First, what is negative self-talk?
Negative self-talk is somewhat self-explanatory; it’s the inner dialogue we have with ourselves that happens to be…not-so-upfliting. Negative self-talk is made up of both conscious thoughts (thoughts we’re aware that we’re having) or unconscious beliefs and assumptions about ourselves that tend to go unnoticed by our conscious mind. An example of an unconscious belief is being told as a child that you weren’t good enough in some way, and that belief following you around in your adulthood. While it may not be at the forefront of your thoughts, it could be preventing you from applying to certain jobs, dating certain people, etc.
Self talk is non-discriminatory
Someone who is depressed is more than likely engaging in negative self-talk for the better part of their day, but depression is not required to engage in negative self-talk.
Our mind has a continuous transcript of thoughts, day and night. Sometimes they are positive (I can’t wait for vacation this weekend!) or mundane (I wonder who discovered cheese?).
Other times, they can be downright mean.
- “I’m never going to pass this test.”
- “I’m never going to get the job I want.”
- “I’m the worst.”
- “Why did you say that? No wonder no one likes you.”
- “You’re so ugly.”
So, how does one go about changing, challenging, or altogether eradicating negative thoughts?
Step 1: Start noticing and keeping track of your thoughts
- The easiest way to recognize negative self-talk is to pay attention to your moods. When you’re in a bad mood (angry, annoyed, lonely, anxious, etc), try and focus on the thoughts that come up.
- If you feel comfortable/have time to write some of them down, GREAT. If not, just take a mental inventory.
- Even doing just THIS step is helpful, but finishing the steps is what will give you the greatest success.
Step 2: Assess the validity and truth of the thought
- In cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), this is called reality testing. It is incredibly helpful, and very easy to accomplish. Ask yourself questions like:
- Is this thought accurate? Is it a fact?
- Would someone else (an outsider) say the same thing about me?
- Is this me talking? Or is this something I’ve heard from my parents, ex-boyfriend, bad friend, etc. that I’ve taken on to believe?
- Consider alternative interpretations: Are there ANY other possible outcomes for the situation, that don’t necessarily reflect negatively on you?
Step 3: Replace with more appropriate, realistic thoughts
- Once you dissect your negative self-talk, try and come up with alternative thoughts for those that you’ve found to be irrational or inaccurate.
- The thoughts that replace your negative thoughts MUST be REALISTIC.
- Often my clients would replace their negative thoughts with fluffy, ultra-positive thoughts, hoping this would help. (Turns out, it doesn’t.)
- It doesnt help because in order for you to believe the thought and your subconscious to take hold of it, it needs to be within reason.
- For example, if you have a negative thought of, “I can’t find a job anywhere. I’m never going to work anywhere again,” don’t replace it with, ” I am going to get a job at a huge company and become the next Elon Musk!”
- Maybe try, “I am having a difficult time finding a job right now. But, the job market is tough right now, and I know that if I put my best effort forward I will find a job.”
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Identifying, challenging, and replacing your negative thoughts can have a tremendous effect on your mood. Over time, and with practice, it will no longer require effort. You’ll be able to correct your negative self-talk before it even starts!