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How to Deal with Negative Self-Talk

December 7, 2022

You know that voice — the one that tells you to doubt yourself at every turn, that you’re never good enough, that things will never work out… As it turns out, self-talk is a normal part of being human, so if you’ve ever experienced negative self-talk, know that you’re not alone.

The truth is self-talk is natural and it’s neither good nor bad. 

For instance, several studies show that positive self-talk improves performance. When negative thought, self-talk prompts decreased activity in the nucleus accumbens, the area of the brain responsible for motivation and action, one study found. [1] [2]

 

Self-talk only becomes harmful if it’s consistently negative. When we’re constantly surrounded by thoughts that tell us “we can’t,” we often start to believe them, even when they’re not true. Over time, chronic negative self-talk can affect mood, stress levels, mental health, and wellbeing. Individuals with chronic negative self-talk may also pass up life-changing opportunities because they don’t think they’re capable of succeeding in them.

self-talk
Photo by Milada Vigerova

 

One of the best ways to begin tackling negative self-talk is through meditation. Meditation can help you train your ability to pause, take a breath, and reflect on thoughts as they arise. This can help you create space to freely consider the validity of your thoughts, so you can replace that voice of doubt and judgment with a more supportive and inspiring one of self-love, understanding, and compassion.

 

What is Self-Talk?

Self-talk refers to that inner voice we all have. And while it often gets a bad rap, self-talk isn’t all negative. The problem is that our thoughts often feature more negative self-talk than positive. For instance, consider how you talk to yourself when you make a mistake.

You might think, “Oops! I just made a mistake. I can never do anything right, I’ve ruined everything, why do I even try?!”

Or you could think, “Oops! I just made a mistake. It’s okay to make mistakes, this is part of being human. Let’s see how I can learn from this and do better in the future.”

Both are self-talk. But while the first is not very productive and can add to inner suffering, the second recognizes the mistake, but doesn’t let it affect self-esteem and instead uses it as an empowering moment.

self-talk
Photo by Daniel Mingook Kim

 

Why do we talk negatively to ourselves?

You might be wondering, “if negative self-talk is so bad for us, why do we do it?”

Because it’s in our DNA! 

At our core, we are survival-minded beings. It was not only beneficial but essential for our ancestors to remember anything that could be dangerous so they could prepare for the worst-case scenario. In this way, our minds are designed to quickly pick up on potential threats and store them in our memories for quick recall.

But we don’t live in the same world as our ancestors. And while the world in 2022 still has uncertainty, most of us aren’t facing the same daily threats to our lives that were present generations ago. The thing is, our brains don’t distinguish between old-world dangers and new-world stressors. So the negative self-talk that used to be essential for our survival often does more to hurt us than help us nowadays.

Just because negative self-talk is hardwired into your DNA, that doesn’t mean it has to be your fate! Read on to explore 7 tips to stop negative self-talk and begin empowering yourself with positive self-talk.

 

7 Ways to Deal with Negative Self-Talk

1. Learn to identify negative self-talk red flags.

Negative self-talk can become such a habit that we don’t even recognize when we’re doing it. Start managing negative self-talk by learning to identify it as it happens. Consider what often prompts these negative thoughts and where you feel them in your body. These can be great ways to begin recognizing its warning signs so you have more freedom in how you respond.

 

2. Breathe.

Negative self-talk and the emotions it prompts can be overwhelming. Create space from the intensity and power of these thoughts by taking a few minutes to focus on your breath. Breathing exercises can help calm the nervous system when it’s in a state of fight or flight. In this way, you can help expand your ability to calmly consider these thoughts, before choosing more positive and helpful thoughts or actions.

 

3. Don’t let your self-talk take you for a ride.

In other words, don’t buy into what your inner voice tells you! Your inner voice often doesn’t reflect reality, but rather your own feelings, fears, and hopes. When you experience negative thoughts, investigate their source. What feeling, fear, memory, or worry is fueling them? You’ll always be able to find external events to justify your feelings, so instead of buying into your thoughts and ranting, consider the root feeling underneath and work to calm that.

 

4. Consider how you’d talk to a loved one.

If a friend or family member made a mistake and came to talk about it with you, how would you respond to them? Likely with love, compassion, understanding, and support. So why would you talk to yourself any differently? Give yourself the same patience, understanding, and acceptance you give to your loved ones.

 

5. Get out of your head and into your body. 

When in doubt, get out of the chaos of your mind by using your body. Research has found that physical activity can have positive effects on mental health. Aside from physical activity, movement and creation of any kind can help distract us from our thoughts, giving us space from their intensity so we can consider them later when we’re calmer.

Don’t limit yourself to working out! Mindful movement is great, but you can also try time in nature, enjoying a sauna, getting a massage, aromatherapy, creating art, and more.

 

6. Practice positive self-talk.

The way we talk to ourselves can have a powerful impact. Try overcoming negative thoughts by leveraging the power of self-talk through embracing positivity. Try repeating affirmations to yourself every morning that reinforce a positive outlook on yourself and on life. Or, flip the script when you spot those negative thoughts on the horizon. As they arise, balance them with consideration of how far you’ve come and how this could help you grow. 

self-talk
Photo by Ilyass SEDDOUG

7. Try mindfulness and meditation.

Mindfulness and meditation can help you learn to pause and create space to reflect on negative thoughts as they arise without becoming awash and submerged in them. Contrary to popular belief, meditating isn’t about holding perfect focus. Rather, it’s a dynamic practice that trains us to notice when our focus has strayed, reflect on our distraction with acceptance and non-judgement, then return to our core focus. 

 

In this way, meditation can teach us to recognize our thoughts without the same negative effects on our wellbeing. While similar, mindfulness practices encourage us to tap into the full nature of our experience, which can help contextualize our negative thoughts in the big picture of things, and balance them out with positivity.

 

Ready to reap the benefits of meditation, but not sure where to get started?

Explore our collection of 500+ guided meditations designed by mindfulness experts from around the world.

 

Resources:

  1. Explore the systematic review of 47 studies on self-talk HERE >>
  2. Read about the effects of self-talk on performance and brain function HERE >>

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