How to Stop Negative Self Talk and Negative Thinking

Written by Karl Perera MA, DipLC.

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What we say to ourselves is extremely important because it can influence our behaviour. Inner self talk can be positive and encouraging or negative which can contribute to low self esteem and lack of confidence. In my experience working with clients with low self esteem and having experienced this myself, I know how damaging negative self talk can be. I can assure you that positive self talk is effective and can help you in many ways including building self esteem.

Self talk is the inner voice you may hear when you meet challenges and difficulties. Negative self talk can fill you with self-doubt or fear which can lower self esteem. Challenging this self talk or replacing it with positive thoughts can be effective.

We all appear to have an inner critic who can be quite harsh and unforgiving. It is possible to overcome this negative inner critic, take this wonderful course now.

Now let’s go deeper into this and understand what is behind this self talk and how this can help you to fix it.

Causes of Negative Self Talk

Negative thoughts
  1. Criticism from parents. The things that we are told as children sometimes stay with us for the rest of our lives. If your parents tell you you are not smart enough, you may believe this of yourself. The power of words is strong! Your inner voice may reflect what others, especially your parents, have told you.
  2. Believing negative comments of others. As above negative comments from others can affect you deeply if you allow them too. Words can encourage or they hurt. Repeated negative remarks can damage your self esteem. Hearing them often can become ingrained in your brain.
  3. Excuses not to try something risky. Negative self talk can be a way for you to protect yourself from doing things you fear. This is very natural but if you take it too far it can stop you from moving forward in life and hold you back at work and in your personal life.
  4. Lack of self esteem and confidence makes you likely to be very negative about yourself and easily defeated. It also means you are more likely to believe the negative things others tell you about yourself. Here’s a great course which will really help you to improve your self confidence – now!
  5. Negative people in your life. They fill your head with self doubt and can damage your confidence. They can change the way you think and the way you behave. It’s best, where possible, to remove these people from your life and spend more time with positive people.

Effects of Negative Self Talk

Thoughts precede moods so if you think unhappy thoughts you feel unhappy. Self talk is your thinking making itself known to you. Hearing somebody else talking negatively is bad enough, so imagine how much more hearing your own inner voice is! If you tell yourself you are a failure, guess what, you will be! If you tell yourself you can succeed then you have a much improved chance of succeeding.

Negative self talk can lead to low self esteem, lack of confidence or even depression and this leads to more negative thought. A vicious circle. If others criticise you and your inner voice agrees with what they say then you are slowly convincing yourself that you deserve their negative criticism. This is a downward spiral.

Negative self talk causes anxiety and therefore strategies to stop such negative self talk can help you become less stressed and anxious.

Negative self talk reflects a deep seated negative thinking pattern that is not helpful if you have to do something that stresses you or challenges you. Negative thinking can result in many different effects such as panic, worry and poor performance.

Does Positive Self Talk Help?

As we have already shown there is evidence to support what many sports psychologists and coaches already believe, that positive motivational self talk can improve performance (see also this article in the Journal of Sort and Exercise Psychology).

More evidence that positive self talk can improve sports performance and success levels is given in this study, that found it improved the performance of darts players. Also, this study found that it could improve cyclists’ speed by as much as 28%.

So, if positive self-talk can improve the performance of sports athletes, its effect on the mind and body is very powerful. It should therefore be possible to use positive self talk to improve confidence and success in daily activities also.

Negative self talk must be equally, if not even more powerful, but can we control this?

According to Hardy, Roberts and Hardy (2009), there are a variety of methods that can be used to control positive and negative self talk in sport. These involve stopping negative thoughts by challenging them or by responding with positive statements which cancel them out. These methods do seem to be quite commonly used because they seem to be effective.

How to Stop Negative Self Talk And Build Self Esteem

Before you can solve the problem of negative self talk and criticism you need to become more aware of it. When you hear yourself speak negatively, (yes that voice in your head is you), notice what it says and then you can decide how to respond.

Once you begin hearing the message that inner voice gives you, don’t let it pass without challenging it. Is it telling you the truth? Question that voice rather than just accepting what it says. Until now much of this has been unconscious and perhaps you didn’t even notice how negative this inner voice can be. The effects are very real though!

Be sure that the negative voice is not an honest one, and that it cannot be trusted to advise you truthfully. When you understand this, the next step is to answer it. Make a positive supporting comment to counteract the negative self talk. This way you will begin to change the way your mind works and start to encourage yourself.

