Using the scientific method to silence negative self talk
Updated: Oct 3, 2020
Have you ever found yourself saying “I never follow through”, “I will start again Monday morning”. Or maybe “i just don’t have the time, I am too busy” (which is code for I can’t follow through).
Days turn into weeks and our goals turn into an itchy tag on the back of our shirts. We want things to be different but we just can’t seem to prioritize getting a scissor or changing our shirts. We let our goals go, but not completely. They nag at us, something we really want that is just out of reach. And instead of doing something about it, we start to blame the tag rather than look for a solution.
I’m sure you could tell me your reasons why you never accomplish those things you want to, just as easily as I could tell you mine. And the reasons seem legit but they all boil down to “I just don’t follow through.” Life gets busy and your dreams get swallowed by everything else.
Maybe you’re not sure what these goals even are. What would you answer if I asked what your perfect life would be like? What is standing in the way of this now? Why can’t you have it?
My goal here is not to make you feel hopeless, it’s to draw attention to the negative things we tell ourselves. The negative thoughts that effectively give away our power for change.
As is often the case, we can use science to take away some of the drama and look at what is actually going on. We can Madam Curie our way out of this seemingly endless problem by using the scientific method as a tool to squelch negative self-talk and allow us to FINALLY get stuff done!
Step 1: Observation
Do not cue the tragic music. This is just observation, not drama. What is the current state of affairs? Just the facts. Like the real facts, the things that everyone would agree is true.
Fact: I said I was going to eat healthy this week.
Fact: The plan I outlined for healthy eating included limited refined carbs, eating sufficient protein, fruits and vegetables, no sugar, and 8 glasses of water per day.
Fact: I had salad for lunch, and then, like the very hungry caterpillar I had one piece of chocolate cake, one ice-cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake and one slice of watermelon.
Stop: Scratch your head: Say “well isn’t that interesting”
(this is a bonus step to the scientific method)
Fact: This intake of food does not fit within the healthy guidelines I had previously made.
Fact: I sleep poorly when I eat these foods.
Step 2: Question
Why did I not stick with the aforementioned plan?
Or, why did I eat things off my plan?
Or, how would I fashion a plan and the mental mindset that I can do more easily?
Do not start the question with Why do I never…
Continue to resist the urge for tragic music- no room for drama here either.
Step 3: Hypothesis
This is the fun part. If you must have tragic music and drama, get it out of your system here.
Hypothesis: The world is against me, there is nothing I can do to change that.
Hypothesis: I probably have some undiagnosed thyroid problem.
Hypothesis: It’s my husband’s fault for buying mint chocolate chip ice cream
Hypothesis: I really have no time to do what I planned. FOR REAL, no you don’t understand, I have NO TIME.
Hypothesis: I was fine until I had to deal with my toxic coworker. I deserve a peace of cake (or one of the other 20 sweets in the break room) for dealing with that crazy person.
Ok, now that you wrote all of that down, now that you let your brain have a temper tantrum, let’s look at the data and make some real hypotheses. Don’t spend a lot of time trying to change these first thoughts. Just acknowledge them and move on.
Hypothesis: If I let myself get too hungry before dinner time, I then overeat AKA there may be identifiable and therefore addressable causes to my overeating in the late afternoon.
Hypothesis: If I don’t prep my food ahead of time, I will prioritize other demands on my time in the moment AKA I am always in charge of my time, I can plan it to work for me.
Hypothesis: If I have trouble dealing with a coworker, I can take the tightness in my chest as a signal to do something to relax myself (go outside, listen to a favorite song, get a cup of tea and count to 100) instead of trying to make myself feel better with sugar.
AKA I can find ways to recognize stressful situations and deal with them in ways that do not involve sugar.
Hypothesis: If my husband buys something delicious, I may have better success if I have a healthier substitute ready to go AKA I can successfully stick to my plan if I have food I enjoy when a less healthier option is available.
Step 4: Experiment
Design your next week by looking at the hypotheses and developing a plan to deal with each one. This is the roadmap for problem solving. Of course using the scientific method in its purest form we would only change one variable at a time but let’s assume we are prodigies and are tired of messing around.
Developing an experiment is the key to taking back control and silencing the negative self talk. This is not drama, it’s science. Whatever result happened this last week is directly correlated to the actions taken. If we get all lost in the thoughts of “I can never” or “I always” we lose our opportunity to even think about solutions and take action.
By establishing a new plan, the assumption (or underlying thought) is that there is an answer and with time and effort we can find it. This is much more empowering than an undiagnosed thyroid or being a slave to your calendar.
Experiment: I will plan and prep a healthy snack to have every day before my commute home.
Experiment: If I find my self reacting to someone at work, I will step away and go up and down the stairs twice. If that is not a possibility I will make myself a cup of tea and practice deep breathing while I do it.
Experiment: I will have mangoes in the house this week if I want something sweet and delicious at night.
We do not have to engage in any drama. It doesn’t make us good or bad, right or wrong. Our actions drive our results and we can drive our actions with our thoughts. Done and Done.
Step 5: Analyze data
This is almost where we started. What happened when we changed the variables? Did we have more success toward our goal or did we learn what doesn’t work? Just remember when you start to feel the “I’m not good enough” itch, data not drama. Analysis not judgement.
This can be the tricky part. The reflex is to respond emotionally but this is totally counterproductive. If we start with all the bad things about ourselves we give away the control. It’s similar to having an argument with someone you love. Once the always/never talk comes in, the conversation grinds to a halt. No more progress can be made because once we decide on an absolute we turn off the capability of our brain to look for a solution. There is no absolute here. Just data and variables. Don’t box yourself into a corner.
Stick to the facts. Just the facts, not some crazy story that ends with you living homeless, and yet obese, in the street….with thyroid disease.
Step 6: Conclusion
So what’s the conclusion of this study? Did the experiment work? Hopefully, like any good experiment it gave you 20 more questions to ask, ideas to try. If nothing else, it allowed you to approach your results from a more neutral position, to give up some of the negative self talk which sabotages forward movement.
With continued practice, and the right tools, you can achieve anything.
Use that science degree to your advantage, it’s not just for work.