Katie Horwitch has been championing the values of body positivity and a healthy internal dialogue longer than anyone we know. Through her platform WANT: Women Against Negative Talk and podcast The WANTcast, Katie serves up endlessly inspiring tips and tools to help us break out of our culture’s prevailing issues with body image and self-criticism.
Her first book WANT YOUR SELF: Shift Your Self-Talk and Unearth The Strength in Who You Were All Along is out now and qualifies as a must-read for those struggling to break out of the joyless rut of self-criticism and negativity. Want Your Self codifies Katie’s approach into a useful guide we can make our own and lean into day to day.
How To Start Shifting Your Self-Talk (And Why Is It So Damn Hard?)
How do you become fluent in a new language? You practice before you need it. If you wait until you travel to a country that speaks only that language, you may struggle to communicate and wish you’d begun earlier.
You practice that new language when the stakes are low, so you can call on it when the stakes are high.
Learning to shift the internal language you use with yourself, your self-talk, is exactly like that.
Self-talk is how we tell ourselves our own story. It’s the narrative we’ve got going on, 24/7, about who we are and who we believe we should be.
Most of us think of our self-talk as either positive or negative. But self-talk isn’t inherently good or bad—it’s information. It’s what we do with that information that counts.
I’ve spent 15 years writing, speaking, generally obsessing over and interviewing others about the intricacies of self-talk and so-called positivity. What I’ve noticed is that most of us are only aware of our self-talk patterns when we’re desperate to shift them. In difficult moments, we’ll rely on tactics like affirmations, positive thinking, or talking ourselves up in the mirror to get us through—then wonder why we find ourselves repeating unhelpful cycles of self-talk after all.
Sound familiar? Yeah, it does to me too. I have never been someone who could look in the mirror, tell themselves that they’re awesome, and believe it. Research supports just how common this experience is, by the way: if you don’t start out with at the very least a kernel of belief in the words you’re saying, a form of cognitive dissonance can occur. In these cases, it feels like you’re lying to yourself—like you’re pointing out all you aren’t instead of all you are.
Don’t get me wrong, the tactics above work for some people, sometimes. However, the feel-good moments they give us can be fleeting. “Positive affirmations” are only one tool available to us. If you’re going to shift those sneaky, complex negative self-talk habits in a real, lasting way, you need a robust and well-stocked toolkit.
On Casual Negativity + Breaking Habits
Self-talk is not the language we’re speaking in the neutral, everyday moments of our lives. As humans, we’re engineered not only to spot negative things, but to bond over negativity itself. Whether that’s a shared enemy or self-deprecating complaint, we connect more easily over what we loathe than what we love. This Casual Negativity, as I call it, is the base of the language so many of us speak.
We use Casual Negativity—and hear it being used—all the time. Think about it: how many times have you joined in when your friends or family start criticizing themselves, “empathizing” by sharing what dissatisfies you about yourself? What we don’t realize is that the way we talk rubs off on others, making it seem commonplace and even acceptable to speak this way (even when we don’t realize we’re speaking it). It’s a language that is learned on loop and passed to not only the generations to come, but the people all around us in the here and now.
There is nothing wrong with you if in your toughest moments, you can’t seem to stop putting yourself down. Give yourself grace. You are simply speaking the language that’s most familiar to you. It’s hard to shift our habitual thoughts because it’s hard to shift, not because you’re doing it wrong.
It can be tempting to put yourself down in order to seem hashtag relatable to others, or join a gossip train under the guise of “needing to vent.” Naturally, you’re not always going to feel great about yourself, and, of course you will sometimes need to vent (you’re human!). But in order to make real changes that last, you can’t just start with the talk part of self-talk. You’ve got to start with the first part of that equation: the self part.
The journey toward better self-talk begins by examining what is underneath the words you say and asking yourself what information is there to find. Maybe your habitual self-talk is a sign of a wound that needs nurturing. Or a desire for connection. Or even a phrase you picked up from someone else, at some other time in your life, that you’ve since internalized as your own truth.
And once you find those root issues and the language that needs uprooting, you have to go out there and practice the language you actually want to be speaking. This will serve you in life’s tough moments, sure, but more importantly, this practice will serve you in the everyday moments you might not have noticed otherwise.
Changing these habits is big, complex work, but the beginning steps can be tiny. They can be things like:
+ Getting curious about when you first started thinking or saying the things you think or say about yourself. Your self-talk origin story, if you will.
+ Noticing when that urge pops up to chime in with others and talk about what you don’t like about yourself.
+ Catching yourself when you downplay your accomplishments, and asking yourself why that is.
+ Making sure you remember to talk about the stuff you’re excited about or enjoy in your life when those things are present, instead of only acknowledging the stuff that gets you down.
+ Notice that most of these steps don’t actually start by talking. They start by noticing. They start by getting to the core of what’s going on instead of just addressing the symptoms.
The more you do this, the more habitual it will feel. And just like learning a new language, the more habitual it feels, the more natural it will come to you. So when the tough stuff takes hold in your life, you won’t be grasping for tools you wish you had. You’ll feel as if you’re able to be proactive not reactive — which is how I define real-deal positivity.
When I sat down to write my new book, WANT YOUR SELF, I knew that people deserved the support necessary to do this nuanced and complicated work. And not just the support, but an actual, customizable roadmap to do so. It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of shift that can be prescribed by a single social media meme or even an article like the one I’m writing to you now. I’d even argue that the more nuanced and dialed-in a shift is, the more durable it will be.
Want to internalize a more positive, proactive language? Start small and start often. Do it when you don’t “think” you need it—because I promise you, the day will come when it is so very clear you do. Those micro-moments of practiced change? You’ll realize they were the big ones all along.