So, next time you hear “you can’t give this presentation because you don’t know enough”, think about that and respond with “you can give a confident presentation by researching and preparing well”.

To improve your self esteem, confidence and success in life you need to develop a can do attitude. Challenging your negative self talk is one important way to do this.

Now that we’ve seen how you can take action to stop negative self-talk, it’s time to look at what causes it in the first place. It comes from deeply ingrained negative thinking. So what can you do about this, try following the steps below.

How Do I Stop Thinking Negatively?

No matter what’s currently going on in your life, you may have noticed that you’ve developed somewhat of a negative thought pattern and need to stop thinking negatively. Even when good things seem to happen, you can’t help but focus on the negatives. It’s time to think about how to stop these negative thoughts.

To stop thinking negatively it is necessary to work on changing thought patterns and shifting your focus toward the positives. There are some important ways to do this including:

  • Write a gratitude journal.
  • Practice meditation.
  • Surround yourself with positive people.
  • Use positive affirmations.
  • Lower your expectations.

Just like any type of self-improvement method, some things will work better for you than others. So, we’re going to be reviewing five key things you might want to try to encourage yourself to stop thinking negatively.

Write in a Gratitude Journal Daily and Be Thankful

In all reality, you might be focusing on the negatives in your life because you’ve simply forgotten about the positives. One way to center your attention on the positive areas of your life and stop thinking negatively is by writing your own gratitude journal. Just to clarify, gratitude basically means “to give thanks.”

There are several approaches to a gratitude journal

You can obviously use this tool as a regular journal and simply write about the good things that happened over the course of your day. If you’re not much of a writer, you can just create a gratitude list of things, people, events, or experiences that you’re thankful for. 

Better yet, you don’t have to write in your gratitude journal every day. Just write when you have something good to say or something good happens.

You can also crack open your gratitude journal when you’re feeling down and take a look at all of the positives that are happening in your life. You’ll notice over time that you’re much happier and thankful for the good things in life!

Note: You don’t have to share what you’ve written in your gratitude journal with anybody else. This is simply a tool for you and your personal growth.

Practice Meditation Each Day to Relax your Mind

Negative thoughts often happen with anxiety, depression, and even simple forms of continued stress. That means targeting these mindsets and attitudes through some form of meditation can actually help to shift your perspective! Better yet, meditation is scientifically proven to boost both your mood and thinking patterns.

There are several different meditation methods that might be useful to you. 

Mindfulness Meditation

Perhaps the most beneficial in the last few years is mindfulness meditation. This form of meditation requires you to clear your mind and focus on the present moment. You can practice mindfulness through guided body scans, deep breathing techniques, or even nature hikes.

Loving-Kindness Meditation

There’s also a meditation method called loving-kindness meditation. This meditation technique has you focus on building self-compassion and love by repeating mantras. The purpose is to reduce negative thoughts you might be harbouring toward yourself and others while shifting toward a more positive perspective.

What’s even better is that you don’t have to commit all that much time to meditation. Some meditation sessions can take as little as a few minutes.

Surround Yourself With Positive People

You might not even realize just how many personality traits and characteristics you’ve picked up just by spending time with your family, friends, or coworkers. That means you might actually be adopting negative thought patterns because of the people you surround yourself with. After all, you are who your friends are (in a sense!).

The first thing you should do is take a close look at the people closest to you.

If you notice that they’re negative, surrounded by drama, or always focusing on your pitfalls, it’s no wonder that you find yourself thinking negatively as well. It might be time to get yourself back out there and build new and positive friendships.

Sometimes it is necessary to accept that in close partnerships you may need to do some work on your relationship. Married couples, in particular, need to do this if they have problems communicating or if negativity creeps in between them. If you are experiencing this kind of difficulty then you might consider getting marriage counselling to resolve the issues.

Make New Friends with Successful, Optimistic People

Here are some key traits to look for in new friendships:

  • Successful (personally, financially, career-wise, etc.)
  • Incredible outlook on life
  • Always able to find the good in a bad situation
  • Takes initiative to fix the negatives in their own life
  • Naturally supportive

Though you might not want to entirely get rid of the negative people in your life, adding a few positive people will definitely help. You’ll begin to notice that your mood and thought patterns are wildly different when you’re with your old friends and your new friends.

Use Positive Affirmations to Inspire You to Dream

If your mind is particularly full of negative thoughts, one of the best things you can do is to actively try to change your thought patterns. Though they might seem a little silly at first, positive affirmations just might be what you need to focus on the positive qualities that you possess.

