Four Tips for Negative Self-Talk

“Everyone at work thinks I’m an idiot…” “I’m so ugly, all of my friends are better looking than me…” “I can never make my family happy…” “There I go, messing everything up again…” Lately, thoughts like these have become my inner monologue, and I can’t seem to shake these ideas. I don’t want to think so negatively about myself, but the thoughts seem to pop into my head so naturally! What can I do to start to think differently?

Sometimes it feels like we have an inner critic whose sole job is to bring us down. We don’t want to listen, but the voice just keeps coming back again and again. Many people deal with the issue of negative self-talk, which can lead to feeling depressed or having low self-esteem. Research has shown that one reason that negative self-talk can feel so “natural” is that our brains are wired to pick up and focus on negativity. But just because our brains are wired this way, doesn’t mean we have to continue to suffer. Here are four tips for getting rid of negative self-talk:

Tip 1: Notice your thoughts — “name it to tame it”
By noticing and articulating your negative inner monologue, you are already one step closer to solving the problem. When you ‘catch’ yourself in the midst of negative self-talk, you intentionally say to yourself what just happened: “I just had a negative thought about my body.” Because that negative chatter can seem so innate and constant, it can be tough to step back and examine when and how it’s happening. When you start to pay more attention to the ‘when’ and ‘how’ of negative self-talk, you might notice a pattern. Does it happen more on days when you’ve gotten a poor night’s sleep? After spending time with a particularly critical friend? When your mother-in-law visits for an extended period of time? Simply by noticing your thoughts, you might be able to make small changes in your routine that reduce negative self-talk.

Tip 2: Challenge your negative thoughts
Once you start to notice your negative self-talk you can begin to talk back and put things into a healthier, more realistic perspective. For example, if you find yourself saying “I’ve messed up this entire report at work– everyone thinks I’m an idiot”, ask yourself “What is the evidence for this being true?” You might find evidence that in fact many of your co-workers respect you and, in reality, you made only one mistake in the report. To put your negative thought in a healthier perspective, try saying, “I made a mistake in that report, and I’m going to show my boss that I know how to fix it”. By practicing reframing thoughts in this way you can zero-in on the problem at hand and also build a healthier and more positive perspective of yourself.

Tip 3: Practice letting go
Meditation practice can be a helpful tool for letting go of negative thoughts that do not serve you. One helpful visualization is imagining your negative thoughts like leaves falling from a tree and floating down a river. You can also tell yourself “This is just a thought I’m having, it’s not the truth.” There are also apps and YouTube videos with guided meditations specifically focused on letting go of negative thinking.

Tip 4: Keep a daily gratitude journal
Because negativity can feel so salient in our minds, we have to work extra hard to focus on an remember the positive. By keeping a daily gratitude journal of moments you are proud of, positive interactions with friends and loved ones, and feelings of joy and appreciation, you are expanding your mind’s ability to notice and focus on the positive things that happen in your life and relationships every day, rather than dwelling only in the negative.

Are you struggling with negative self-talk? Would you like to talk more about the negative inner monologue that’s plaguing you? Would you like to learn strategies tailored to your own needs or relationship? The experienced individual therapists at Emily Cook Therapy can help you examine and overcome your own negative self-talk.

This post was written by Kaitlin Doyle, an experienced couple and family therapist at Emily Cook Therapy in Bethesda, MD.

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