9 Tricks to Combat Negative Self-Talk
You’ve probably come across the saying, “being your own harshest critic” right? Well, if you’re anything like me (and, well, literally everyone else on planet Earth, it seems), you’ll have had firsthand experience with it too.
Knowing my worth has been an ongoing battle. Urgh. The negative self-talk. The imposter syndrome. Since going self-employed, it’s felt more like a full-blown internal war. But that’s a whole other tangent.
Anyway, the point is, if you’re feeling swamped by your own negative thoughts, then you are most certainly not on your own. According to a survey, 80 percent of all the thoughts we have in a day are negative. Brilliant.
The truth is, even the most successful and happiest of folks grapple with that harsh inner critic. The voice inside that chimes in with thoughts of doubt, fear, blame or judgement.
The problem is, when that inner critic rears its ugly head too often, it can have adverse effects on our mental wellbeing. We start believing the narratives we spin within ourselves, even when they lack any truth or evidence. This perpetual loop of toxic chatter can wield such influence over us that it might even stop us from pursuing our dreams, being present or relishing the joyful moments in life. And that’s no good at all.
So how do we kick this nasty habit to the curb? First things first: we have to recognise that we can’t halt our thoughts; it’s an impossible feat. Our minds are perpetually active. That’s just the way it goes. That being said, we can change how we talk to ourselves.
While it’s easier said than done, there are a few strategies we can try to help combat negative thoughts and self-talk. Let’s take a look:
1. Take A Breather
Our inner critic tends to chime in when we’re feeling overwhelmed, facing challenges, failures, or when we’re gripped by fear. In these moments, it’s important to pause and take a deep breath. This simple act connects the mind and body, slowing your racing heart and providing a little clarity amid the foggy chaos. Next time those negative thoughts start creeping in, take a moment to pause and breathe. Box breathing is a useful method that I try when feeling stressed. Give it a go…
2. Acknowledge It
When you sense yourself spiralling into a vortex of negativity, don’t ignore it. Negative thoughts won’t just ‘POOF’ and vanish by pretending they don’t exist. To address them, you have to acknowledge that they exist. It’s not easy to admit doubts, fears, or concerns, but confronting them is the first step towards resolution.
Developing awareness of negative thought patterns and their impact on your mood and behaviour is really important. There are a couple of handy techniques you can try to help you kick-start that process:
- Timeout for reflection: Pause to consider your thoughts and inner voice. Ask yourself, “What’s the thought? What’s driving it? How am I feeling?”
- Journaling: Whether through free-form writing or a thought journal, putting your thoughts on paper boosts your self-awareness.
3. Challenge Negative Self-Talk
As you become more of a pro at recognising negative thinking patterns, try delving deeper to cultivate new thought patterns? Often, our negative thoughts are linked to irrational beliefs. Catch yourself in these moments and challenge these thoughts. Now’s the time to employ concrete, positive affirmations as a starting point. Instead of saying, “I’ll never get this right,” counter it with, “I’m doing my best, and that’s enough.” Retraining your mind and shifting your perspective takes time and practice, so be patient and gentle with yourself.
4. Embrace Positive Self-Talk
Practising positive self-talk comes in various forms. One effective approach is to focus on gratitude. When negative self-talk bubbles up, redirect your attention to the positives in your life, no matter how tiny they may seem. This is a simple yet potent way to break the cycle of negativity.
At the moment, I’m trying to spend a few minutes before bed reflecting on my day or pinpointing a few things that I’m grateful for. Practising gratitude can serve as both a coping skill and a mindset shift. Oh, Headspace has a really helpful video on this – it’s worth a watch.
5. Get Some Perspective
Whenever I’m trapped on a giant hamster wheel of doom (er…not literally, of course), I try to shift my perspective. For example, I’ll ask myself, “What would my best friend say?” or “Would I talk to my dad this way?” Some people even go as far as sticking a little picture of their younger self on their bathroom mirror – serving as a gentle reminder that we each have an inner child, and they, too, deserve love and compassion.
6. Embrace Routine
Lately, I’ve found that establishing a good daily routine can really streamline my days and reduce all that extra mental effort, time, and energy. As we’ve covered, the most effective way to overcome negative thoughts is to confront them. And this process is made way more manageable when your day is well-planned. Trust me. When you consistently wake up at the same time, follow a structured breakfast and workout schedule (where possible), and arrive at your desk in a good headspace, you minimise overthinking and avoid getting trapped in your own thoughts.
7. Seek Support
There are times when leaning on your support network can really help you challenge and overcome negativity. Conversations with someone from your circle, a loved one, or a therapist can help you suss out what’s reality and what’s the product of your negative self-perception.
8. Shelf Negative Thoughts
Sometimes our negative thoughts can feel so overwhelming, it’s helpful to take a step back. Visualise placing these thoughts on a mental shelf or in a box—whichever imagery resonates with you. This approach can offer a moment of clarity. When the wheel of negative thinking is spinning uncontrollably, and you’re unable to confront these thoughts immediately, set them aside. Revisit them another time, perhaps when journaling later in the evening or during a chat with your pal or therapist. Visualisation is a valuable skill for managing thoughts and regaining control.
9. Be Present
Mindfulness is a tool that not only counters negative thinking but also provides relief by allowing us to pause and refocus. No matter where our minds wander, we possess the ability to bring it back to the present moment and concentrate on the hope within the here and now. Breathing exercises, grounding techniques, and meditation all facilitate focusing on the present and breaking free from the grip of negative thoughts. There are plenty of fantastic Apps out there – I recommend Headspace or Calm.
Quieting that inner critical voice won’t happen overnight. It takes time, commitment and heaps of self-compassion. Remember: The longest relationship you’ll ever have is with yourself – so who do you want to take with you: your self-critic or your compassionate friend?