Our mind is pretty amazing. It’s our place in the world that no one else has access to…well, except that destructive and debilitating negative voice that sweeps in every now and then uninvited. For some, negative self-talk can become a frequent guest that never really leaves… and eventually takes up permanent residence.
Unsurprisingly, negative self-talk is linked to low self-esteem, chronic stress and anxiety. So it’s critical to nip it in the bud ASAP.
What is negative self-talk?
It’s not a coincidence that people under heightened stress tend to engage in more negative self-talk than usual. If we’re under pressure, our inner critic fires up their motor mouth muttering all the ways we’re not going to be able to complete a task on time or be able to impress someone. Our negative self-talk alters the way we perceive reality reducing it down to how it isn’t going to measure up, instead of stepping back and observing the opportunities that are ours for the taking.
Negative self-talk limits our thinking, encourages perfectionism, evokes feelings of depression, and poses relationship challenges. Self-criticism leaves us needy, insecure and as poor communicators.
But with more minutes, hours, days accruing on social media, comparing our looks, our lives, to other people, that’s more than enough time to let our negative self-talk take the mic.
How to stop negative self-talk
Give it a name, seriously
Acknowledging negative self-talk is the first step to recognise just how often these discouraging thoughts crop into your mind. The second step is giving that voice a name so that you can create a sense of divide and compartmentalise those thoughts — to the point where you can actively disagree with them and can call them out on just how ridiculous they are. Ever heard of Debbie Downer on Saturday Night Live? How about Negative Nancy? Heard of her?…
Make friends with yourself
Your mind is your safe place. Try and talk to yourself in the third person; don’t tell yourself anything that you wouldn’t say to a friend or a small child. Then, go one step further and reverse the conversation. Go to yourself with your problems as if it was your friend coming to you. What advice would you give them if they confessed the chat you’re feeding yourself right now?
Switch out the negative
What’s one of the first things people do when they want to start eating better? They ditch the junk food and fill the fridge with ample healthy alternatives. The same rule applies here. Take a negative thought and trade it for something that makes you feel good – something you’ve already achieved, something accurate that can’t be debated. Then rinse and repeat until you’re negative self-talk is down on their luck and clear of the table.
Speak your mind
When you catch Debbie Downer in the act, say the thought out loud. Even hearing the words uttered under your breath can make you realise how unreasonable and unkind you’re being on yourself. So much of our negative self-talk is an exaggeration. Hearing it out loud might just be the ammo you need to nip your negative self-talk’s influence in the bud.
Perspective is everything
When you’re feeling overwhelmed with negativity, imagine being 20 or even 50 metres above yourself watching the situation, and then visualise you in this situation in relation to the rest of the world. No big deal, right? Or fast-forward 5 or ten years from now… Is this still a major? Sometimes we place too much emphasis on the things right in front of us in this very moment. Shifting the perspective might be the only antidote to shrink that self-talk (negativity, fear, urgency), down to size.
You’re not always right
And that’s a good thing. Negative thoughts tend to rule the roost as if their ideas are astute observations. But here’s the thing, they’re not accurate and they probably haven’t even happened yet. They’re an opinion – just like everybody else’s – and should be taken with a grain of salt.