Put an End to Negative Self-Talk With These 4 Tips

Your friend just walked in wearing an outfit that's not flattering, so you let her know she looks terrible. You're the first to let your co-worker know his presentation was awful at work.

Sound unlikely? That's because it is! Most of us don't speak harshly to others, so why is it easy to talk to ourselves this way? Most everyone has that inner voice talking and guiding them through their daily decisions, and it is ideally providing confidence, allaying fears and helping you follow the right path through life. However, if that voice defaults to a negative tone, it can keep you from trusting your instincts or work to paralyze you from making decisions.

If it's a regular habit, you might even overlook this inner dialog. That stops now—it's time to take notice of your inner critic and challenge your brain's perspective. Besides being unproductive, negative self-talk and pessimism can have a negative effect on your health and quality of life.  

Keep a growth mindset rather than a fixed one. 

Hypnotherapist Helen Wyer, founder of Advance Hypnotherapy, believes that a fixed mindset keeps us stuck with no room for growth and change. "Examples of a fixed mindset [include statements such as] 'I'm just an anxious person', 'That's just who I am' or 'I can't do that,''' she explains.

A growth mindset, on the other hand, encourages the belief that you can develop and improve your capabilities over time. While it may be difficult to shift immediately to positive statements such as 'I can do that', Wyer suggests adding phrases such as 'at the moment' or 'yet' to the end. "This gives the mind an instruction that you want to change and find a way forward. For example, 'I can't do that yet' implies that you will be able to in future," she says. 

Give it your full attention. 

"When it comes to positive self-talk, many of us probably just mumble something like, 'Come on!' while we mindlessly push ahead through whatever is troubling us at the moment," observes J.A. Plosker, host of The Nobody Guide to Life podcast. "What if we focused that self-talk? How much more powerful would it be?" Plosker suggests making it an intentional act. "If you're feeling down or stressed, stop and take a deep breath. Choose your words with intention and say them like you mean them," he advises.  For example, instead of focusing in on the bad, consider thinking, "I know this is hard, but you've done hard things before and you can absolutely do this." Turning a few mumbled words in a difficult moment into mindful practice will redirect your energy where you want it to go.

Don't try to jump too far down the positivity spectrum.

"If positive self-talk doesn't come naturally, choose a more positive thought, but also make sure it is believable and feels true to you," says life coach Lorrie Gray. "For example, if your current thought is, 'I hate everything about myself,' then repeating, 'I love everything about myself,' will feel like a lie and may ultimately do more harm than good. A new thought such as, 'I like some things about myself,' is significantly more positive, but also believable. These gentle shifts are the best place to start." Once you feel comfortable in this slightly more positive way of thinking, you'll be able to shift even closer toward complete positivity.

Avoid labelling yourself.

Wyer believes that labels make habits and behaviors part of your identity. "Habits are easier to change than our identity, so this is extremely important," she asserts. For example, "I'm an anxious person" can be changed to "I have anxious thoughts at times." "By taking a step back, it becomes a behavior rather than an identity. By using 'at times,' it allows room for change."  Wyer advises her clients that if they can be calm at times—which even the most anxious person can be—the mind starts to accept that these time periods can be extended and, thus, behaviors can change.

3 Exercises to Improve Self-Talk

1. Choose your words. Shelli Johnson, author of "Start Where You Are Weight Loss" recommends choosing three empowering foundational words to describe yourself.
  • I am _______.
  • I am _______.
  • I am _______.

"Look in the mirror every morning and say those three sentences to yourself. Repeat them throughout the day when you need some motivation," she advises.

2. Start a gratitude journal. As an alternate approach, begin each day by saying three things you are grateful for and write them in a journal, suggests neuropsychologist Judy Ho. "Reflect on things you appreciate about yourself. If you have difficulty, simply thank your body for allowing you to do certain things, like having strong legs for walking." Once they become more comfortable, Ho encourages clients to graduate to attributes ("I am a hard worker") and values ("I am an honest person with good ethics").   

3. Ask yourself the A-B-C questions. "When you have negative thoughts, ask yourself if the thought is accurate, balanced or complete," recommends Ho. "If it's not, try to reframe the thought by saying 'Yes, but.' This way, you acknowledge that something isn't going well but you are actively [taking steps] to improve the situation." For example, "Yes, I lost my job, but I'm finding new ways to connect with my family and will find another one."

These simple exercises and small shifts in thinking can make a significant difference in how you speak to and feel about yourself. Don't be afraid to challenge your inner critic because, oftentimes, he or she is wrong.