“You’re not good enough.”
“Your dreams aren’t achievable.”
“Why did you say that, now everyone thinks you’re stupid.”
“Your co-workers think you’re annoying.”
“You’ll never get that promotion, don’t even ask.”
Ever have thoughts like these? Sometimes I have the strength to push past them, and sometimes they’re all-consuming and I believe each lie whole-heartedly.
It’s too easy to let self-doubt take over but, if left unchecked, negative self talk can hurt your self-esteem, mental health, and future opportunities.
So how do you stop that critical voice from trolling you day and night?? Keep reading for five quick steps to help minimize (and eventually eliminate!) your negative self talk.
1. Recognize patterns of negative thinking
The first step to ending negative self talk is to recognize when it happens. It’s a simple premise, but it’s difficult to catch it every time a negative thought crosses your mind. Train yourself to recognize these thoughts as they show up—so they don’t take over.
It may be tempting to push the thoughts aside, but without acknowledging them, it’ll be easier for them to return later.
Knowing your patterns of negative thinking can help you tackle it head-on. Here are a couple things to remember:
Pay attention to when your negative thoughts are the loudest.
Is it when you’re trying something new or out of your comfort zone? Is it when you’re around certain people? Or is it just a general background noise that you can’t seem to shake?
For me, my negative thoughts are the loudest when I’m out of my comfort zone. I start to question everything I do, especially around new people.
When I put myself out there, I start to think I’m too much for everyone around me. And when I try to be chill and laid back, I worry they think I’m rude and judgmental. The cycle could go on and on if I don’t identify my negative thoughts and address them.
Identify the specific thoughts or phrases that are causing you the most distress.
Are you worried you’re not enough? That they won’t like you? That you’ll never recover from that mistake?
Take time to actively listen to what you’re telling yourself. Your thoughts are powerful. If you’re stuck in a loop of negative thinking, it could be impacting you more than you think.
Identify the source of your negative thoughts.
Often, negative thinking comes from negative situations, whether past or present.
Maybe someone said something that rubbed you the wrong way or made you feel less confident. Maybe you put too much pressure on yourself. It could even be as simple as a stressful day at work or school. Knowing the source of your thinking can help you manage in a healthier way going forward.
Once you’ve taken the time to reflect on these things, you can start preparing your plan of attack when negative thoughts resurface.
2. Challenge your negative thoughts
Our initial reaction to negative thoughts is either to suppress them entirely or let them ruin our day. In some cases, we spiral so much that we start believing everything we think.
Instead, we have to remember that our negative thoughts are just that—thoughts. They’re not always true.
And the best way to stop these thoughts before they take over is to challenge them.
Once you notice a negative thought, start questioning it.
What makes you think that?
Is there any evidence or proof?
What *actually* happened? Is there a different way to look at this?
Instead of letting your feelings take control, these questions help you view the situation with logic. If you can logically convince yourself the thought isn’t true, it can’t have power over you. You can’t spiral. You’ve just saved yourself a bunch of time and stress.
Before jumping to conclusions, stop and ask yourself these questions. Chances are, there isn’t evidence to support the negative thought. So why let it take over?
3. Reframe your negative thoughts
Once you’ve identified a negative thought and challenged it, it’s time to reframe it.
The goal is to phrase it to be more positive, or at the very least more neutral. Either way, change the thought to reflect the truth and be more encouraging.
Instead of thinking “I’m such a failure,” try thinking “I’m still learning.”
Or instead of “This is never going to work,” try thinking “I wonder what will happen if I keep trying.”
By reframing your initial thoughts, you give yourself the opportunity to encourage and even motivate yourself to perform better.
In fact, research shows that positive self talk, when compared to other forms of self-talk, leads to the most successful gain.
Researchers for this study realized that even though negative self talk didn’t hinder performance, participants performed better with positive and motivational self talk.
When it comes to self talk, you have to be your own cheerleader. It’s not always easy and it may not feel natural, but it can make a big difference in how you feel.
For example, maybe you’re having a bad day at work. You spill coffee on your shirt, and your boss yells at you for being late to your first meeting.
Ugh. I’m such a screw-up, and now my boss hates me. I’m going to lose my job.
Thoughts like this will make you jump to the worst conclusions. Instead of succumbing to them, reframe them to reflect the reality of the situation and encourage yourself to keep going.
Now, your thought process may look like this:
I was in a rush this morning and in the midst of the stress, I accidentally spilled coffee. I didn’t give myself enough time to change or account for traffic, so I was late to work. It happens to everybody at some point. Maybe my boss had a rough morning too. I know I’m a good employee, and tomorrow is a new day.
4. Practice self-compassion
As showcased above, stopping negative self talk requires compassion. It’s recognizing when you’re being too hard on yourself and knowing what’s actually true.
Overcoming negative thoughts is a process, and it’s important to be gentle with yourself, especially when you’re feeling down or struggling.
Here are a few ways to practice self-compassion:
- Talk to yourself the way you would talk to a friend. Would you tell your best friend that she’s terrible at her job and she might as well give up? No way! So don’t say those things to yourself either. Instead, offer yourself words of encouragement and support. You can be your own friend, too.
- Forgive yourself. We all make mistakes – it’s part of being human. Rather than hating yourself for your missteps, learn from them and move on
- Don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone is on their own journey, and comparisons are just a recipe for misery. Just focus on doing your best and being the best version of yourself.
5. Be patient
With any change, it takes time to see results. Learning to be patient with yourself is an important part of changing your negative thoughts. Just like it takes time to learn a new skill, it takes time to unlearn negative self talk and replace it with more positive self-talk.
I like to celebrate each small step I take in the right direction. I’ve learned to acknowledge how much effort it takes to reframe my negative thoughts and to be proud of myself for it. I’ve also learned to show myself love and grace in moments of weakness.
Always give yourself credit for your effort and commitment. Be patient with yourself and keep moving forward.
Only you can stop the voice in your head
Many of us fall into patterns of negativity and it can often bring us down and reinforce our insecurities.
By recognizing negative thoughts, challenging them, and replacing them with positive ones, you can start to break the cycle of negative self talk.
After all, we owe it to ourselves to show some grace and compassion—because who else is going to do it?
Changing how you talk to yourself isn’t easy but it’s important work that can transform your life for the better.