From criticizing our own reactions to situations to looking for the bad in everything, all of us have been in a position where negative self-talk seems to cloud all other thoughts. Regardless of how optimistic of a person you may consider yourself, no one is positive with their thoughts all the time. However, negative and critical self-talk can damage everything from your own self-confidence to your relationships if you’re not aware of it, and the key to overcoming negative self-talk is something that all of us can benefit from.
What is negative self-talk?
The Mayo Clinic refers to self-talk as “the endless stream of unspoken thoughts that runs through your head,” which is a perfect way to put it. Whether you’re thinking about the cup of coffee sitting on your desk, your mountain of a to-do list, the date you have on Friday night, or the latest episode of “The Bachelor,” you’re constantly thinking about something.
When those thoughts turn into negative ones — like obsessing over the driver who honked behind you on your morning commute, convincing yourself that you aren’t worthy of a text back, or thinking that you’re not good enough — you run the risk of turning everything into a shade of grey. Incessant negative self-talk “robs you of peace of mind and emotional well-being and, if left unchecked long enough, it can even lead to serious mental health problems like depression or anxiety.”
All of us can be overly critical of ourselves in a way that we aren’t about other people. For some, that means thinking negatively about our bodies and for some, that means thinking that our best is never good enough. Regardless of what it is that sets you off, consistent negative self-talk can quickly shape our sense of self into something that’s unhealthy, leading to poorer relationships, shakier lives at work, and a way to self-sabotage our successes.
Are you a negative self-talker?
It’s smart to do a “thought audit” from time to time to identify negative thinking patterns and nip them in the bud. Here are 4 questions to ask yourself:
- Am I constantly searching for the negative in day-to-day situations?
- Am I constantly thinking only in black and white?
- Am I convinced that everything negative is because of me?
- Am I imagining the worst possible outcome for every situation?
Once you’ve figured out what areas you’re struggling in, you can take some actionable steps to stop negative self-talk in its tracks.
3 steps to defeating negative self-talk
Start trying to practice these small changes to combat negative self-talk and pursue a healthier sense of self.
1. Similar to your thought audit, start logging your negative self-talking thoughts. You can get fancy with a pretty notebook or pen, or you can simply use the notes app on your phone. When something negative floats into your stream of consciousness, write it down and also see if you can find a trigger for it. Simply being aware of your thoughts can be more helpful than anything else.
- For example: I feel like I can’t do anything right today. Possible trigger: I was running late this morning and felt rushed and unsettled.
2. Once you start feeling negative thoughts seep in, stop them in their tracks with the exact opposite of whatever you’re feeling. Sometimes this will be easier than others, and sometimes it’ll feel like you’re forcing it, but it really works.=
- For example: I just can’t do this today. Opposite thought: I will do my best today.
3. Sometimes, you just need to take a minute. For some of us, this means getting out of the office or room we’re in and taking a walk, and for some of us, it simply means closing our eyes and taking a few deep breaths. Everyone gets overwhelmed sometimes — there’s no way around it — and negative self-talk can often be a result of that. Instead of beating yourself up for needing a second, give yourself some grace. The negative thoughts are harder to come by when you’re more relaxed.