Guest writer Alex Phillips talks through the hidden dangers of negative self-talk, and how to make sure you’re doing all you can to be your best self every day.
Self-talk refers to the endless stream of unspoken thoughts running through your head. It’s our interpretation of past, present and future events. This internal chatter, which can be positive or negative, has a huge impact on our sense of self-worth, confidence, resilience and the actions we decide to take.
Since we are hardwired to remember negative experiences over positive ones, it’s not uncommon for our inner critic to be more dominant than our inner coach. We tend to replay the times we made a mistake more than the times we did a good job, which only adds power to messages like “we’re not good enough” or “can’t do anything right.”
These critical messages hold us back. They keep us from living life on our terms and reaching our potential. And it’s completely unsurprising that in 2020, negative self-talk is on the rise as we battle through insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty.
What we often don’t realise is that our self-talk is just one point of view based on our memories, assumptions and biases – yet we tend to believe our self-talk as fact.
Recognising that our thoughts aren’t always true, and bringing conscious awareness to the internal dialogue we are most influenced by, are the first steps to reframing our internal narrative.
Unhelpful thinking styles
Negative self-talk tends to fall into one of these categories:
Personalising: tendency to blame yourself when things go wrong.
Polarising: tendency to view things as purely good or bad
Magnifying: tendency to focus on the negative aspects of every situation and dismiss anything remotely positive.
Catastrophising: expecting the worst to happen and playing it out in your head until it feels like it’s already happening.
What is reframing?
Reframing is about shifting your perspective. It’s about looking at a situation, thought or feeling from another angle, so you can form a more open, realistic view of the situation.
Reframing your inner dialogue is not ignoring or suppressing your negative self-talk or deceiving yourself. It’s about acknowledging the words of your inner critic but consciously choosing to believe a more supportive narrative—one that is led by your inner coach, optimist and cheerleader.
Getting into the habit of reframing negative self-talk can help you approach challenges and setbacks with a more open and optimistic mindset, bolster your self-confidence, improve your self-image and overall quality of life.
Ultimately, it’s about challenging automatic thoughts and assumptions and showing the same kindness, compassion and support to yourself as you would to a loved one.
I can’t do this > I can do this
I’m a failure > Failure does not make me a failure. Failing is part of life. I choose to use this failed attempt as a teacher. What can I learn from this?
I suck at my job> How can I improve my skills at work and feel more competent at my job?
How to fix negative self-talk
- Avoid absolutes, like never and always
Using language like never and always can subconsciously hold you back because you’re not giving yourself room for change. You’re framing your thoughts as the absolute truth. Instead of saying “people never listen to me” or “everyone always ignores what I have to say” try reframing it to “There are some people in my life who don’t appear to listen to me, I wonder how I can get them to pay more attention.”
- Use forward-focused language
Instead of expressing what you cannot do, reframe your self-talk in ways that help you move forward.
I can’t > I can
I won’t > I will
I’m not > I am
Use words that encourage you to take action. Actionable language gives you a sense of purpose and direction and empowers you to move forward.
- Say what you would say to your loved ones
It’s often easier to counsel our loved ones than it is to counsel ourselves. The soothing tone and compassionate dialogue tends to flow out of us in those situations, but when it comes to reframing the words of our inner critic, we freeze. Does this resonate? If you’re nodding your head, you can use this to your advantage. For every limiting thought or belief, think about what you would say to your loved one who is experiencing that exact same thought. How would you counsel them? What would you say to instil courage and confidence?
- Be curious and explore your triggers
If you are feeling overwhelmed with emotion, use your journal to download your thoughts and process it without judgment. Try to adopt a curious mindset as you explore what triggered your inner critic on this occasion and where this limiting thought or belief comes from.
Certain events, situations or people might trigger more negative self-talk than others. For example, seeing a family member who always enquires about your relationship status when you are currently single might serve as a trigger.
Identifying these “self-talk traps” can help you mentally prepare for these situations and reframe the subsequent internal dialogue that comes with it. When you have a deeper understanding of your thoughts, you’ll find it easier to craft a more compassionate response.
- Set healthy boundaries
Your environment is a powerful source of influence, so consciously choose to surround yourself with people who lift you up, share the same values and leave you feeling energised. Give yourself permission to set boundaries around the people, events and situations that drain you or bring out the worst in you. If it’s a consistent source of grief, remove it.
The same goes for your digital environment. Be mindful of the content on your newsfeed. Is it serving you or is it draining you? Remember, what you read and listen to is feeding your mind and impacting the stream of thoughts running through your head.
- Challenge your inner critic
Challenge your inner critic by asking yourself:
- Am I jumping to conclusions?
- Is there any actual evidence to support my thoughts?
- Is there another way to look at this situation?
- Can I do anything to change what I’m feeling bad about? These are clues for new habits and changes worth implementing.
- When has this limiting thought or belief been proven wrong? The goal is to debunk your limiting thought. These reflections help reinforce the idea that your thoughts and beliefs aren’t always true—something we tend to forget.
For example, if the negative thought circulating is “I suck at my job” because you made a mistake, you might want to reflect on all the times you’ve excelled at your job and all the times you’ve received positive feedback at work.
These reflections can help you zoom out and establish a more balanced and realistic profile of who you are, instead of one that is purely driven by your inner critic. It helps you move away from magnifying your downfalls to accepting that yes, you’ve made mistakes, but you’ve also excelled at your job on numerous occasions.
With this in mind, you might reframe it to “I can learn from this mistake and put measures in place that will help prevent it from happening again.” In terms of changes you could possibly make, you might decide to ask for more training in a particular area so that you can feel more confident in your role.
- Practise positive affirmations
Affirmations are positive, empowering statements that can help rewire unhelpful thought patterns when repeated. Think of them as seeds—seeds of new thought patterns that must be watered with repetition. The more frequently you write, read or say it out loud, the more it will sink into your subconscious mind and take root.
You might like to weave your personal affirmations into your environment by leaving post-it notes around the house, creating artwork for the walls and saving it as your phone background. These visual cues work as bonus self-care reminders, which can have a powerful impact on your daily mindset.
- Create a cheat sheet
Channelling your inner coach and cheerleader is pretty easy when we’re winning at life.
We might exclaim:
“Yes, I did it!”
“Yay, I’m so happy with that result!”
It’s a different story when things aren’t going to plan. If practising positive self-talk is new to you, you’ll benefit from having a personal cheat sheet. That’s what the Self-Talk Support section in Saint Belford’s Pledge to Stay Well Journal is all about.
Complete this section when you are in a healthy frame of mind and refer back to it when you want to turn down the volume of your inner critic. The more you practise, the better you’ll become at coaching yourself through those moments of doubt and fear.
- Change the intensity of your language
When you’re stuck in a negative cycle, catching yourself out is one thing, switching gears is another. It can be super challenging to put the brakes on that train of thought and immediately reframe it. It’s often easier to change the intensity of your language first.
- This is the worst > This is challenging
- I hate > I don’t like
It helps dilute the negativity and it’s a lot easier to channel your inner coach from here.