Everyone has an inner critic — that little voice that criticises our actions and motives.
Sometimes this little voice can be helpful, providing us with useful criticism that drives us to achieve greater things.
However, it can sometimes be unrelentingly negative, which can cause us to doubt our abilities or to obsess about negative events in our past.
If this kind of negative self-talk continues for a long time, it can erode your confidence and increase your stress levels.
Negative self-talk can even contribute to serious mental health conditions like depression and anxiety if it is not addressed.
In this post, I’ll share a few effective techniques for silencing your inner critic.
These techniques will help you replace negative criticisms with positive thoughts and will result in a reduction of your stress levels.
What is negative self-talk?
Negative self-talk is any repetitive inner dialogue that has a very negative impact on your thoughts and feelings.
This negative impact can result in you making changes to your behaviour that also have negative consequences.
Negative self-talk is different to intentional self-criticism.
Negative self-talk seems to occur randomly and often feels like it is completely out of your control.
It is usually unrelentingly negative and often not based in reality.
This is different to intentional self-criticism, where you are purposefully looking at your own behaviour and identifying where you need to do better.
Negative self-talk is mean, irrational, delusional, and holds no value.
For example, thoughts like “I am a horrible person”, “I never do well at tests” or “I’ll fail this class and won’t get into college” are worthless as they only cause harm.
This kind of negative self-talk can cause you to doubt yourself and may limit your potential.
There are several categories of negative self-talk including:
This is a very common form of negative self-talk, where your inner voice tells you that you are worthless, not a good person or incapable of love.
These horrible thoughts will erode your confidence and self-esteem very quickly.
These kinds of thoughts are never true, as everyone is valuable and has the capacity to be loving and kind.
These negative thoughts may be triggered when interacting with someone else.
Your inner voice might will tell you what the other person is thinking about you.
Typically, your inner voice will suggest that the other person thinks you are an idiot or boring.
This type of negative self-talk is entirely fictional as your inner voice is guessing what the other person is thinking.
“Should have” statements
Life is full of decisions.
Sometimes we choose the right course of action and other times we do not.
“Should have” negative self-talk occurs when you are constantly thinking about mistakes that you made in the past and dwelling on what you should or shouldn’t have done.
This kind of self-reflection can be fine in small doses, but if you repeatedly dwell on a poor decision you have made it can cause a great deal of stress.
Negative predictions of the future
Negative self-talk sometimes occurs when you are thinking about events that may occur in the future.
For example, if you have a speech to give next week, negative self-talk may involve predictions that it will not go well and will be poorly received.
The devastating toll of negative self-talk
Unfortunately, persistent negative self-talk can be quite damaging.
Some of the ways that it can have a negative impact on your life include:
- Higher levels of stress
- Lower levels of self esteem
- Limited thinking (because you tell yourself you can never achieve certain things)
- Feelings of helplessness
- Anxiety and depression
- Perfectionism (because your inner voice is always telling you your work is not good enough)
- Relationship problems (because you constantly assume that others are thinking negative things and you struggle to communicate effectively)
Ways to reduce negative self-talk
Changing the way that you talk to yourself can be a difficult undertaking, because negative self-talk can become an ingrained habit.
However, there are many effective techniques that you can use to prevent negative self-talk including:
Be mindful of negative thoughts
The first step to dealing with negative thoughts is be aware that they are happening.
Spend an hour each day being mindful of your thoughts.
This will help you spot any negative self-talk, allowing you to process these thoughts in different ways.
Think about how you talk to yourself in normal situations
The way that someone communicates with you will greatly impact how you interpret what they are saying.
This is also true for the way you speak to yourself.
Is your inner voice judgemental, mean and sarcastic?
If so, that will mean that even positive self-talk may be taken the wrong way.
Focus on making your inner voice calm, forgiving, and friendly.
After all — if you can’t be nice to yourself, who can you be nice to?
Give your inner critic a nickname
When you catch a negative thought re-assign the blame for that thought to an imaginary character.
Give that character a made-up name like “Negative Nigel”.
As negative thoughts appear, remind yourself that they have come from Nigel and you don’t have to accept his opinion.
This will let you process the thought before it has an emotional impact and avoid blaming yourself for self-criticism (which can form a vicious cycle).
Challenge your inner critic
Negative self-talk is psychologically damaging because your first impulse is to accept your own thoughts as being true.
This lets negative thought take hold of your emotions and trigger feelings of stress.
In reality, most of the negative thoughts you experience are works of fiction.
They are making predictions about the future, imagining what is in someone else’s head, or creating imaginary future scenarios (usually very bad ones).
Be ready to challenge these kinds of negative thoughts.
Ask yourself how logical the thought is.
Remind yourself that you can’t predict the future so any negative thoughts about the future are pure fiction.
Remember that you have complete control over your thoughts, feelings, and actions — including the ability to reject negative predictions about future events.
Write out your negative thoughts
Start a journal to document the negative self-talk that regularly pops into your head.
At the end of each day, go through the items and classify each thought.
You will quickly discover that most of these thoughts are pointless and mean, or they make fantastical predictions about the future, or they are about events in the past which cannot be changed.
By categorising these negative thoughts, you will discover how flawed and pointless they truly are.
Validate your negative feelings
One clever approach to dealing with negative self-talk is to identify the emotion that is responsible for the thought and then validate the emotion’s existence.
For example, if you experience negative self-talk relating to an upcoming exam, it is probably caused by anxiety and fear.
When you experience these thoughts, validate those emotions by reminding yourself it is normal to feel anxiety and fear about a test.
Once you have validated that emotion, it is “processed” and your negative thought will have far less emotional impact.
See a cognitive behavioural therapist
If you feel that negative self-talk is beginning to have a serious impact on your life, consider seeing a cognitive behavioural therapist.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapist (CBT) consists of numerous strategies that can help you identify and change habits like negative self-talk.
Thanks for reading Positive thinking: Reduce Stress By Eliminating Negative Self-talk.
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