Have you ever thought bad things about yourself? You say “you’re not good enough,” or
“you’re not worthy,” or “you suck!” These are called negative self-talk. And you can start changing negative self talk to positive self talk using the guide below.
You are not your thoughts. And you are not your emotions. But sometimes, it’s easy to believe that what you think about and how you feel about yourself is true. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that you are greater than those thoughts and feelings.
Yet you are. All you have to do is learn how to manage and change them.
What Is Negative Self-Talk?
Negative self-talk are any internal conversations you have that focus on what you lack or what you think you can’t do. It hinders you from doing activities or accomplishing things that will bring you a better quality of life. Ultimately, it limits your potential and eventually kills your dreams.
As the old saying goes, “Self-doubt has killed more dreams more than failures ever did.” Self-doubt is one of the many manifestations of negative self talk. When you doubt yourself and what you can bring into the world, you engage in “The Spiral of Doom.” It brings your mood down, it lowers your energy, fills your head with anxiety, until you stop doing the activity.
What Is The Purpose Of Negative Self-Talk?
Your mind engages in negative self-talk because our brains are designed for survival. It prevents you from doing something unfamiliar that could pose a danger. For example, if you’re doing something new at work, your mind will be full of worries. Thoughts like, “I might get fired,” or “This wouldn’t work” will enter your mind.
On the other hand, when doing things you’re already familiar with, you rarely think negatively. For example, you rarely criticize yourself for how well you breathe, brush your teeth, or tie your shoes. Or when you do your job, you rarely think negatively unless you make a mistake.
Where Does Negative Self-Talk Come From?
Your negative self-talk comes from three things: your mental habit, your limiting beliefs, and unrealistic expectations. Once you realize how these affect your thinking (and your life), it’s easier to manage them. After all, the first step to changing anything is acknowledging it.
Harmful Mental Habits
Just as we have physical habits (the systematic way of doing things), we also have mental habits. It’s the default way you think, talk to yourself, analyze the situation, or respond to what is happening. This develops and strengthens with repetition.
Back in college when I was taking my major in Psychology, I learned about Behavioral Psych. One theory that I’ve learned is the Theory of Conditioning, also known as Stimulus-Response Theory.
Whenever a stimulus is present, we respond to it. Our behaviors and mental habits are conditioned based on the repetition of this relationship.
Our negative self-talk resulted from harmful mental habits we engaged in when unfortunate situations happen to us. For example, in the past when you experienced failure, how did you respond? Did you think you’re stupid, felt worthless, and nothing but a piece of trash? Or did you mentally pat yourself on the back and learn from the experience?
Repetition conditions your mind. If you responded positively and practiced that, the failures you experience now are only learning experiences. But doing the opposite and kicking yourself down, leads to negative self-talk.
Of course, you can break from this cycle. But you need to leverage the power of repetition and recondition your mind. I’ll share some techniques on changing negative self talk below.
Another reason for engaging in self-criticism and negative thoughts are limiting beliefs. Our beliefs drive the actions we take and ultimately, the results we have in our life.
“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Tony Robbins has one of the best illustrations of this. The results in our life reinforces the belief we have of ourselves. If you believe you can achieve your dreams, you’re halfway there. But if you believe you can’t, then you’re nowhere near!
You see, our potentials are nothing short of limitless. To be the best we can be, we have to accept the fact that:
- There are trade-offs: you can’t be great at everything but you can be great on something; and
- Your beliefs (in yourself and in the process) can change everything.
Here’s Tony explaining the concept:
Your negative self-talk are nothing but manifestations of your limiting beliefs. You can change your beliefs and choose to adopt more empowering ones.
Lastly, you may have unrealistic expectations. For example, you want to start a business and you fall in love with your product. You believe that everyone in this world needs your product and they’ll want it because it’s super awesome. So you build dreamy expectations in your mind: how much money you’ll make, the great feedback you receive, and so on.
But when you launched, you found that only a handful of people were buying. Because of that, you kick yourself in the butt. You tell yourself all the negative things you won’t even say to your enemies.
Unrealistic expectations can disappoint you or even leave you traumatized. You have to remain grounded and manage your expectations to prevent this from happening. Look at facts and data, not just your emotions. Then use the data you collect to project something realistic.
Sure, there may be occasions when you or others might “hit it big.” But it’s not a reliable measurement when setting expectations – especially in doing something that matters.
Examples Of Negative Self Talk To Positive Self Talk
One key to changing negative self talk to positive ones is to be aware of what you’re telling yourself. Below is a list of examples of negative self-talk and it’s empowering counterpart.
|Negative Self-Talk||Positive Self-Talk||Why It’s Good|
|I’m not good enough!||I’m getting better at this!||It helps you focus on the process.|
|My ideas aren’t good enough. It doesn’t even matter!||My opinions and point of view are worth sharing. Maybe my ideas can help someone.||It gets the focus away from you and onto helping others.|
|I’m stupid!||I’m resourceful enough to learn this.||You appreciate what you have, not what you don’t have.|
|Who am I to do…||We all start somewhere. I just need to do what I can for now.||The emphasis is on what you can control – what you can do now.|
|I’m a lazy person and I’ll never change!||I need to find a way that will energize me in doing this…||You use your mind to help you find an answer.|
|I don’t feel motivated enough to do…||Motivation comes and goes. I just need to take a small action and it’ll come.||Your focus is on taking action instead of waiting for motivation.|
|I can’t do it. I’ve never done this before!||There’s a first time for everything!||It allows you to look to the future with hope.|
|I’m a failure. Everything I do fails!||Well, failure is the way to success. Let me fail forward.||Lets you embrace failure as part of the process.|
|I’m a nobody and nobody loves me!||All I can do is to make myself lovable and look for people who appreciate my value.||The focus is on what you can do, not how others react.|
|I’m not confident enough to do that…||I can prepare to manage the risks and do “that” little by little.||Prepares you to move forward.|
It’s possible that we haven’t covered every possible negative thought you have. So, let me share how you can challenge your negative self-talk.
