Negative Self-Talk: 7 Steps On How To Overcome It

Negative self-talk is something we’re all guilty of.  Whilst it can feel overwhelming, there are ways you can overcome it.  To learn more about where it comes from please read What Is The Negative Voice Inside My Head.

I once had a boss that used to leave me post-it notes stuck to my desk or computer screen that said:

  • We need to have a chat
  • Can we talk about …
  • Where are you with …

My first thought would always be, what have I done wrong?  What have I missed?

I was already building up a scenario in my head where I thought I would get sacked.  But usually, he just wanted to talk about a new project he wanted me to get involved in or give me the heads up on something that might happen.

But my mind had gone into overdrive with negative self-talk.  My anxiety level would rise, and I found it hard to focus on what I was doing.  I dreaded going to have the ‘little chat’.

Like me, you’ve probably been talking down to yourself for a while. Every word in your mind points out your flaws and mistakes.  At times you think you’re going to go mad if you haven’t already.

The Damaging Effects Of Negative Self-Talk

Negative self-talk can be damaging. It gets in your head, courtesy of previous experiences and negative input from people who don’t always mean well. Once there, it plays the same song on repeat.

Negative self-talk is like a drama queen.  Full of exaggeration, each time you repeat it to yourself, it gets more personal and worse.   

If unchecked, you start to believe the negative self-talk.  Before you know it, your ability to achieve anything comes to a screeching halt. You stop trying and end up doing very little.  Imagine rabbit in the headlights, and you’ve got a general idea.

If this is you, then it’s time to take your life back and put an end to the negative self-talk.

Easier said than done? Not necessarily. Try these 7 steps:

Settle your mind when negative self-talk takes hold

Find a sense of peace and tranquillity for an overwhelmed mind

1.  Settle Your Mind

When you’re overly emotional and overwhelmed mentally, it’s impossible to think straight.

Imagine you’ve just opened a cupboard full of junk.  A cupboard that’s become a dumping ground for putting things when you can’t think where else to put them.

As you look inside the cupboard, you don’t know where to start.  The articles inside are just a mish-mash pushed together for convenience.  Your eyes take in the jumble, and you recoil with feelings of guilt that you haven’t dealt with it and a fear that you’re not able to sort it all out.  I mean, where on earth are you to start?

Just as you would with an overstuffed cupboard, the first thing to help an emotional and overwhelmed mind is to take a step back and find some calm to settle your mind. 

Find a quiet place and sit down to take a few deep breaths.  Breathe in deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth.  Really fill your lungs and watch your chest expand.

If you can, meditate or try a mindfulness exercise until you can reach a peaceful place internally.  The Develop Good Habits website has an article 71 Mindfulness Exercises For Living In The Present Moment that you might find helpful if you need inspiration.

2.  Acknowledge What You’re Thinking

Don’t avoid the negative thought. Listen to it. What is it saying? Whose voice does it sound like to you?

When I was at school, I had a teacher who would constantly use the word ‘silly’.  Even today, 40 odd years later, I can still hear her using that phrase.

  • Alison, don’t be so silly
  • Why are you being silly
  • That’s such a silly thing to do

When you listen to your negative self-talk, you will discover how frequently old phrases will reappear.

Get to the root of your issue

Find the root cause of the negative self-thought. It's likely to be large and spiky!

3.  Explore The Root Cause Of Your Negative Self-Talk

Now ask yourself what the thought represents. From where did this negative self-talk come?

Let’s take my example of ‘silly’.  A simple word like silly is a big trigger for me.  Whenever I hear that phrase, I’m transported back to my school days and how small and stupid I felt.  Especially as the teacher tended to use it in front of the other pupils, a sense of shame and embarrassment would come over me.

Another consideration to bear in mind is to think whether the negative self-talk Is from an expectation you put on yourself at some point.

4.  Drop the Unreasonable Expectation

Perhaps you:

  • need to fit in with others and gain their approval
  • struggle with perfectionism and believe you must reach a high standard
  • compare yourself to others and find yourself lacking

Each of these expectations has developed from your own self-doubt and are damaging to your self-confidence.

Is there a more reasonable expectation you can put on yourself in the place of this thought?

Challenge your negative self-talk by journalling

Write down all the successes you have had, and savour the moment

5.  Challenge Your Negative Self-Talk

Another way to counter your negative self-talk is to look at the phrase and find ways to disprove it.

For example, if you’re worried that you’re not able to deal with your workload, remind yourself of:

  • a time when you were able to complete a project on time
  • think about a time when you made a positive contribution to the team to help them achieve a goal
  • Successfully asked someone to help you out

Savour the thought and remember how good it felt afterwards.

6.  Create A New Habit

If your thought is a recurring one, what is the new thought you want to replace it with? How can you make this new thought a habit?

Consider this: the more you react in a new way to an old stimulus, the quicker a new habit is formed, and the old reaction disappears.

One way to achieve this is to practice a growth mindset, so you habitually look for the positive.  In its simplest form, a growth mindset is a belief you can develop your skills and abilities.

Each time you engage with negative self-talk, think about:

  • How you can embrace your mistakes and learn from them
  • Challenge yourself to keep an open mind and don’t pre-judge your efforts
  • Yourself as a work in progress, constantly evolving and getting better

For more help in creating a growth mindset, have a look at my article 30 Compelling Reasons Why You Need A Growth Mindset.

7.  Tell Your Negative Self-Talk To Stop

Ultimately, the only way to eliminate a negative thought is to consciously put a halt to it. Once you’ve gone through these steps, tell yourself to stop when the idea comes up again, and keep telling it to stop until it goes away completely.

Whilst this may sound too simplistic, you’ll be surprised at how easily you can do this once you’ve practised the other steps.

Next steps when read good things happen when you ask for what you want

When you find yourself haunted by negative self-talk:

  •  Quieten your mind by deciding whether you will take deep breaths, meditate, or practise mindfulness.
  •  Acknowledge what you are thinking by writing it down.  Journaling is a great way to capture recurring negative self-talk.
  •  Explore where the negativity is coming from.  Is it a phrase that was used by someone from your past, or even from your present?
  • Question whether you have set yourself an unrealistic expectation.
  • Challenge your negative self-talk by finding examples of when you have been successful.
  • Create a new habit by adopting a growth mindset.  Focus on how you can learn from the thought and accept that none of us is perfect.  We are all a work in progress.
  • Say STOP, out loud if necessary, each time negative self-talk starts playing the same old record!

A final thought.  You don’t have to listen to your negative self-talk. Still, sometimes it becomes so firmly entrenched you might have trouble dislodging it by yourself. When this happens, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talking to a trusted friend, a coach, or a counsellor can help you lay this negative self-talk to rest once and for all.

About the author Alison

A qualified UK based coach with 30 years of experience in personal development.

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