How to Stop Negative Self-Talk: A 14-Step Guide

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Self-talk can empower you if it's positive and hinder your emotional well-being if it's negative. Have you ever told yourself, “I can't do anything right. I'm so stupid!”?

Experts in psychology refer to such language as negative self-talk. Almost everyone engages in self-ridicule from time to time. However, you may not reach your full potential if you habitually or excessively doubt yourself or expect the worst outcome.

I can tell you want to increase self-love and self-confidence and build that happy and successful life you envision. After all, that's why you're here, right?  

Well, I'm quite eager to explain how to stop negative self talk. I can guide you on revamping that mindset in 14 actionable steps, so you can start building the life you deserve.

What you’ll learn:

  • What does negative self-talk really mean?
  • What causes it? 
  • How does it affect you?
  • How can you fix it?

Stick around for the details. 

What Is Negative Self Talk?

Negative self-talk is any inner dialogue you have with yourself that takes the form of self-criticism. It arises from your “inner critical voice” or subconscious personality that judges and negatively criticize you.

You then accept the opinions as true and repeat them back to yourself aloud or in your mind. Self-diminishing dialogue has the potential to make you think less of yourself and your ability to make decisions, achieve your goals, or succeed altogether.

Negative thoughts directed at oneself have been described as cognitive distortions and may manifest in the following ways:

  • Personalizing
  • Catastrophizing (exaggerated thoughts)
  • Filtering
  • Magnifying
  • Self-blaming and shaming
  • Polarizing
  • Perfectionism
  • Overgeneralization
  • Minimization

Common Examples of Negative Self-Criticism

Self-criticism occurs when we evaluate ourselves and our actions in harsh and judgmental ways. Focus is usually given to our physical appearance, unwanted traits, weaknesses, and mistakes. Take a look at some self-critical thoughts people, such as high achievers, perfectionists, and those with low self-esteem, may think or say about themselves:

  • “I can't do this. I'm such a failure.”
  • “I am ugly. No wonder no one likes me.”
  • “I don't deserve love.”
  • “I will always be alone.” 
  • “I can’t believe how dumb I am.”
  • “I'm the cause of this.”
  • “If I don't graduate college, my life will be over.”
  • “I'm fat. It's because I eat like a pig.”
  • “I will never be successful in life. I just don't have what it takes.”
  • “I bet they're thinking I'm a bad person.”
  • “Everyone will be mad at me.”

Those examples of limiting beliefs can prevent you from living your best life.

Negative Self-Talk Effects

Self-deprecating talk is largely driven by negative thoughts and feelings that distort your perception of yourself and the world.

Those who frequently self-discriminate are essentially emotionally injuring themselves over and over again. They are likely to experience more stress, less motivation, helplessness, low self-esteem, or trouble achieving their goals. That's according to a verywellmind.com article on The Toxic Effects of Negative Self-Talk.

Self-criticism can change how you see yourself, promote self-hate, and leave you feeling chronically dissatisfied. A 2021 study explained that the act causes more noticeable negative than positive changes in the brain and reduces self-respect.

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Meditation is a spiritual practice that helps bring awareness to self-doubt and other unhelpful thoughts.

Studies have also linked rumination and self-blame to an increased risk of mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. It's not uncommon for people to engage in maladaptive behaviors such as binge eating and substance abuse to cope with fear, shame, or guilt resulting from critical inner dialogue.

Not only that but hearing you speak ill about yourself can distress those around you. Imagine how you would feel if your parent, partner, or team member kept bashing themselves or doubting their abilities. I'm sure it will dampen my mood and make me not want to be around them.

Why Do People Engage in Toxic Self-Criticism?

Negative self-appraisal typically has roots in your childhood or early relationship experiences with parents, teachers, or caregivers. For example, a toxic parent might have labeled you using negative terms such as “fat” or “dumb.”

Perhaps it was repeatedly telling you that you suck at getting things done correctly. Those encounters may contribute to your core beliefs about yourself in some way. Further, unhealthy practices, such as those listed below, are other contributors:

  • Lack of self-care
  • Failure to address relationship problems
  • Poor health habits
  • Living in isolation
  • Not asking for help
  • Being around others who practice negative-self talk

Low self-esteem or loneliness, or more serious underlying conditions such as anxiety, depression, and substance use disorder (SUD) may also activate your inner critic.

