How To Stop Negative Self-Talk

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Medium close up of Lovely young latino woman dressing in front of mirror. photo credit: GettyGETTY

Life is inherently filled with obstacles that are outside our control: the circumstances we are born into, events that are unforeseen, emergencies we are unprepared for, etc. But there are some things we have control over and among them are our thoughts and how we care for ourselves. Life has enough obstacles, we do not need to make things more difficult for ourselves and inflict more pain than life inherently brings. One thing you can do for yourself that does not cost one cent and pays huge dividends is to give yourself a break. Negative thoughts and feelings do untold damage, visible and invisible, so it’s important to keep them to a minimum. That’s much easier said than done, but here are several ways to help halt negative thoughts and self-talk:


Some big reasons people beat themselves up and feel badly about themselves are because they are overwhelmed, they have recently failed or they are paralyzed by fear. It’s important in these moments to pause and take a deep breath. It will help slow your increasing heart rate by calming you down and giving you some clarity. If you start thinking negative thoughts, and you are feeling overwhelmed and upset pause and breathe.

Acknowledge It   

When you know you’re starting to spiral and succumb to your negative thoughts, acknowledge them. You’re not going to stop negative thoughts by ignoring them. You have to acknowledge them before you can confront them. It’s not easy to admit you have doubts, that you are afraid or have reasons to be concerned, but you will never put them to rest in a meaningful way until you acknowledge them.

Consider The Cause 

What are the roots of these thoughts? Are you afraid? Are you experiencing self-doubt? Have you had a big failure recently that has bruised your self-confidence? Are you depressed? Why are these thoughts creeping in and why are they stopping you? Take some time to consider where these thoughts come from and confront them. If you’re afraid, assuage your fears. Chances are, they are only in your head. If you’re experiencing self-doubt, tell yourself everyone fails and the only way to prove to yourself that you can do this is to start working. Consider the roots of these thoughts so you can address them and work toward silencing them.

Stop Expecting Perfection  

Don’t expect perfection when you are just beginning. If you are starting over after a major failure, or you are suffering from self-doubt, try telling yourself it’s OK to fail. Don’t expect perfection when no one is perfect. Flaws and failure are part of life, and once you embrace them, and move forward in spite of them, you will become happier and more self-confident. If you make mistakes it’s OK, get back in the saddle and keep going.

Surround Yourself With Positivity 

Surround yourself with things that give you energy and motivate you: put on a playlist that gets you moving and in a good mood, play a podcast or a YouTube video of a coach, writer or speaker that motivates and validates you, or a movie that inspires you, or call a friend or family member that always knows what to say when you’re having a bad moment, exercise, etc. When you are feeling down, raise yourself up. Know what helps improve your mood and your mindset so you can change it. Your thoughts are not out of your control, know what steps you need to take to change them when they are not serving you.

Build A Routine 

If you create a routine, then your day takes less thought, therefore less time and energy. The best way to get past negative thoughts is to work through them, and it is easier to work through them if your day is planned and you do not have to think about how to start your day. If you wake up at the same time every day, and make the same breakfast and workout at the same time, and walk out the door and arrive at your office at the same time you are not overthinking anything and not getting stuck in your own head. If you treat things like getting to work at a certain time, working out and meals like appointments you will naturally rise the occasion of every day. Even if you are suffering from self-doubt, or fear, having a routine helps your press on in spite of them, so build a routine that will help you get your day started and put negative thoughts to the side.

Make A Conscious Choice To Silence Those Thoughts 

At first, it will be difficult. The negative voices and thoughts will want to creep in the way they always have, and it will be tempting to let them have their say, but choose  to confront them, and create a counter-narrative that’s on hand in your head. If you’re filled with doubt and feeling like you cannot do something, remember to breathe, to surround yourself with positivity and to remind yourself of the progress you’ve made every day.

When You Have a Negative Thought About Yourself, Cancel It

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There are certain negative thoughts we have about ourselves that we replay over and over. If you’re trying to break the habit of thinking terrible stuff about yourself, here’s a helpful hint: cancel that thought.

This relates to a recent post on /r/LifeProTips, shared by u/Falcia, who wants everyone to stop shit-talking themselves all the time. In fact, if you do say something bad in your mind or out loud, say two nice things as a follow-up:

Every time you say one thing about yourself that you don’t like, accompany it with saying two things that you do like. You may begin to love yourself a bit more this way.

They expanded to say this was a New Year’s resolution, and the benefits showed themselves immediately:

I find this to be a good method of retraining my brain and the way I view myself. This allowed for the times that I was down on myself, to be overrid[den] by an immediate pick me up, and soon I found I was actually running out of things to say that I didn’t like about myself, and the list that I do like could still continue on.

This tip reminded me of a phrase I learned recently on my birthday: To celebrate, I like to go see a tarot card reader and inject a little magic into my life. My reader told me to draw a card, and when I flipped it over she grabbed it to hide it.

“That ruins my surprise,” she said.

Feeling embarrassed, I joked, “Oh, I’m sorry. You have to tell me everything—I can’t be trusted!”

“Cancel that thought,” she replied. “Say, ‘I cancel that thought. I am trustworthy. I can be trusted.’”

And because we were in a small room together filled with incense, I repeated the words, “I cancel that thought. I am trustworthy. I can be trusted.”

I felt immediately better! Even jokey self-deprecation can add up in your self-perception. The best tarot card readers tell you what you need to hear, and I needed to hear that I should be kinder to myself. Since then, every time I find myself thinking some negative “truth,” I cancel that thought, and say the opposite, positive truth instead.

