How To Identify And Shut Down Negative Self-Talk

While we can all agree that practicing positive self-talk is a good idea, how do you know if you're actually spending more time on the other end of the spectrum? Negative self-talk can be difficult to recognize and even more difficult to combat. From filtering only the negative things in a situation to blaming yourself unnecessarily to anticipating the absolute worst, there are many different ways you might be engaging in negative self-talk. Essentially, any dialogue you have with yourself where you sell yourself short, fail to believe in yourself, and/or limit your ability to reach your potential qualifies as negative self-talk and is worth addressing.

These negative self-talk behaviors can not only be detrimental to your mental health but can also negatively impact your physical well-being. The good news is that there are many different strategies that can help you not only identify the behavior but also help you manage it. Let's talk about some ways to identify if you're engaging in negative self-talk and how you can combat the spiral.

Recognizing when it's happening

One of the keys to helping yourself get out of a negative spiral is to recognize when and if it's happening in the first place. Asking yourself how you're framing your thoughts can be vital in recognizing either their positivity or negativity. Catastrophizing small things in your day or applying a polarizing lens to things that happen can both be indicators that you're engaging in negative self-talk, according to the Mayo Clinic. For example, when presented with a new project do you see it as an opportunity to learn something new or do you fixate on the project seeming hard or complicated? This initial knee-jerk reaction to something new and unknown, like a project, can and will have lasting impacts on how you manage, handle, and ultimately perform a task.

A great way to help you recognize if you're heading toward a negativity spiral is to get a good handle on your triggers, per Psych Central. Understanding your triggers, and the specific ways you react to those triggers can ultimately help you break the cycle. Plus, knowing your triggers can also help you manage your stress and anxiety levels by knowing what situations to avoid and/or be more prepared for. Obviously, the reality of putting this into action is decidedly more complicated but, trust us, it can be an extremely important step in fighting your negative self-talk.

Focus on what you're fixated on

Do you find yourself fixating on little things? Do those things have something in common? If so, your negative self-talk might have a theme. Maybe it's your body image, your relationship, or even your job. Psych Central reports that understanding the specific parts of your life that you're fixating on can better help you dissect why you're negative about them in the first place (and ultimately help you approach it more positively).

If you find that you are constantly berating yourself over your job, it could be worth analyzing what elements of the job have you feeling bad about yourself. You might be surprised to learn that the root of your negativity is something you didn't realize. Maybe you don't get paid enough and it makes you feel financially behind your friends or family. Maybe you're battling imposter syndrome and feel uncomfortable with your knowledge level on a topic. Self-discovery can lead you down unpredictable paths so taking a look at the things you fixate on can better help you understand where your negativity is coming from.

Once you've narrowed it down, you can start small by changing the way you think, one negative thought at a time. By approaching each thought individually, you can ensure the process of change doesn't feel too unmanageable. Plus, by picking out small areas or topics to focus on at the beginning, the issue won't feel too large or unwieldy to change.

Combating the negative self-talk

While there is no one-size-fits-all way to combat your personal negative self-talk, there are things that can help. Psychology Today suggests ensuring that you're speaking to yourself the way you'd talk to someone else. If you'd never be mean or defeating to a friend, then you shouldn't be acting that way toward yourself. Adding the lens of how your words would be perceived by others can help you identify the inherent negativity of your own thoughts.

Similarly, the Mayo Clinic advises checking in with yourself throughout the day to assess your self-thoughts. This can ensure you put a stop to any negativity before it can spiral further. If you're someone who needs an external push to help you achieve those check-ins, you have a lot of options. First, journaling can be a great way to get your thoughts down on paper and help you to organize them (plus journaling has huge mental health benefits). Mindfulness, meditation, and even yoga can all also be helpful tools in your self-talk journey as they each provide you with strategies for how to be more present and engaged.

The most important thing to remember about negative self-talk is that you have the ability to change it. While self-acceptance can be a difficult (and long) journey, ultimately you have the power to defeat your own negativity. While it can seem really hard, it's important that you don't quit, even if your progress is slow. Remember that even baby steps are progress.