How to Stop Negative Self Talk in 14 Simple Steps

Self-limiting beliefs and passing harsh self-judgment are natural and common human experiences. That doesn't mean you have to let it hold you back.

You can challenge negative self-talk, silence your inner critic, and go on to live an extraordinary life by implementing this guide:

1. Challenge core beliefs

The law of attraction states when you focus on negative thoughts you'll draw negativity into your life. If you believe you can't do anything right then you'll likely act accordingly.

To release yourself from feeling and thinking ill about yourself and your circumstances, you'll need to identify the roots of and challenge core beliefs that shaped your mindset.

Did harsh parental criticisms shape your core beliefs? Regardless of the genesis of limiting beliefs, it's necessary to dismiss those deeply held assumptions. Remind yourself that they don't represent who you are.

2. Look for the evidence

Take things a step further by searching for evidence that supports the negativity promoted by your inner critic. Let's say you believe that if you don't graduate college, you'll amount to nothing.

Ask yourself what evidence exists to support that thought process. If you can't identify any valid proof to support it, then you have your answer.

Here's a proven fact to counter that belief. Millions of people worldwide go on to live successful lives even though they didn't graduate college.

Some famous college dropouts on that list are Facebook co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and talk show hosts Oprah Winfrey and Ellen Degeneres, according to CBS News.

3. Ask yourself if you're overthinking things

Overthinking, or rumination means repeatedly worrying about the past or the future to the point where it causes you to think the worse will happen. You might grow anxious or talk yourself out of taking actions that will enhance your life or well-being, .e.g., switching to a more lucrative career.

Those with a perfectionist personality may be more likely to engage in this type of self-sabotaging behavior. They may conclude that they don't have what it takes to accomplish a goal the way they anticipate and abandon it altogether.

4. Stop the thought

Rejecting negative thoughts as quickly as they surface is another way to overcome this vice. The method is called, “thought-stopping,” and helps prevent you from spiraling into a negative thought loop. Try shifting your focus to a positive thought and allowing it to dominate until the self-doubting or catastrophizing thought disappears.

Let's say your mind is racing about an upcoming job interview. You begin to panic and convince yourself you're gonna flop it. Counteract the assumption by visualizing yourself removing those limiting beliefs and throwing them into the trash.

You can retrieve and evaluate them later on for validity and rebuttal before banishing them for good.

5. Reframe the narrative

Negative self-talk can arise from cognitive distortions or thoughts that are inaccurate, irrational, and biased against us. All they do is make us feel awful about ourselves. 

Isn't it time you flip the script on your mind using cognitive reframing? It's a “therapeutic process that helps the client discover, challenge, and modify or replace their negative, irrational thoughts (or cognitive distortions).

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Gratitude journaling is particularly beneficial at times when you begin to imagine the worst outcomes (catastrophizing)

Here's an example. “I never do anything right” can be reframed as “I always do the best I can, even if it's not satisfactory to others. I'm also going to learn new or more effective ways to improve the results.”

6. Use gratitude as a self-empowerment tool

Every time you attempt to minimize your abilities or zoom in on the negatives, counter it with something you're grateful for.

Make a list of the times you excelled at school or work. Next, go over each item and express gratitude for having the ability to succeed.

Similarly, write down at least 10 positive things you're grateful for today. If you catch yourself in a self-blame moment, say something like, “I'm human. Making mistakes is a part of human nature. I'm thankful for all the other times I got things right.”

7. Let go of perfectionism

I won't do this DIY project until I am 100% sure I can complete it without any mistakes. “I know I could have done better.”

I used to be a perfectionist and I was failing miserably at meeting the high standards I set for myself simply because nothing or no one is perfect. Having that mindset causes you to procrastinate or abandon projects for fear that you'll mess up.

Ditching the perfectionist mentality will stop you from being extremely self-critical whenever you don't meet the mark. You may also avoid guilt, self-resentment, anxiety, or depression once you accept that you're perfectly imperfect.

8. Practice self-compassion

Question whether you would talk to a dear friend using phrases such as, “You're a loser.” “No one will ever marry you.” If not, then ask yourself why you treat yourself with such disdain.

