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Tame Your Negative Self-Talk

A yard sign that says "You are worthy of love" next to a phone pole

The month of February is often full of talk about love. Instead of recommending a gift for your Valentine, I want to talk about about loving yourself. Specifically, I want you to examine the way you talk to yourself.

What does the voice in your head tell you? Does it offer support and encouragement? Or is a nasty critic tearing you down for every little thing? For most people, it’s probably a combination of the two. But how can you start to show yourself a little more kindness and shift your self-talk to be more positive?

Where Does Self-Talk Come From?

First, I want to start with where that self-talk comes from. The root of what we say to ourselves comes from our mindset. If you want to change your self-talk, you will have to first change your mindset.

We’ve talked a lot about mindset in a previous blog post, but I want to briefly discuss how a mindset is formed here.

At the root of your mindset is your beliefs. These beliefs are something we have accepted as true. It may not necessarily be factually true, but it is the truth to you. Your beliefs come from your life experiences, your background, and the people around you. They’ve been built up over a lifetime, and because of that, some of them can be very difficult to change.

Your beliefs inform how you talk to yourself. For example, if you believe you lack intelligence, you’ll continue to think and act as though that were factually true. Your beliefs can hold you back or help you soar.

Your beliefs, in turn, fuel your thoughts. Beliefs are the foundation of where our thoughts come from, so any changes you want to make to your thoughts have to begin deeper with your beliefs.

And finally, your thoughts drive your feelings. Thinking, “I’m stupid,” will probably make you feel sad, ashamed, or any number of other feelings. When you have these thoughts and want to change them, you have to look past the layers to find the real cause - your beliefs.

In order to stop negative self-talk, you have to believe you are worth being kind to and that you deserve to be spoken to compassionately.

Becoming Aware of Your Thoughts

It’s not always easy to understand where your feelings are coming from. Life is chaotic and emotions can be messy and mixed up together. Maybe you just know you feel bad. Sharpening your emotional self-awareness will help you determine what you’re actually feeling.

This emotional self-awareness will help you catch yourself in the act of using negative self-talk. You can even try writing down what you say to yourself throughout the day. You might be shocked at what you find.

Some examples of the type of self-talk we want to eliminate are:

  • “Why did I do that? I’m so stupid.”

  • “I look horrible today.”

  • “Of course I messed up, I always mess up.”

  • “Why bother even trying? You know you won’t do it right.”

One of the easiest ways to recognize the type of thoughts you want to curb is to ask yourself, “Would I say this to a friend?” It’s time to start treating yourself like a friend. You deserve to be kindly spoken to, especially by yourself.

Although we want to overcome and reduce negative self-talk, we also don’t want to replace it with falsely positive self-talk. Not only is it more difficult to make such a big leap, but it’s also still painting a false picture of your true self.

Instead, try to find a middle ground. Here’s an example - let’s imagine you submitted a report to your boss, but realized later that you left an old version of one of the tables in and forgot to update it before sending it.

Overly Negative: “You’re such an idiot! You’ll probably get fired. Why can’t you do even this simple thing right?”

Overly Positive: “It’s not a problem. The boss probably doesn’t even read those reports. I do the best reports in the office anyway.”

Neutral: “I’m feeling frustrated and anxious about that mistake. But I can send an updated version now that I realized what happened and just try to double-check my work next time. My boss knows I work hard and I’m only human - mistakes happen.”

Of course, it’s not a bad thing to have positive self-talk. We just don’t want to swing too far the other direction like in the example above. Finding the right balance of how you talk to yourself important for your mental health.

Practice Makes Perfect

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as flipping a switch to change our self-talk. It’s going to take lots of practice to retrain your thoughts. As we mentioned earlier, you may need to dig down to find out the root belief that is causing these thoughts and work on changing that first.

Redirecting your thoughts to more neutral or positive thoughts as they crop up can be hard work, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Like a muscle, you have to train your brain to change the ingrained thoughts. Over time, you’ll build up new, healthier habits.

Try keeping a journal in the evening of how you did with your self-talk throughout the day. Writing down a few examples of how you stopped the negative thoughts in their tracks or how you rewrote them will be a good reminder of the progress you’re making.

The way we talk to ourselves is important. Continual negative self-talk can increase anxiety and depression, lower self-esteem, and lead to difficulties in your relationships with others. You deserve to be loved by yourself.

I hope that you will begin to choose to speak kindly to yourself and give yourself grace when you make a mistake. Life is hard enough without an inner critic judging your every move. Silence that critic and be at peace with yourself.

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