So, what exactly are positive affirmations?

Positive affirmations are sentences or phrases that you repeat back to yourself. They typically focus on things that you might feel less confident about, such as a lack of skill in a particular area of your life or an unfavorable personality trait that you might have.

A good example of a positive affirmation could be, “I am proud of myself.”

You might be assuming that this is a mantra that you have to repeat by looking at yourself in the mirror, but that’s not true! You can simply whisper them to yourself while at work, write them down on sticky-notes around the home, or even just set it as your smartphone wallpaper.

The goal of positive affirmations is to eventually truly believe the statements that you’re repeating to yourself. This can help to build confidence and positive thoughts about yourself in the future.

Lower Your Expectations So Success Becomes Easier

There’s a good chance that you’re focusing so much on the negatives because you have such high expectations for what you want to happen. Whenever you’re unable to reach certain goals, you might feel as if you’re a failure. High expectations can be a driving force behind motivation, but they often set you up for disappointment when you’re unsuccessful.

One of the best things you can do is to lower your expectations.

Now, that doesn’t mean to just get through life attempting to reach the bare minimum. It’s more about setting smaller and more realistic goals in your life that you have a greater chance of succeeding with.

If your only goal in life is to become a doctor, the only time you’ll experience success and positivity is if you actually become a doctor. If you can’t reach the one goal you had, you might view your entire life as completely negative.

Set Goals and Celebrate your Successes

On the other hand, if you set milestone goals along the way (i.e., Finish undergrad, get into med school, volunteer at a hospital, etc.), you’re much more likely to experience some form of success more frequently. Thus, greater positive thoughts and motivation.

After all, it’s only human nature to want success. Make sure you take the time to celebrate your successes, no matter how small.

Take Time to Enjoy Your Success

Essentially, give yourself the opportunity to experience more positives, success, and joy in your life. Try to avoid setting the standards you have for yourself so high and remember that life is short and meant to be enjoyed.

Use Self Hypnosis to Help You Think More Positively

If you want to stop being so negative then you should download this amazing self-hypnosis program – How to end your negative thoughts – it is a great way to use the power of your mind and help yourself today.

Conclusion

Negative thoughts aren’t unusual, but they can begin to impact your entire life if they become a little too overwhelming. Negative thinking can also ruin your career, confidence, relationships, and your future if they continue for too long.

The good news is that there are plenty of things that you can do to adjust your thinking patterns and improve the overall quality of your life. It’s more about finding a method that works best for you, your personality, and the current lifestyle that you’re living.

Sources

  • Forbes: Surrounding Yourself With the Right People Changes Everything. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jennifercohen/2018/12/04/surrounding-yourself-with-the-right-people-changes-everything/#4624759e7d09
  • Hamilton, R.A., Scott, D., & MacDougall, M.P. (2007). Assessing the effectiveness of self-talk interventions on endurance performance. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 19, 226–239.
  • Hardy, James & Roberts, Ross & Hardy, Lew. (2009). Awareness and Motivation to Change Negative Self-Talk. Sport Psychologist. 23. 435-450. 10.1123/tsp.23.4.435.
  • Harvard Health: Giving thanks can make you happier. https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier
  • Mindful: Getting Started with Mindfulness. https://www.mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/
  • Mindful: This Loving-Kindness Meditation is a Radical Act of Love. https://www.mindful.org/this-loving-kindness-meditation-is-a-radical-act-of-love/
  • NIH: Meditation induces a positive response during stress events in young Indian adults. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3193656/
  • NIH: Positive Emotion Correlates of Meditation Practice: A Comparison of Mindfulness Meditation and Loving-kindness Meditation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29201247
  • Tod, David & Hardy, James & Oliver, Emily. (2011). Effects of Self-Talk: A Systematic Review. Journal of sport & exercise psychology. 33. 666-87. 10.1123/jsep.33.5.666.
  • Van Raalte, J.L., Brewer, B.W., Lewis, B.P., Linder, D.E., Wildman, G., & Kozimor, J. (1995). Cork! The effects of positive and negative self-talk on dart throwing performance. Journal of Sport Behavior, 18, 50–57.
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Website Author and Your Guide

Karl Perera is a fully qualified Life Coach (DipLC), Teacher (MA) and author of the book Self Esteem Secrets. He has taught at various universities including Durham, Leicester and Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge. He has run More-SelfEsteem.com since 1997 since suffering from low self esteem for more than 25 years overcoming it in his thirties.

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