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5 Ways to Shut Down Negative Self-Talk

From Mike Tyson to Shaq, some professional athletes have gained a reputation for excelling at using trash talk to psyche out an opponent as much as the sports they dominate. But you don’t have to possess super star status to be the target of supreme put-downs.

If you had a classmate in elementary school make a “your momma is so ugly” joke, got dissed for that wicked cool hat you wore in a social media post or had a co-worker cast doubt on your decision-making skills in the middle of an important presentation, you have experienced trash talk that can spark self-doubt. No matter what another person says though, trash talk is most damaging when you are doing it to yourself.

I used to be the LeBron James of negative self-talk, able to dash my own hopes and self-worth with well-placed zingers that rarely were spoken out loud. Knocked my appearance, especially when it came to a long-term struggle with extra pounds. Questioned my intelligence compared to high school friends who attended Ivy League colleges. Told myself I’d always be the funny sidekick instead of the star of my own romantic comedy. My outsides might have changed when I got healthy by age 27, shedding obesity and approximately one-third of my size through better nutrition and exercise. But it took a long time for my insides to catch up. For me, negative self-talk still held center stage until I actively found ways to stop the barrage.

With all of the recent turmoil in the world kicking our collective butts, why make it worse by putting yourself down? Here are 5 ways to quickly improve your well-being by shutting down negative self-talk:

Negative reinforcement may have worked for you in the past. Perhaps a coach shouting that your team sucked caused you to push harder and win a big game or you had a breakthrough at work when determined to prove a supervisor’s criticisms were wrong. However, adopting negative self-talk as an on-going strategy can hurt you on a long-term basis.

In this “Self-Talk and Sports Performance” article, authors Judy L. Van Raalte and Andrew Vincent found that both instructional and motivational self-talk have been shown to enhance performance. Negative self-talk increases motivation and performance in some circumstances but is generally detrimental to sport performance. The same is true in your personal and professional life. Making a conscious decision to change this behavior is the first step.

Unfortunately, trying to ignore negative self-talk can be ineffective. Rather than stick your fingers in your ears and chant “I can’t hear you,” pause and listen intently to what your inner saboteur, that internal critic who has been chanting puts downs and worst-case scenarios, has to say. Often those comments originally stemmed from a desire to protect yourself from being hurt and along the way it got twisted into a negativity fest.

I educate my inner saboteur via a journal entry. After noting what the inner saboteur is trying to express, I thank that voice for any original positive intent or benefit that might have been gained from her protection in the past. Then I explain how I have outgrown those beliefs and why it is time to behave differently now.

Sometimes, we all have a bad day — the past year was sure filled with plenty for millions of people worldwide. That’s when the inner saboteur thinks they can climb back over the border and re-establish residency. The key is to recognize when their whispers start in the form of negative self-talk and shut it down immediately.

When you hear the inner criticism start, change it to praise. Look for what makes you awesome and give yourself examples to serve as evidence. Change a “you’re never going to wear that dress size again” to “look at that kick-ass muscle tone in your arms, who cares about a number on a label.”

Think about how you talk to your BFF’s. When they come to you with a great opportunity or a challenge that scares the heck out of them, how do you respond? I’m guessing with support, pointing out their previous successes, coaching them on how to handle obstacles and providing reassurance about why they’ve got a handle on the situation. Take a step back now and do that for yourself. Reinforce the good rather than focusing on the possibilities of being less than or a failure.

Within this New York Times piece on the benefits of self-talk, University of Michigan Psychology Professor Dr. Ethan Kross notes that motivating yourself out loud can be an effective tool. When studying the impact of internal self-talk, Kross found that when subjects talked about themselves in the second or third person (i.e. “you can do this” or “Shira can do this” instead of “I can do this,” they felt less anxiety while performing and peers also rated their performances better. Taking a page from this classic Seinfeld episode, start thinking about yourself in the third person. List reasons why “you” rather than “I” are going to soar, writing them down and/or speaking it out loud. There’s a lot of power in this tactic.

Getting rid of negative self-talk has increased my happiness and well-being. Taking time to shut down that negative inner monologue is well worth the effort.

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