative self talk

If you think about how the subconscious interprets that sort of negative self talk you can easily understand how it could perceive danger in the situation and take steps to avoid the situation by generating anxiety.

Overcoming negative self talk

So what steps can you take to mitigate this strategy and differentiate whether it is appropriate or not? It is for just this purpose that I developed some cognitive techniques to help the client to differentiate.

3) The 6-Year-Old Rule

negative self talk

One of the main techniques I use is my 6-year-old rule. I will ask the client if they know any small children between the ages of 6 and 9. It might be their own children or maybe a relative or I might ask them to remember their own children at that age if they have grown up.

I will then ask them to imagine saying the same thing to that child in the same tone of voice i.e. “If you get in the lift it might get stuck and you might run out of air”. In the main most clients would say “I wouldn’t say that to a child”.

I will then say “Why not?”. They will say “Well it would scare them!”. I will then say “So you wouldn’t say it to them but you are more than happy to say it to you many times a day”. You get the point. This allows the client to make an informed decision on whether the self-talk is appropriate or not. So if you would not say it to the child you are not allowed to say it to yourself.

Some more cognitive ways to overcome negative self-talk

Negative self-talk can be detrimental to your mental health and well-being, and it is important to learn how to overcome it. Here are some strategies that can help:

  1. Identify and acknowledge negative self-talk: The first step to overcoming negative self-talk is to become aware of it. Pay attention to the negative messages you are telling yourself and how they make you feel.
  2. Challenge negative self-talk: Once you have identified negative self-talk, challenge it by asking yourself questions like “Is this thought really true?” or “What evidence do I have to support this thought?” Look for evidence that contradicts your negative thoughts and focus on the positive aspects of yourself.
  3. Practice self-compassion: Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a close friend. Be patient with yourself and don’t judge yourself harshly.
  4. Reframe negative thoughts: Instead of thinking “I’m a failure,” reframe the thought to “I’m still learning and growing.” Changing the way you think about yourself can change the way you feel.
  5. Surround yourself with positivity: Spend time with people who are supportive and positive. Read inspiring books or quotes, listen to uplifting music or podcasts, and practice activities that make you feel good about yourself.

Remember that overcoming negative self talk is a process, and it takes time and effort. Don’t give up, and keep practising these strategies to develop a more positive and healthy mindset.

Part 4 – Lions and teddy bears

All the articles on this site are subject to UK copyright law. If you wish to use these articles in any other content you must respect this copyright and leave links back to this website intact.

1 thought on “4 great ways to help conquer anxiety – part 3 – The 6-year-old rule”

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.