Here’s an article I wrote for a Syracuse University health newsletter. I’m publishing it on Project Eve as a good, quick reminder of the basics of eliminating negative self-talk and as a reminder of the roots of my blog: the book project, Handbook #1 for Intelligent Women: Break the Negative Self-Talk Habit. I’m now thinking of different titles: Ban Negative Self-Talk or The Internal Revolution, the title of Sheryl Sandberg’s Introductory chapter to Lean In.
Negative self–talk is a useless habit that keeps us stuck, feeling miserable. Those ugly thoughts blast us, ”I’m not good enough,” “ I’m an imposter” or ask, “What’s wrong with me?” Regardless of whether you call that inner voice your critic, a demon, or the pain in the neck, it creates stress, reduces confidence, and decreases productivity. Now is the time to kick the habit.
Here are three major skills you can practice. Research supports the effectiveness of all three in combating self-sabotage. What works best for you?
• Cognitive restructuring is psycho-babble for changing what you’re thinking and saying to yourself.
1.Change the thought from negative to neutral/realistic. E.g. “I’m making this situation worse. What an idiot!” to “I’m managing the situation. That’s good enough for now.”
2. Visualize a STOP sign blocking the inner critic or turn down the volume on the inner NST or imagine the words of the critic evaporate like steam.
3. Use a short realistic/neutral phrase to drown out the critical voice. “It is what it is.” “I will be fine and I will be OK.” “I can do this.” “I’m starting to relax. Just breathe.” Repeat in robot-like pattern until the inner critic shushes. When the NST returns (it will) choose another similar phrase and repeat the same phrase or use another one. Establish a habit pattern. e.g. breath in and say “Let”, breathe out and say “Go”, thinking about letting go of the words and sounds of the inner critic.
• Problem-solving thinking produces another proven way to reduce the stress of NST.
- Ask. Do I have some control over the situation that’s the focus of negative self-talk? Work problems, appearance issues, relationships?
- If you have control, then identify the problem, gather some information, generate possible solutions, try one out and evaluate. It’s a cyclical process, so if your solution didn’t work, try another one. If you have no control over the situation, move on to skill three, detachment or letting go.
• Detachment and distraction moves you away from nasty NST and the resulting bummed out feelings.
1. Shift your attention from the negative self-talk to external events, views, actions: take a short walk, read a brief passage from a book, a report, a newspaper, focus on the view out the window, pull up some weeks, watch a funny You Tube clip. Letting go of the NST will result in increased comfort and confidence. Remember — NST increases stress, decreases confidence, diminished productivity. Doing something else other than NST with your mind is almost always preferable.
Recent neuroscience research says breaking a habit is harder than previously believed, but it can be done. The old NST habit has to be weakened before the new realistic thinking habit can be acquired, so start now to leave negative self-talk behind you by 2015!
If you want more information about any of these techniques, just search for the key words cognitive restructuring, problem-solving, and detachment on You’ll come up with more posts about each of these important how to’s.
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