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What Is Negative Self-Talk (And Why Does It Keep You Stuck)?

The following is adapted from The Self Help Book by Jared Graybeal.

When you lay your head down at night, do any of these thoughts enter your mind?

  • “Why did I do that?”
  • “Why am I so awkward?”
  • “They probably think I’m so dumb.”

If so, you are well-acquainted with the pesky voice of negative self-talk, which is an inner dialogue you have with yourself. This “inner critic,” may sound a lot like a demanding parent, a not-so-great friend, or a crazy ex that you dated for too long.

Aside from how it manifests, negative self-talk is any thought that diminishes you and your ability to make positive changes in your life or your confidence in your ability to do so. As a result, that voice in your head may be limiting your ability to reach your potential.

Why is negative self-talk harmful?

Negative self-talk is just words, right? How harmful can words really be? Well, as it turns out, much more harmful than you might have expected. Here’s why: our perception is most often our reality, so what we think will eventually manifest itself in some pretty unhealthy ways.

Studies have linked negative self-talk with lower self-esteem, higher levels of stress, decreased motivation, greater feelings of helplessness, depression, and relationship challenges.

If you find yourself actively engaging in this type of dialogue with yourself, then you know the feeling. Negativity is a self-deprecating cycle that can make progress and reaching the goals you set for yourself very difficult. 

How can you shift your self-talk? 

So, what’s the solution to negative self-talk? Shift to positive self-talk. 

Just like negative self-talk is a predictor of complacency, positive self-talk has an effect on your reality, making it much easier to reach your goals and continuously grow. 

For example, one study on athletes found that positive self-talk was the greatest predictor of success. People didn’t need to remind themselves how to do something as much as they needed to tell themselves that they are doing something great and that others notice it as well. 

Once you commit to changing your self-talk from negative to positive, you have to start paying more attention to yourself. When you begin to recognize moments where you internalize negative self-talk or say it out loud, you have to catch yourself in that moment and reframe it.

Shifting your self-talk can start small.

When you start to recognize your negative self-talk, it can be overwhelming! You might even start to criticize yourself about your negative self-talk (cue eye roll). I know because I’ve been there. But don’t worry! You aren’t doomed to focus on abstract “just start thinking positively” mantras.

Here are a few actionable, concrete ways that I’ve found to help recognize and reshape your negative self-talk. 

Keep a Journal

This is one of the simplest, yet most effective ways to identify your negative self-talk. Whether you want to carry a journal around with you or wait until the end of the day, make a habit of jotting down negative comments that occur to you. This will help you examine your inner process and address those thoughts with clarity.  

Think Like a (Good) Friend

We say things to ourselves that we would NEVER say to other people, especially our good friends. Even when we’re being brutally honest, we usually try to do it with grace and kindness. Next time you have a negative thought about yourself, just ask, “Would I say this to a good friend, or would a good friend of mine say this to me?” If not, reevaluate your self-talk. 

Use the Rubber-Band Trick

My childhood therapist taught me the “rubber band trick” to help me stop biting my nails. It worked, and it’s something I still use to this day.

Anytime I’d catch myself biting my nails or saying something mean, I’d pull the rubber band back and let it snap. It caused a little pain, but it created a negative association and an unfavorable consequence for those actions, which made me want to do it less and less over time. 

Realistic Reframing 

Reframing is a technique used in therapy to help create a different way to look at something. In this instance, we are going to reframe your potentially negative perspective to a more realistic one. For example, instead of saying, “I’m a bad test taker,” you would say to yourself, “In the past, I have had a harder time than most people with tests, so in order to do well on this next test, I just need to find alternative ways to study to make sure I remember the content. I’m a smart person, and I always remember this stuff when it comes to real-life situations, so I’m sure I can find a way to remember it for a test.”

Doing this won’t change everything in your life right away, but after creating a habit of reframing your negative self-talk to something more positive and realistic, in time you will do this without thinking about it. You’ll be a completely different person—in the best way.

Self-talk matters.

How we talk to ourselves makes a huge impact on our confidence, which in turn makes a huge impact on our personal growth. If we want to begin to open up the door of momentum and growth in our own lives, we have to start by examining the way we communicate with ourselves. 

I believe that, if you can become your greatest and most honest advocate, your goals will look more achievable, your life will look more interesting, and your future will look brighter.  

For more advice on positive self-talk, you can find The Self Help Book on Amazon.

My mission is to encourage, educate, and empower others to live happier, healthier lives. I am a NASM-certified personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, behavioral change specialist, CrossFit Level 2 trainer, and corrective exercise specialist with an education in marketing and psychology from the University of North Florida. I own and operate two companies. One is Superfit Foods, a healthy, subscription-based, fully customizable meal prep company. The other is E3, a business consulting and marketing agency. I’ve done a few cool things, like exhibiting Superfit Foods at Forbes Under 30 and giving a TEDx Talk on nutrition and mental health, and every day I get to work hard at doing what I love.

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