Overcoming negative self talk
Most people talk to themselves constantly – not out loud, but in their heads. Self talk is natural, it’s your inner voice; the voice that says things you don’t usually say out loud. It can run along in the background without you even realising it. And often, if your self talk is negative rather than positive, it can stop you achieving your potential – both in your personal and professional life.
After all, if you tell yourself enough times that you’re not good enough, clever enough or confident enough to do something – finding a great new job, perhaps, meeting your ideal partner or losing weight by starting a new diet – there’s a good chance you’ll talk yourself out of even trying. In other words, negative self talk can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. And it may even affect your health and wellbeing, with studies suggesting negative self-talk can lead to increased stress.
Not sure whether your self talk is negative or positive? Ask yourself which of the following are you most likely to say to yourself on a regular basis?
I’m hopeless at doing new things
I love to learn something new
I’m not good enough to pass my exams
I’m going to study really hard and pass my exams
I’ll never make this work
I love a challenge
Bad things always happen to me
I always have good luck
Of course there are no prizes for guessing which of these statements are negative and which are positive. But even though most people recognise negative self-talk when they see it written down in black and white – and realise it can make them feel miserable about themselves – it’s a common problem. One solution is to challenge it and replace it with thoughts that are more positive.
Practise makes perfect
Changing your self-talk from negative to positive won’t happen overnight. It’s a skill you have to practise regularly. But the more you do it, the easier it will become.
First, be aware of the way you’re thinking – listen to what you’re saying to yourself throughout the day, and whenever you realise you’re talking to yourself negatively, ask yourself the following questions:
Is my self-talk based in fact or just my interpretation of events?
Are things really as bad as I’m making them out to be?
What’s the worst thing that could happen (and how likely is it)?
Will this matter or even be remembered in five years?
How might I see things differently if my self-talk was positive?
How would I handle this if I was more confident?
What would I say to my best friend if they were in this situation?
Are these thoughts helping me to feel good or achieve my goals?
By challenging your self talk on a regular basis it can become easier to change the negative thoughts into more positive ones, or at least see things from a different perspective.
For instance, when you catch yourself telling yourself that you can’t do something, try to replace that thought with a more positive one such as, ‘What can I do that will help make this easier?’ Or if you notice you’re thinking it’s always your fault when something goes wrong, try to turn that thought around and ask yourself what you can learn from the situation to make things work out better next time.
If it helps, write down your negative thoughts and question how accurate they are, then write down what a more positive, confident person would say instead. And remember, it’s not possible or realistic to think positively all of the time – it’s even fair to say that negative self-talk can have a positive purpose in certain situations and may help keep you safe and prevent accidents. The trick is to find a healthy balance between the 2.
To find out more, read our article about overcoming negative thinking.
If you’re affected by stress, call us to find out about services we offer that could help, such as our online therapy SilverCloud programme.
We also offer free courses to past and present ICAEW members and their families that look at ways of adopting a positive attitude, such as Developing and Maintaining a Growth Mindset.
For advice and information call +44 (0) 1788 556 366 or chat to an advisor online 24 hours a day.