“I might as well face it, I’ll always be a failure”
This kind of self-deprecating talk is poisonous. It can negatively influence how you live, aggravate your state of affairs and prevent you from enjoying life. Think about it for a moment. If someone else was putting you down the way you put yourself down, your instincts would immediately be heightened and you would probably defend yourself.
However, with this kind of negative self-talk, wicked conversations in your own head, there is no self-defense mechanism. All the negativity hits you full force and is absorbed. That means the negativity is all the more toxic to our lives, particularly to the relationship we have with ourselves.
Thing is, excessive negative self-talk causes us to focus too much on our so-called failures instead of the “small ways that we could have improved,” says psychologist Tamar E. Chansky, PhD, author of Freeing Yourself From Anxiety. Over the long term, it leads to higher stress levels, less satisfying personal and professional relationships, and even depression.
This is clearly not the road to travel if you want to be the most flourishing, vibrant version of yourself. So, you need to challenge unhelpful negative self-talk and stop it haunting your mind and ruining your life.
1. Give your inner critic a name.
Advisedly a silly one! It’s difficult to take your inner critic seriously when you call it The Perfectionist or The Nag. (“Here comes The Nag again.”), says Brené Brown, PhD, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, and author of The Gifts Of Imperfection. Brown calls hers inner critic The Gremlin.
“Naming it something goofy adds a bit of levity,” she says, “which helps break through the emotional hold that anxiety has on you. Over time, this short circuits the whole anxious cycle.”
2. Distance yourself from The Nag (your inner critic.)
You can’t completely banish your critical inner voice forever (nor is it advisable to try that), but you can take a step back from it. When you notice negative self-talk creeping up on you, address it like you would an opinionated third party, says Franco Beneduce, a certified life coach and group facilitator in San Francisco. You might say, “Thanks for sharing,” or “It’s interesting you feel that way.”
Distancing yourself from your inner critic will take the wind right out of its sails. Those negative sentiments won’t be able to crush or ruin your spirits. Tell your inner critic you will come back to that conversation later, and move on. Focus on something else to stop that negative train of thought. Try doing a crossword puzzle, playing basketball or any other activity that disengages your mind. When you come back to the issue, your negative thoughts may have lost most of their oomph.
3. Write down what The Nag just said to you.
This is an important activity if you want to analyze just how self-depreciating or silly your negative thoughts are. When you hear your inner voice saying something like, “I am so dumb,” or “I’m such a bad parent,” the meaning of what you are saying might pass through your mind so swiftly that it doesn’t fully register. Many of us are so used to talking to ourselves this way that we literary have to slow ourselves down to understand what we are actually saying.
Write down what you just said in your head. It’ll help you to slow down and see the absurdity in your own negative self-talk. Then ask yourself, “Is this really true?” or “Is there another way to look at this situation?” Try to look for benefits. If you missed a job opportunity, are there any lessons you can draw from the experience for the future? Or could another opportunity maybe come out of it? Let the light of clarity, objectivity and truth shine on your thoughts and inform your path going forward.
4. Relax your standards just a little and embrace your imperfections.
It’s tremendously liberating (not to mention a huge stress reliever) to stop holding yourself to insanely high standards. “Perfectionism is so destructive,” Brown says. “I’ve interviewed CEOs and award-winning athletes, and not once in twelve years did I ever hear someone say, ‘I achieved everything I have because I am a perfectionist.’ Never!”
What she hears instead is high achievers crediting their success to a willingness to mess up, learn from their experiences and keep moving forward. You are only human. If you accept that you will mess up sometimes; if you give yourself the same empathy you’d show a friend and keep moving, The Nag will have nothing on you. It won’t be able to make you feel bad about yourself or keep you down.
5. Speak positive, empowering words to yourself.
Tell yourself you are good enough just the way you are, right now. Utter positive, encouraging words to yourself aloud as you go about your life to counter any negative self talk in your head.
Beneduce admits he’s also not immune to negative self-talk. When he works with large groups, he says, he knows everyone will be watching him. If he’s on, the day will go well. But if he’s off, he flops. So going in, he tells himself: “I am confident. I have the skills I need. I am going to trust myself.”
Sometimes he’ll write three words on a piece of paper to reinforce it. Throughout the day, he glances at them: “Fun. Smart. Effective.” And guess what, that is exactly what he projects.
Be confident and speak positively of yourself. You have what it takes. And always remember you deserve to be treated with kindness, love, respect and understanding—both by yourself and by others.