So what is negative self-talk exactly? Basically, trash-talking yourself. It’s always good to consider the ways that we need to improve. But there’s a difference between self-reflection and negative self-talk. Negative self-talk isn’t constructive, and it rarely motivates us to make any changes: “I can’t do anything right” versus “I need to find ways to manage my time better.”
And sometimes it can start out small, like picking out little things we don’t like about ourselves. But if we don’t know how to recognize,address, or prevent negative self-talk, it can turn into anxiety and, in extreme cases, self-hatred.
Here’s how you can turn down the volume on your inner critic and hop on board the self-love train this month.
Recognize: Call negative self-talk out for what it is
We have tons of thoughts running through our minds every moment. And most of our thoughts happen without us even fully acknowledging them before we move on to the next one.
If you’re unsure or you need some convincing that you struggle with negative self-talk, try jotting down the negative things you say to yourself throughout the day as it happens. It might seem extreme, but in order to get rid of negative self-talk, we need to be aware that it’s actually happening.
Name your critic
Some psychotherapists recommend naming your critic. Giving that negative inner voice a funny name can help us see it for what it really is. It stops us from looking at ourselves as the problem. And it makes the real problem clearer: We keep believing what the voice says.
So next time negative self-talk creeps up, don’t just shrug it off as another anxious thought. Call out Felicia, The Perfectionist, Negative Nancy (or whatever name you so choose) for what it is. And, more importantly, stop listening!
Address: Stop negative self-talk in its tracks
Put it in perspective
Negative self-talk stems from the downward spiral we let our thoughts go into. Stumbling over your words in an interview turns into: “I’m such an idiot, I will never get a job.” But putting these negative thoughts in perspective can help us find out what really went wrong. Usually the problem is actually quite solvable, we just needed to break it down and process it slowly.
Talk it out
Sometimes, talking to a friend can help us overcome negative self-talk in the moment. The next time you’re embarrassed or something didn’t go the way you wanted it to, call someone. Shame and guilt grow in secret. Don’t live alone with your thoughts.
Sometimes, the worst thing we can do when we’re thinking negatively is to force ourselves to say nice and positive things to ourselves.
Instead, start by saying neutral things that hint to a possible solution. Instead of thinking, “I’m a failure,” choose to say, “I didn’t do very well on that project. I know what to do differently next time.” We don’t have to lie to ourselves. But we can be realistic, without the self-hate.
Prevent: Keep it from coming back
Be your own best friend
We would never call our best friend a loser, a failure, or an idiot. So why do we feel like it’s OK to say things like that to ourselves? One way to beat our inner critic is to become our own best friend and choose to focus more on our positive characteristics.
We need to celebrate the little wins, the smart things we do, and the goals we achieve. And, more importantly, we need to rememberthem so that the next time Negative Nancy tries to criticize us, we have proof for why she’s wrong.
Be the bigger ‘person’
When we place unrealistic expectations on ourselves, we open the door to negative self-talk. The reality is, we can’t do everything right, and there’s no such thing as a perfect person. But psychologist Christa Smithputs it beautifully: “When we have a goal for ourselves and our lives that is bigger than being good, we become bigger than the critic.”
Whether the goal we choose is being more peaceful or just being a work in progress, when we redefine what a “good” life and “good” outcomes look like we make it possible to find joy and contentment outside of perfection.