Negative Self Talk – What is it and why does it matter?

What is negative self-talk?

When is the last time you paid attention to your thoughts, actually thought about what you’re thinking?

Our lives can be so busy and it is easy to live on auto-pilot and go about your day without noticing a single thought traveling through your mind.

The first step to understanding negative self-talk is simply tuning in, and starting to pay attention to our thoughts. The next step is challenging them.

Self-talk is the act of using words and phrases while thinking or talking to yourself. At times self-talk can actually be helpful to keep us motivated toward goals—for example reminding us that what we’re about to eat isn’t healthy or what we’re about to do may not be wise. However, negative self-talk will sound more like an inner critic.

Negative self-talk can take many forms. It can sound grounded (e.g. “I’m not that good at this, so I shouldn’t really bother attempting it,”) or it can sound outright cruel (e.g. “I can never do anything right!”). It may present like being a realistic appraisal of a situation (e.g. “I barely passed that test. I guess I’m really not good at math.”), but can devolve into a disastrous declaration (“I’ll probably fail this class and never get into university”).

What are the dangers of negative self-talk?

Your negative self-talk, or “inner critic,” may sound a lot like a critical parent or friend from your past. Negative self-talk is any inner dialogue that could be limiting your ability to believe in yourself and your own abilities to reach your potential. It is any thought that reduces you and your ability to make positive changes in your life or your confidence in your ability to do so. Because of this, negative self-talk can not only be stressful, but it can really stunt your success.

Why does negative self talk matter?

Negative self-talk can have some pretty damaging impacts. Negative-self talk has been found to “feed” anxiety and depression, cause an increase in stress levels while lowering levels of self-esteem. This can lead to decreased motivation as well as greater feelings of helplessness.

What are some tips to stop negative self-talk?

Here are some common ways people use to break that cycle:

– Be aware of what you’re saying to yourself – tuning in and catching!

– Ask yourself – is it true?

– Remind yourself that thoughts are not facts! Say: “I’m having the thought…”. This can create some distance from the thought.

– Give your inner critic a nickname. When you think of your inner critic as a force outside of yourself it’s not only easier to realise that you don’t have to agree, but it can become less threatening and easier to see how limiting and even ridiculous some of your critical thoughts can be.

– Put your thoughts into perspective. There is always an opportunity to reflect more on this thought in a larger context.

– Ask yourself – “What might be a more helpful thought?”


-Ask would you say this to a friend? Would you say these thoughts out loud to friend or would you like a good friend to say them to you?

Some further tips to stop negative self talk.

If with your own work you find you are now aware of negative self talk and have had the opportunity to apply some tips or strategies to change it, and the negative self talk is still persisting, you may want to address the thoughts with the assistance of someone who can help you further.

Psychologists, regularly assist people in understanding their own thoughts and educate and empower them to continue living their lives with a more positive inner dialogue to help them achieve their goals.

If you think you’d like to talk more with a Psychologist to see what you can learn, reach out to a practitioner you trust, or if you are unsure who to connect with, start a conversation with your General Practitioner.

Written by: Cheryl Gale, Psychologist, Proactive Health & Movement

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