Cover Learn how to treat yourself with the kindness you deserve (Photo: Jocelyn Tam for Tatler Hong Kong)

The way you speak to yourself matters. Yoga and meditation instructor Natalie Söderström explains how to improve your inner dialogue

If a friend or loved one ever spoke to you the way that you speak to yourself, would you want to keep that person around? The answer seems obvious. And yet our inner critic’s voice is often louder than that of our inner cheerleader’s, even though negative self-talk can be just as toxic and limiting as what others might say.

“Our brains are wired to notice negative things. It’s an instinct that dates as far back as when we were cavemen and women, when we had to constantly look out for danger,” Natalie Söderström, a Hong Kong-based yoga and meditation expert, explains.

We might not be on the lookout for sabre-toothed tigers any more, but day-to-day stresses (a global pandemic, for one) still keep our minds busy.

Here, Söderström breaks down five ways to practise kindness to yourself by shifting your inner voice to one that is positive, uplifting and productive.

See also: Treat Yourself: Where To Go For Self-Care In Hong Kong

An Attitude of Gratitude

We might not have control over everything that happens around us, but what we can control is our perspective. Instead of thinking “this rain sucks”, you could think, “I’m grateful for this home to stay warm and dry in.”

“Having a gratitude practice is a simple way to shift out of a negative headspace, and can be done through meditation, keeping a gratitude journal or anything that makes sense for you,” says Söderström.

“Personally, I take several pauses during the day when I stop, breathe and think about what I’m grateful for. It doesn’t have to be anything grand; it can be as simple as the sun shining, the coffee you’re drinking, living in a city you love, or gratitude for your friends and family.” 

Don't Hate, Meditate

“Sitting in silence and cultivating awareness by observing your thoughts creates space between reacting to something, and responding to something” says Söderström. “It’s a practice of looking for guidance internally and, to me, that’s the most powerful source.”

It’s easy to react quickly to pessimistic thoughts, like quitting a project or hobby when feelings of self-doubt creep in, but taking the time to observe those fleeting thoughts and responding to them with patience allows you to catch yourself mid-fall and continue doing what’s important to you once those thoughts have passed.

Söderström adds, “Use meditation as a tool to ground yourself and allow yourself to feel more and think less; get out of your head and become present in your body.”

See also: Meditation Misconceptions: It's Not As Hard Or Boring As You Think

It's Ok Not to Be Ok

In short, don’t let a bad day trick you into thinking you have a bad life. “We all have bad days when we feel we aren’t like our best self,” says Söderström. “Being OK and accepting that, acknowledging that it’s just a bad day, remembering that your thoughts on days like this don’t define you, creates space for you to pull yourself out of that negativity.”

Choose Your Words

“We have an average of 6,000 thoughts per day,” says Söderström, citing a recent study by a team of psychology researchers at Queen’s University in Canada. “Eighty per cent of them are negative and 95 per cent are repetitive. If you keep repeating thoughts like ‘I’m not beautiful’ or ‘I’m not worthy’, eventually, you start to believe them.”

The solution? Flip the script. “Words are so powerful,” Söderström says. “Break your negative self-speak by focusing your internal dialogue towards an intention or a goal.

Give yourself one or more positive affirmations to repeat to yourself, like ‘I am good enough’, ‘I am healthy’ or ‘I am strong’. Your personal affirmation can be anything you want or need it to be.”

Love More

“The more thought you put into choosing the words you use towards other people, your inner dialogue will begin to shift. If you are kind and you speak to people from a place of love and compassion, you’ll find that you begin to do the same for yourself. Through giving and showing love to others, you can learn to love yourself.”

Go on, you heard the woman—love yourself.

See also: Practicing Self-Care Through The Five Love Languages