Kristen Neff, the author of the book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, encourages us to be self-compassionate instead of mercilessly criticizing ourselves for inadequacies or shortcomings.

Self-compassion enables you to be kind, loving, and understanding towards yourself the same way you would towards someone you care for.

9. Switch to positive self-talk

As mentioned at the start of this article, self-talk can be positive and you can use it to uplift your spirit.

To keep from losing self-confidence, I usually say to myself, “I'm fine with making mistakes. They create teachable moments.” You could say, “I'm not where I want to be, but things could be worse. I'm truly grateful.”

Researchers found that positive self-talk enhances your well-being and improves performance. You may experience less stress or anxiety, better mood, more motivation, and increased self-respect. Nod your head if you're eager to start trusting and believing in yourself more. Me too!

10. Be mindful

Being mindful of your thoughts, feelings, and reactions each day might be an effective way to break the cycle of negativity. Mindfulness is a therapist-recommended method for living in the present moment.

It's a way to acknowledge self-critical thoughts without labeling or judgment. Bringing awareness to those thoughts provides a chance to treat them as just thoughts and shift attention to more positive and pleasing ideas.

11. Repeat self-affirmations

Exposure to ridicule in childhood or adulthood can leave you feeling less capable.

One day, my now-deceased uncle said to me, “You won't turn out to be anything good.” Ooh, that hurt me to my core. I was only nine years old at the time and I still feel the pain of the insult.

He made that statement because I was being raised by my dad after my mother walked out and never came back. In my mind, I said, “That will never happen. I will become somebody. I will.” I didn't even know I was using self-affirmations.

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Being mindful of your thoughts, feelings, and reactions each day might be an effective way to break the cycle of negativity. 

Today, I'm one bar exam away from being an attorney. I'm also helping to inspire people like you to recognize that YOU ARE worthy; you ARE enough; you CAN. You have it in you to uproot negative thoughts about yourself others have implanted into your subconscious mind.

Get started with the help of daily positive self-affirmations and quotes. These are essentially I am, I will, and I can statements for increasing self-esteem and self-worth.

12. Journal

You could consider starting a thoughts journal where you pen those negative ideas and beliefs about yourself. It's a way to look at your thinking pattern from a third-person perspective. Try to make sense of your thoughts instead of judging yourself for even thinking that way.

A gratitude journal is another option. Trust me, you'll feel the weight falling off your shoulder as soon as you begin appreciating all of your fine qualities.

You'll feel lucky once you realize you could've been worse off, but you aren't. Gratitude journaling is particularly beneficial at times when you begin to imagine the worst outcomes (catastrophizing).

13. Meditate

Meditation is a spiritual practice that helps bring awareness to self-doubt and other unhelpful thoughts. A 2017 study confirmed that the mind technique can quell intrusive thoughts that instill fear, doubt, and anxiety. 

Find a quiet spot, close your eyes, focus on your breathing, relax, and allow your thoughts to drift. Attention to your breathing helps distract your mind and silence the ongoing chatter in your head.

14. Talk with a behavioral therapist

Harsh self-judgment can promote self-sabotaging behaviors and reduce self-esteem. The tendency might be so deeply entrenched in your psyche that self-help methods aren't as effective.

Intervention by a certified cognitive behavioral therapist can help you trace back to the root of negative thinking habits. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a clinically proven way of helping individuals cope with hopelessness, depression, and poor self-esteem related to unhealthy thinking patterns.

Final Thoughts on How to Stop Negative Self Talk

Your own mind can become your enemy at times when you let your thoughts go too far. Thoughts create beliefs and those beliefs influence outcomes. You can choose to not let your inner critic ruin your life.

Those are just automatic thoughts and self-limiting beliefs surfacing from the subconscious to your conscious mind. They do not define you. By using this guide to dismiss them and retrain your brain to think more positively, you can finally approach life with greater confidence.

I also recommend reading 7 Limiting Beliefs Worksheets That Change Your Thinking and 7 Self-Esteem Apps to Give Your Confidence a Daily Boost for more ways to transition from a negative to a positive mindset. Before long, you’re “I can’t” will be replaced with “I can”!

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