It’s Thursday afternoon and you’re sitting at your desk. You look at your to-do list, overwhelmed, and realize there are 10 things you’re supposed to finish by the end of the week. Your heart rate starts to increase, you freeze up, and your mind races trying to figure out how to accomplish everything. You begin to think, How did this happen? Where did the week go? Why am I so unproductive? Why can’t I get stuff done? Why am I so useless? Obviously I am because this happens every week. I’m such an idiot!
Negative self-talk happens to the best of us, but it doesn’t mean we should allow it to spiral out of control. The more you talk negatively to yourself, the darker places you’ll end up in, and the harder it will be to climb out. That’s why it’s important to stop the talk once you begin to hear it.
Why do you say things to yourself that you’d never say to someone else you know and love? What is it that makes you so much more self-critical?
Numerous factors are at work.
Research suggests that the “voice” could be a real voice from your past—a teacher or manager, a friend, a parent—that simply got stuck on autopilot. Sometimes when people who we care about say things that hurt, the words scar us permanently and come back to haunt us.
Other times the voice is a reflection of your general perspective on life.
Martin Seligman refers to this as explanatory style, which can be either pessimistic or optimistic. The more pessimistic you are, the more you blame yourself when things go wrong and the more you blow things out of proportion, from one thing being wrong to everything being wrong. What type of explanatory style you have is influenced by a variety of factors—such as your baseline happiness, the people around you, and your past influences.
The real question is: How do you shift to a more optimistic explanatory style so that you can stop beating yourself up with negative self-talk? Talk back to that voice and question it.
Here are 3 steps to silence the mental critic for good:
First, ask yourself:
Are my thoughts driven by my rational or emotional mind?
Are my thoughts a realistic representation of what’s going on, of who I am and how capable I am of doing things?
What evidence do I have against and for my thinking?
When you start to rationalize the situation and try to emotionally detach, you start to realize that your frustration is speaking, not your
Then, take yourself out of the situation:
If my friend was saying this to themselves, what would I say to them to challenge their negative self-talk?
How would I tell them to reframe the situation in a more positive light?
Taking yourself out of the situation enables you to think more creatively and see it from a different angle.
Last but not least, look at the bigger picture:
What’s the worst thing that could happen here? How likely is it?
What’s the best thing that could happen here?
Will this matter in five years time?
You can challenge your negative self-talk by using these questions again and again. Once you start to hear the self-talk become more positive, you can start to minimize the use of the questions.
It’s important to remember not to beat yourself up for the negative self-talk you do, which will make it worse or start new negativity spirals!
Instead, learn to become more aware of it, acknowledge it’s there (rather than hating it), and start to question it.
You will find yourself learning to talk to yourself in a way you would to your best friend. What better way is there to build a positive relationship with yourself?