Meet my poison parrot

He is so mean

One of the many lessons I learned from my amazing therapist was about negative self-talk. Sometimes, my inner monologue is so mean to me… if someone in my life spoke to me in that way, I’d probably never speak to them again.

So, why do we let those little voices get away with being so cruel?

I learned about the ‘poisoned parrot’ at CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) back in 2014. The parrot represents the repetitive, niggling voice many of us experience on a daily basis.

Negative self-talk isn’t unique to people who work for themselves, but I have definitely found that it has grown louder since I became my own boss. The parrot loves to pick on my greatest insecurities, and he is particularly good at making every success seem like it wasn't quite enough - like it could have been better.

For example, this weekend I ran my first ever race - I’ve never even taken part in a ParkRun, so embarking on the Great North 10K gave me the fear. Now, objectively I know that running 10K is an achievement. And I am proud of myself for completing the race, however, I was a good three minutes away from my 10K PB… and I’m sure I don’t have to point out what my poison parrot was saying as I hobbled back to the car from the run.

In August last year, I ran 5K for the first time without stopping after completing the Couch to 5K challenge (highly recommend this, by the way - it really helps to build stamina and overcome the mental demons who tell you to just stop and walk.) In school, I was always one of the last people to finish cross country, and I would usually hide at the sidelines during any team sport. I’m not a physically talented person, and it’s only over the last 11 months that I have really started to enjoy exercise.

So, given all of that information, I should be proud of myself for running the notoriously hilly riverside route in sweltering July heat… and I am. But the poison parrot is still at large…

You’re not good enough

You should have tried harder

You should have sprinted at the end

You didn’t train hard enough

Imagine if I arrived home from my first ever 10K race and Craig turned around and said one or several of the above statements. The chances are he’d get a sweaty running shoe to the face because that’s just not nice… so why do I let my own inner monologue get away with it?

The poison parrot infests every area of my life, and there’s really no way to get rid of it. However, you can start to work towards quieting the voice, by not giving credence to what it is saying.

One of the core principles of CBT, a common therapeutic treatment for anxiety, is recognising that thoughts are just that… thoughts. And just because you think something, it doesn’t make it a fact. You can take it a step further by practising mindfulness and meditation, whereby you visualise your thoughts as balloons or clouds passing you by. This helps to create distance between you and your thoughts. You are not your thoughts. I recommend a meditation app such as Calm to give this a go, or there are plenty of free meditation practices on YouTube.

Just as I am writing this, my fellow freelancer Catherine Jones of Clean Slate Copywriting tweeted about receiving positive feedback and criticism in the same day… and which one she’s thinking about the most.

Now Catherine is an excellent writer, she really is the cream of the crop. So, to me, it seems ridiculous that she would dwell on the opinion of anyone, given that we all know she’s fantastic at her job… but it’s easy for me to say this as an outsider. I know for a fact I’d be feeling the exact same way in her shoes (and I’ve been there many times.)

Along with mindfulness, gratitude can be instrumental in recognising the positive and putting the negative into perspective. I also rate journalling (or sending your innermost thoughts to your email database once a week).

But we are all different, so what works for me might not be the right thing for you - how do you deal with negative self-talk? Let me know on Twitter @ContentByTheSea or reply to this email for a chat.


📚 Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo - Takes place in the same universe as Shadow & Bone but, personally, I thought this was 1000x better. Highly recommend for fans of fantasy fiction.

📺 All Gas No Brakes creator Andrew Callaghan is back with another video on his new channel, Channel 5. Andrew travels the US in an RV with his cameraman and soundman experiencing some of the wild cultural events you’ll only find on that side of the pond. This week, Andrew is in Las Vegas at a pick-up artist seminar and, honestly, this is one of the craziest things I have ever seen. You couldn’t make it up.

That’s all from me this week. See you next Wednesday for more musings about mental health, internet culture and working life…

Ellen x


Enjoyed this? You might like these past issues:

30 June: Memes are the best medicine

23 June: Backup plan

17 June: The sun always shines on TV

10 June: Practical tips for panicky people

3 June: Sciatica strikes back

26 May: Looking after yourself is hard

19 May: He just can’t decide

12 May: Getting titillated by the tangible

5 May: Taking it all in

28 April: Be a better cheerleader

21 April: The power of procrastination

14 April: How to sell without feeling icky