Growing up, we are taught to be kind and respectful in the way that we speak to and about others, but not much teaching is done on the subject of how we speak to ourselves.
The way that we speak to and think about ourselves has a profound effect on our ability to be happy and accomplish the things we want out of life. Negative self talk can lower our performance and make it hard to enjoy the journey while positive self talk can make us work harder, achieve more, and find more satisfaction in our daily lives. If you suffer from negative self talk, you might benefit from this simple guide to changing your thought patterns.
Step One: Evaluation
The first step to overcoming negative self-talk is to evaluate how prevalent it is in your inner vocabulary. You might be surprised by the level of negativity you subject yourself to on a daily basis.
You can evaluate your thoughts through journaling. Keep track of your thoughts by jotting them down throughout the day or summarizing them before bed. After collecting a sufficient sample of thoughts, analyze them for negatively colored statements and ideas. Here are some phrases and concepts to look out for:
This and other generalizing words such as “never”, “no one”, “everyone” and “every time” can usually be found in negative statements. They can make problems seem pervasive, permanent and hopeless, making them much more difficult to overcome.
We all experience ups and downs throughout the day – this is an undeniable fact. There’s nothing wrong with taking note of bad things that happen, but if your thoughts and recordings seem to focus on the negative much more than the positive, this is a sign of an overall negative thought pattern.
It makes it much more difficult to find happiness in the present if you are casting your mind into the future and visualizing bleak consequences coming your way.
Guessing what others are thinking is an impossible task but sometimes we still try. Imagining the negative thoughts and feelings of others toward yourself can make socializing and strengthening relationships more challenging and exhausting.
Phrases that include words such as “must”, “should”, “have to”, and “ought” might also include guilt. When you think in terms of guilt, your self-worth can be affected along with your ability to handle problems.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, blame statements allow you to pawn your problems off onto other people but this is a false solution. Blaming others for the difficult things in your life may take the weight of responsibility off your hands but it also takes away your ability to do anything about it, leaving you at the mercy of your circumstances.
Once you’ve attached a label to something, it’s hard to see it in any other way – this is why labeling can be so harmful. If you put yourself in a box labeled lazy it’s going to be very difficult to get out of it or do anything contrary to it.
Making it Personal
If you are prone to negative thinking, it may seem like everything around you is your fault. Your friend was in a bad mood yesterday – it must have been because of something you did. Your boss mentions that the team needs to work on quality – it must be your work specifically that he’s talking about. Adding the weight of everyone else’s feelings and thoughts to your own makes for a very heavy load to carry.
Step Two: Prevention
Now that you recognize the thought patterns that are hurting you, here are some ways of combatting them:
This may seem like an overly simplistic solution, but don’t underestimate its power. Every time you find a negative thought bubbling up in your mind, say “stop” to yourself to make the thought go away. For maximum impact, make it an actual verbal, outloud command.
Keep a rubber band around your wrist so that each time a negative thought creeps up you can snap the band at your wrist as a negative consequence. The idea is that over time the association between negative thoughts and the pain of the band will discourage you from thinking negatively.
Probably the best way of stopping negative self talk is to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. It may take a bit of work at first to change your thought patterns, but eventually positive statements will come more naturally. Ways of making your thoughts more positive include:
- Toning down strong statements such as “hate” and “angry” to “dislike” and “bothered.” This helps prevent things from being blown out of proportion.
- Avoid limiting statements such as “I can’t do this.” Instead, phrase it as a question in order to leave room for hope and optimism.
As you take steps to improve your thought patterns, don’t be discouraged. Keep in mind that your way of thinking has been developed over years and will take a lot of hard work to change, but this doesn’t make it impossible. By making small, consistent efforts, you can start to think more positively about yourself and more optimistically about the future.