If you fear that saying only positive things about yourself is delusional or will skew your view of the world, consider that it’s already skewed to see the worst side of everything. There is also a big difference between acknowledging reality and predicting a negative future that hasn’t come to pass. For example, saying “the house is on fire” when the house is actually on fire isn’t the same as saying “the house will catch on fire, because houses always catch on fire, why live in a house.”

Learning to acknowledge terrible thought patterns takes work and this phrase is a catchy way to remind yourself that they’re just thoughts, not fate. Don’t get stuck in an old story that’s no longer working for you. Be the TV executive in your mental network and cancel it.

Why Self-Talk Is The Most Powerful Hack In The World

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I listened as one of my fellow FBI agents gave a briefing on the next steps he planned to take in his investigation. I thought he was headed in the wrong direction, and when he asked for our opinions, I told him what I thought.

Unfortunately, I was the only one in the room who thought he was headed for trouble because everyone disagreed with me. I felt I had made a huge faux pas—I didn’t like the agent’s idea while everyone else thought it was brilliant!

The negative self-talk chatter started to build. “You should have kept your mouth shut. That was stupid. You came across as argumentative, etc.” My self-talk was nothing more than self-criticism. I couldn’t wait to get out of that room.

The internal conversations we have with ourselves, called self-talk, can go on for days, and sometimes through our nights as well. My self-talk was negative and destructive because it made me question myself, and soon I was second-guessing myself.

Many of us know how vicious that inner critic can be. Often, we are harder on ourselves than we are on others. It’s not because we want to be, it’s because we don’t know how to manage our negative self-talk.

Energy follows attention—wherever your attention is focused, your energy will follow. If your inner critic is beating you up about a failure, your failing will be the one thing you focus on.

However, there are ways you can harness the power of self-talk so it can help you. Here are 8 ways you can make self-talk the most powerful hack in the world:

1. Nip it in the bud

Notice when you begin negative self-talk: who are the people that trigger it? and the situations or circumstances?

Do a post-mortem on when you’ve unleashed the inner critic and then ask yourself some basic questions:

  1. Are my thoughts factual, or are they just my interpretations?
  2. Am I jumping to negative conclusions?
  3. What is the evidence for and against my thinking?
  4. How can I find out if my thoughts are actually true?

Once you get in the habit of observing your self-talk, noting whether or not it’s constructive, you’ll find it that much easier to nip the negative thoughts in the bud.

2. Reverse the negative spiral

In the Rogelberg study, researchers discovered that the more you use negative self-talk and second-guess yourself, the less free your mind will be to roam through creative solutions of the problems that you face. These outcomes will only further cause you to doubt yourself, leading to a negative, downward spiral.

Turn the situation around and counter your inner critic with positive and constructive self-talk. For example, in my situation, I could say to myself, “I don’t always agree with my colleagues. I’m glad I stuck to my guns and pointed out where the investigation could trip over itself. At least the agent understands that there are potential problems if he continues in that direction, etc.”

3. Be specific

When I say, “Don’t look at the pink elephant,” a pink elephant immediately comes to mind. In the same way, when you criticize yourself, you see a stupid person who constantly makes mistakes.

If your self-talk is “I don’t want—,” all you will be thinking about are the things you don’t want—which will probably be what you end up with because that is where your energy will be focused.

However, if your self-talk is “I want—,“ you will be thinking about all the specific things you do want—which is probably what you’ll end up with!

4. Change self-limiting beliefs

Many times it is our self-limiting beliefs that create the negative self-talk. As long as you are talking to yourself anyway, ask “Why do I have this self-limiting belief?”

Most self-limiting beliefs start in childhood and can be pointed to a parent or teacher telling us we couldn’t do something.

Those memories stick with us, even when circumstances change.

5. Respect yourself

One litmus test to stop destructive or negative self-talk dead in its track is to ask yourself this simple question: Would I talk to a child like this?

If the answer is no, you can be certain you are wasting precious energy on denigrating yourself in a destructive way. Often, we treat ourselves much worse than we would treat strangers; in fact, we would have no friends if we talked to them like we talked to ourselves!

6. Watch your language

Scientists estimate that we have between 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts every day. Whenever you think about something, it is a form of self-talk so you can see how important it is to control your thoughts.

Resilient people do not whine, complain, or blame others; instead, they have the mental toughness to take responsibility for their actions. Since you are not perfect, there will be mistakes and failures; instead of responding with negative self-talk, accept responsibility and turn your attention, and energy, toward learning from your mistakes and failures.

7. Embrace your imperfections

Many CEO’s, entrepreneurs, and business owners are both overachievers and perfectionists. It’s a double whammy of a curse because they often end up holding themselves to an impossible standard of performance.

But no one will tell you they are a success because they’re a perfectionist or an overachiever.  Instead, they will tell you they are a success because they are willing to mess up, learn, and move on. They don’t give up on themselves.

8. Give your inner critic a name

Researcher David Rock believes that labeling our negative emotions is an effective way of short-circuiting their hold over us. So give your inner critic a name or call it out for what it really is—jealousy, insecurity, fear, etc.

You can keep the name in your head, but Rock believes that when you speak it, it activates a more robust short circuit to help break the emotional hold.

If you think you can, or can’t, do something, you’re right — Henry Ford

This article was originally published on LaRae Quy.