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We’ve all heard that voice in our heads — the one that can reflect on mistakes or replay cringe-worthy events. Sometimes, it can be downright rude or unkind, with harsh criticism and judgments about our work, appearance, or personality. Our mental chatter is what we call self-talk, and it can be positive and negative. But what do we do if inside our head isn’t a kind place to be?

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Consequences of Negative Self-Talk Negative self-talk can affect us in some damaging ways. One large-scale study found that rumination and self-blame over negative events were linked to an increased risk of mental health problems.Focusing on negative thoughts may lead to decreased motivation as well as greater feelings of helplessness. Those who find themselves frequently engaging in negative self-talk tend to be more stressed. This is in large part due to the fact that their reality is altered to create an experience where they don’t have the ability to reach the goals they’ve set for themselves.Negative self-talk can lead to a lowered ability to see opportunities, as well as a decreased tendency to capitalize on these opportunities. This means that the heightened sense of stress comes from both the perception and the changes in behaviour that come from it. Other consequences of negative self-talk can include:

• Limited thinking: The more you tell yourself you can’t do something, the more you believe it.

• Perfectionism: You begin to really believe that “great” isn’t as good as “perfect,” and that perfection is actually attainable. In contrast, mere high achievers tend to do better than their perfectionistic counterparts because they are generally less stressed and are happy with a job well done. They don’t pick it apart and try to zero in on what could have been better.

• Feelings of depression: Some research has shown that negative self-talk can lead to an exacerbation of feelings of depression. If left unchecked, this could be quite damaging.

• Relationship challenges: Whether the constant self-criticism makes you seem needy and insecure or you turn your negative self-talk into more general negative habits that bother others, a lack of communication and even a “playful” amount of criticism can take a toll.

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How to Minimize Negative Self-Talk?There are many ways to reduce the self-talk in your daily life. Different strategies work better for different people, so try a few on and see which ones are most effective for you.Catch Your Critic Learn to notice when you’re being self-critical so you can begin to stop. For example, notice when you say things to yourself that you wouldn’t say to a good friend or a child. Remember That Thoughts and Feelings Aren’t Always Reality Thinking negative things about yourself may feel like astute observations, but your thoughts and feelings about yourself can definitely not be considered accurate information. Your thoughts can be skewed like everyone else’s, subject to biases and the influence of your moods.Give Your Inner Critic a Nickname There was once a “Saturday Night Live” character known as Debbie Downer. She would find the negative in any situation. If your inner critic has this dubious skill as well, you can tell yourself, “Debbie Downer is doing her thing again.”
When you think of your inner critic as a force outside of yourself and even give it a goofy nickname, it’s not only easier to realize that you don’t have to agree, but it becomes less threatening and easier to see how ridiculous some of your critical thoughts can be.

Change Negativity to Neutrality When engaging in negative self-talk, you may be able to catch yourself, but it can sometimes be difficult to force yourself to stop a train of thought in its tracks. It’s often far easier to change the intensity of your language. “I can’t stand this” becomes, “This is challenging.” “I hate…” becomes, “I don’t like…” and even, “I don’t prefer…” When your self-talk uses more gentle language, much of its negative power is muted as well.Cross-Examine Your Inner Critic One of the damaging aspects of negative self-talk is that it often goes unchallenged. After all, if it’s going on in your head, others may not be aware of what you’re saying and thus can’t tell you how wrong you are.

It’s far better to catch your negative self-talk and ask yourself how true it is. The vast majority of negative self-talk is an exaggeration and calling yourself on this can help to take away its damaging influence.

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Think Like a Friend When our inner critic is at its worst, it can sound like our worst enemy. Often, we’ll say things to ourselves in our heads that we’d never say to a friend. Why not reverse this and—when you catch yourself speaking negatively in your head—make it a point to imagine yourself saying this to a treasured friend.
If you know you wouldn’t say it this way, think of how you’d share your thoughts with a good friend or what you’d like a good friend to say to you. This is a great way to shift your self-talk in general.

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Shift Your Perspective Sometimes looking at things in the long term can help you to realize that you may be placing too great an emphasis on something. For example, you may ask yourself if something you’re upset by will really matter in five years or even one.

Another way to shift perspective is to imagine that you are panning out and looking at your problems from a great distance. Even thinking of the world as a globe and of yourself as a tiny, tiny person on this globe can remind you that most of your worries aren’t as big as they seem. This can often minimize the negativity, fear, and urgency in negative self-talk.

If you know you wouldn’t say it this way, think of how you’d share your thoughts with a good friend or what you’d like a good friend to say to you. This is a great way to shift your self-talk in general.Say it Out LoudSometimes when you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts in your mind, simply saying them aloud can help. Telling a trusted friend what you’re thinking about can often lead to a good laugh and shine a light on how ridiculous some of our negative self-talk can be. Other times, it can at least bring support.

Even saying some negative self-talk phrases around under your breath can remind you how unreasonable and unrealistic they sound. This will remind you to give yourself a break.Stop That Thought For some, simply stopping negative thoughts in their tracks can be helpful. This is known as “thought-stopping” and can take the form of snapping a rubber band on your wrist, visualizing a stop sign, or simply changing to another thought when a negative one enters your mind. This can be helpful with repetitive or extremely critical thoughts like, “I’m no good,” or, “I’ll never be able to do this,” for example.Replace the Bad With Some Good This is one of the best routes to combating negative self-talk: Replace it with something better. Take a negative thought and change it to something encouraging that’s also accurate.

Repeat until you find yourself needing to do it less and less often. This works well with most bad habits: replacing unhealthy food with healthy food, for example. It’s a great way to develop a more positive way of thinking about yourself and about life.