Happiness

5 steps to limit your negative self-talk

The way we speak to ourselves has a powerful effect on our confidence, self-belief and happiness.

Written by Sam Hook
Published 13.11.2021

We all have an inner critic running in the background of our minds. At times, this little voice can be helpful – like when it keeps us out of danger.

But, more often, it can be harmful when it leads to negative self-talk.

Basically, negative self-talk is our inner dialogue that may be limiting our ability to believe in ourselves and to reach our potential.

When we speak negatively to ourselves, it’s difficult to have a high level of self-confidence. And the more negative self-talk we do, the more self-doubt and shame we feel.

The reason why we have negative chatter going on in our heads all day long is that our brains are searching for what’s wrong to keep us safe – it’s the way we’re designed for survival – but it’s how we manage it that counts.

HOW CAN I RECOGNISE NEGATIVE SELF-TALK?

Still not sure what I mean? Below are some examples of negative self-talk:

  • I’m not good enough
  • I always mess things up
  • I’m a failure
  • I got a C in maths so I’m not very good
  • I have the worst legs
  • I’m useless
  • I’ve ruined everything
  • I’m a disappointment

The most difficult part about negative self-talk is actually noticing your thoughts.  Often, they are habitual and hard to identify and it’s hard to separate ‘fact’ from ‘thought’.

For example, if you make a mistake at work and are like many of my clients, you may be overly critical to yourself, like a strict parent who tries to control their child instead of the loving and open parent who allows mistakes, expects them and empowers their child to keep going.

MAKE A CHANGE

Thankfully, we can change the way we talk to ourselves in five easy steps.

Tip 1: Catch your Critic  

Be aware of your negative thought or criticism – for example, if you make a mistake at work and say: ‘I’m useless and can’t get anything right’. Remember, at this stage this is just a thought and NOT a reality until proven.

Tip 2: Write it down

Next, write the thought down. Thoughts can come and go quickly, so it’s important to write down what you’re thinking about yourself and explain why you’re having the thought.

When the negative thought about yourself is written down, you’ll get some authority over it and will see it from a new perspective.

Tip 3: Personify your inner critic

Next, personify your inner critic and give her a name, like your middle name or a funny one, like ‘Debbie Downer’. You could even turn it into a cartoon character, such as a tiny mouse with a squeaky voice.

When you personify the voice in your head as someone who is separate from you, you create even more space between you and your mental chatter and it’s easier to realise that you don’t have to agree with what he or she is saying. You can also see how ridiculous your critical thoughts can be.

Tip 4: Challenge your inner critic

One of the damaging aspects of negative self-talk is that it often goes unchallenged.

It’s far better to catch your negative self-talk and ask yourself how true it is. Most of our negative self-talk is an exaggeration and being aware of this can help to take away its damaging influence.

You could also reply. For example, say to yourself: ‘I hear you Debbie Downer. You think I can’t do anything right. Your opinion is noted but it’s not the truth. I have made one mistake but have succeeded in many other tasks.’

Tip 5: Move from negative to neutral

Next, go from negative to neutral. This means that instead of trying to replace a positive thought with negative one, which rarely works, you go to neutral.

For example, if your main thought is ‘I’m a failure for making that mistake’, it’s going to be difficult to jump to the belief of ‘I’m brilliant for making that mistake.’ Your brain won’t believe it. It also knows that’s a lie.

Instead, go for something more supportive – i.e, ‘I made a mistake’, or ‘I made a mistake and it’s possible that that’s ok.’ Notice how this is more neutral. It’s not positive, but it’s much better than hating yourself, which is very negative.

Once you have identified a neutral statement, practice saying it. Write it down, add it to your phone or put post-it notes up around your house. Whatever it takes, practice your new mental self-talk as much as you can.

HOW TO GO FROM NEGATIVE TO POSITIVE

Below is an example of the four stages you can practice to help move your thoughts from negative to neutral, and on to more positive and supportive.

  • I hate myself for making that mistake. (Negative)
  • I made a mistake. (Neutral)
  • I made a mistake and it’s possible that that’s ok. (Neutral/positive)
  • I made a mistake and I still love myself. (Positive)

This is how you move from where you are now to where you want to go.

Managing your default negative thinking is worth it, because you end up liking yourself so much more and you’ll decrease your stress levels, have more inner peace, feel happier and be more self-confident.

If you’d like some help limiting your negative self-talk, book in for a coaching session and I’ll also teach you how to coach yourself, too, so you can practice this daily as a long-term solution to that chatty brain of yours.

For more information, visit my website or follow me on Facebook and Instagram.