Side note: Having positive thoughts is different from toxic positivity. Effective positive thinking boils down to three things: accept your situation, learn from it, grow through it. Without acknowledging and accepting your situation, it all becomes a facade.
How To Challenge Your Negative Self Talk
The best way to challenge your negative self-talk is to ask questions to your inner critic. You see, thinking is nothing more than asking yourself questions and answering it in your mind. The questions you ask frames the answer.
So, when you’re thinking negative thoughts, interrogate your inner critic. Here’s a sample dialogue that might take place:
- Negative Self-Talk (NST): I’m a failure! Everything I do fails!
- Question (Q): “Everything? You’ve never had any success?”
- NST: Well, maybe not everything.
- Q: “So if not everything, what’s the matter?”
- NST: Well, this project is failing.
This may sound weird but we have these conversations inside our head. If you want to challenge your self-talk, ask questions. And do it as if you’re arguing with someone else and you’re trying to look for holes in their statements.
6 Techniques To Changing Negative Self Talk To Positive Self Talk
Aside from developing awareness and asking yourself questions, here are 6 techniques you can start using today. Changing negative self talk may be hard and you will need to practice these techniques. But I promise you, it will be worth it.
Change The Tone Of Your Negative Self Talk
Notice the tone you use when talking negatively to yourself. In most cases, it will be low energy, filled with sadness, frustration, and other negative emotions. When you say you’re not good enough, you tend to say it with sadness in your inner voice. On other cases, you include pissed off or angry tonality (e.g. saying “I’m so stupid!”).
This tonality affects the way we feel about ourselves. Changing it alters the experience we go through even if the words are the same. For example, try saying, “I’m not worthy” but use Mickey Mouse’s or Mr. Bean’s voice instead. You’ll likely experience a different emotion.
Try this, too: Say, “Who are you to do that?!” but say it with the excitement of someone who just won a lotto. Or someone who just got their first salary. You can try changing these elements, too:
- Speed: how fast you tell yourself the negative thought
- Volume: the softness or loudness of the conversation
- Tonality: directive, friendly, questioning, or assertive
Determine The Cause
Is the negative self-talk based on data or just your opinions and emotions? What basis are you using to back your claim that you’re not loved, you’re unworthy, and you can’t do things? Did other people tell it to you or you came to that conclusion on your own?
We are so used to defaulting to our negative statements that we never examine where they came from. So, try to discover where these self-criticisms came from and ask yourself if they were true. Not if you think they’re true, but if they’re actually true (factual, based on data).
Think The Opposite
Whatever negative thing you’re thinking, think the opposite. This activity takes your focus away from the harmful thought and onto something more positive. As the saying goes, “Once you change the way you see things, the things you see changes.” Thinking the opposite allows you to change the way you see.
Author Paul Arden wrote, “Instead of aiming for perfection, run with what you’ve got and fix it as you go.” I agree. After all, you can’t be perfect no matter how you try. Don’t wallow in negative self-criticism if you can’t achieve perfection. No one can’t. And when your inner critic tells you all that’s wrong with you, think the opposite.
Take Some Form Of Action
If you find yourself spiraling because of all the negative thoughts you have, take action. Do something that energizes you. Take a walk, drive around, exercise, read a book. It’s mind boggling how simple things like these can destroy a lot of our internal problems.
Now, when you take action, you build momentum. Use this to start “selling” yourself to how good you are. You’re now an action taker. You don’t just passively wait for things to happen… you make them happen!
Taking action in spite of fear or negative emotions builds discipline. This discipline spills over the other areas of your life and builds on top of one another. And the discipline required to take action is also the same one that will quiet your negative self-talk.
Visualize Your Desired Future
Our imagination is potent. When we visualize things, it’s as if we’re experiencing it. In fact, visualization (imagination) can be used to cure phobia according to a study by University of Colorado Boulder. That’s how powerful our imaginations are.
One way to change negative self talk to a more positive one is to imagine your desired future. And do it as if you’re really there, looking through your own eyes. Then as your feelings of happiness, excitement, and fulfillment fills your body, bring those feelings to the present.
So, when your thoughts are beating you to a pulp, imagine a near future where you don’t have these negative thoughts anymore. Imagine how good it will feel and the positive changes it brings to your life. Then bring those feelings to your present.
Change Your Mental Focus
Sometimes, we tend to do more for others than we do for ourselves. That’s why shifting your mental frame from “me” to “we” helps in changing negative self talk.
Think about it, when you criticize yourself, the subject is always you! How you’re never good enough, you’ll never amount to anything, you’re lazy, or no one cares. But once you shift your focus on the value you can bring and how you can help others, these thoughts vanish.
Building an empowering mental habit where positive self-talk is the norm can be difficult at first. But the discipline you put into it will reap you a lifetime of benefits your future self will thank you for. It doesn’t matter what happened in your past. You can decide, right now, to build yourself up and change your negative self-talk into a positive one.
Live an inspired life,