How many of you have a little voice in your head telling you that you can’t do something? Our guess is that most of you will at some point have experienced an annoying little voice telling you that you’re rubbish at something or you’ll never succeed. That voice is actually negative self talk and it isn’t constructive at all.
We all have an inner critic, and they aren’t always inherently bad news. A lot of the time that voice is a useful tool to keep ourselves motivated- think of it as a little angel on your shoulder cheering you on and confidence. But when the going gets tough, that voice in your head can turn into a little devil and start causing you to second guess yourself and damage your self-esteem.
The brain is always active, and try as you might, no one can stop thinking. What we can do is retrain our minds to stop the negative chatter and reframe our perspectives so that what you’re hearing in the back of your mind is supporting you, rather than dragging you down.
What is negative self talk?
Whether we like it or not, self talk is an important component in how we perceive ourselves and the world around us. It’s how we work through problems, make decisions, and reach conclusions.
How our self talk sounds can be hugely influential on our mental and physical health. Whilst positive self talk can boost self-esteem and allow you to navigate through a problem in a calm and clear way, negative self talk does the opposite. Tuning into the negative chatter can increase anxiety and trigger the side effects that go hand-in-hand with stress like high blood pressure, a lower immune system, and an increased risk of heart disease.
We bet you didn’t know that negative self talk was once a survival instinct! Our ancestors, who lived in a treacherous world, used the pessimist inside their heads to prepare for the worst, and so we evolved to favour negative thinking too. But that is NOT an excuse to wallow in your self-doubt. The more you entertain these negative thoughts, the stronger and louder the little devil on your shoulder grows.
Because negative self talk is an innate characteristic that we all have, you can rest assured that you are not alone, and we have all experienced it at some point or another. Every single person you have ever come across has dealt with the same feelings of doubt or fear of failure. So don’t worry, it’s very normal and you are not alone!
What does negative self talk sound like?
Negative self talk will sound a little different from person to person. It feeds off your greatest fears and insecurities, so it will differ in each individual but the concept remains the same.
Any time something goes a little askew the voice in your head has the potential to build you up or knock you down. Positive self talk will encourage you to reflect on what happened, make a plan of action, or be kind to yourself- no one can be perfect all the time! If what you’re hearing is mean and unsupportive, then chances are that’s negative self talk. Just think, if you wouldn’t say it to someone else, then you shouldn’t be saying it to yourself either!
Negative self talk examples
Like we said before, what you hear will differ for everyone but here are a few examples of what negative self talk might sound like:
‘I can’t do anything right, I should stop trying”
“I am so stupid, there is no way I can pass the exam”
“I was late for that appointment, I am such a failure I can’t control my life”
“Nobody likes me”
“I am rubbish at my job, I will never get promoted”
And so on and so forth… not very pleasant is it? You wouldn’t say anything like this to someone you cared about, so now you need to learn to treat yourself with the same respect and care as you would someone else.
Breaking the cycle of negative self talk and reframing it to be positive can be tricky, particularly if you’ve been listening to it on repeat for a long time. However, once you’ve changed the narrative, you open yourself up to become more confident and productive. Here are five of our top tips to change negative self talk to positive.
5 ways to stop negative self talk
Would you stand there and let a stranger trash-talk you? No, so why would you let your own mind? Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s get into the best ways to stop negative self talk in its tracks.
1. Give it a name
This is a tried and tested technique recommended by psychotherapists and it makes a lot of sense. We’ve been referring to the negative self critic as a little devil, but giving it your own name, however silly, is a great way to detach and see it for what it is. Imagine someone in your network was saying these things, you aren’t going to want them around much, are you? The same goes for the negative inner critic, let’s call it John in this instance. If John is saying all these mean things about you, you aren’t going to want them around either because they’re not very nice and they only bring you down. Once you start naming and shaming your negative self talk it becomes easier to banish them from your mind.
2. Practice neutral thinking
Simply changing the negative self talk for positive can be easier said than done, particularly if you’ve been stuck in a proverbial rut for a while now. Stop trying to force the positive self talk, which can sound fake and insincere in the beginning, and try meeting yourself halfway.
Instead of swapping “I failed this exam. I’m stupid and I can’t get anything right so there’s no point trying at all” for something really positive, try swapping it for something more realistic like “it’s OK that I’m disappointed I failed this exam. It isn’t the end of the world, and I will find a way to prevent this situation from happening again”. Not only does this acknowledge your emotions and remind you to be compassionate with yourself, but it’s more practical and will motivate you to keep going.
3. Don’t use negativity as a motivator
We have all done this before, trying to scare or shame ourselves into getting something done, but what we’re really doing is preventing ourselves from being productive or successful. Negative self talk isn’t going to do anything for your productivity and if you’re feeling overwhelmed or disappointed, it’s only going to intensify this.
Giving yourself a little pep talk here and there won’t do you any harm but remember to stop yourself before it crosses over into negative territory. Instead, try and motivate yourself with positive self talk- keep track of how far you’ve come or how much you’ve improved, and congratulate yourself when you hit small targets along the way.
4. Keep yourself in the present
Don’t let the negative self talk run away with you and keep your feet firmly grounded in the present. When one little inconvenience occurs, we have a tendency to let it snowball and grow in size until it’s an avalanche of negativity and ‘what ifs’.
Stumbling over your words in an interview doesn’t mean you will never amount to anything and failing one exam doesn’t mean you will never get a good job. Practice some mindfulness to keep yourself in the present, acknowledge what went wrong and how you feel about it, and then let it go. Dwelling on all the things that could go wrong is only going to send you further down the path of self-doubt and keep your self-esteem at rock bottom. To give your confidence a much-needed boost and help reframe negative self talk, practice some affirmations. Reminding yourself every day that you are capable of tackling whatever arises will give you the edge to start expelling the negative mental chatter holding you back.
Filtering occurs when you become fixated on the negative outcomes of a situation and filter out the positive ones. For example, if you’ve been waking up early every day and being really productive, but one day your body tells you that you need more rest, so you hit snooze and suddenly you feel like you’re lazy and a failure. This is filtering.
Instead of getting caught up on spending a little extra time in bed, remember how much you managed to accomplish on the other mornings when you did wake up earlier and give yourself a pat on the back for listening to what your body needed. Focusing on what didn’t go to plan will only derail your attempts and make you lose faith in yourself.
If you find yourself filtering, make a mental or physical list of all the things that have been going positively and remind yourself to focus on all of those, rather than the one little hiccup.
Here at Morale, we want everyone to be able to turn the volume down on the negative self talk and crank up the noise from the positive chatter instead. With our app, you can help people in your network build a better mindset by anonymously reminding them of their value every day. With just a few words of affirmation, they will instantly receive a self-esteem boost and make those all-important steps to banish the little devil from their shoulder for good. Our is available for download now from Google Play or Apple’s App Store.
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