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How to Stop Negative Self Talk

Written by Karl Perera BA, MA, DipLC
Updated: September 28th, 2020

self esteem and anxiety

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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).

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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.


  • Hamilton, R.A., Scott, D., & MacDougall, M.P. (2007). Assessing the effectiveness of selftalk 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.
  • 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 Editor Bio

Photo of Karl Perera, MA, DipLC Karl Perera is a fully qualified Life Coach (DipLC), Teacher (MA) and author of Self Esteem Secrets. He has taught at various universities including Durham, Leicester and Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge. He has run since 1997 and is an expert in Self Esteem and Self Confidence.