A Surprisingly Simple Way to Defeat Negative Self-Talk

A young woman who is sad and dealing with stress
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Negative self-talk can take a toll on your life, but how can you fight back against your own thoughts? I've found a simple trick that helps--plus a bonus DIY project.

Would you talk to your best friend, your partner, or your pets the way you talk to yourself?

Many of us have an internal diss track about ourselves that plays on repeat. Some people have a critic who lives in their heads, nitpicking everything they do. Sometimes, this critic sounds suspiciously like a family member or other influential person in our lives.

Others have a more abusive relationship with themselves, hurling insults, and vicious attacks. For some, it’s a constant stream of fear-based fantasies, all-or-nothing statements (Everyone hates me! I’ll never be successful!), or even a deceptively rational voice that undermines your confidence.

Negative self-talk tends to lead to cognitive distortions; these warped thought patterns can make us absolutely convinced that something terrible is going to happen or that we’re bad people.

My Brain: Maybe the terrible thing is going to happen because you’re bad person!

Thanks, brain. Super helpful. Negative self-talk, especially the kind that becomes a habit, can have a major impact on your self-esteem, your career and relationships, and even your physical health.

Playing a Track on Repeat

If you’ve gotten used to negative self-talk over the years, then you might not even realize how harsh your words are. They’re like a familiar song that you play over and over, to the point that you barely hear the music anymore.

When you get stuck with this kind of habitual negative self talk, the thoughts can get more deeply ingrained into your brain every time you return to them. Have you ever noticed how paths get worn into the grass?

One person takes a shortcut across the lawn and crushes the tender grass. Then they come back and do it again on their way out. Before you know it, there’s a track of bare earth that’s been beaten down by countless feet and nothing will grow there anymore.

Thoughts are a lot like that.

Self-talk doesn’t have to be bad, though! By repeating positive thoughts and ideas–even if you don’t believe them about yourself–you can eventually wear some new tracks in the grass. However, getting to that point takes time. And while you’re working on that positive self-talk, it sure would help to get some of that negativity out of the way.

A Surprisingly Effective Way to Change the Script

Changing your self-talk is a long process, but there’s a simple trick that can help you get started. You’re going to need a jar or box with a lid, some scraps of paper, and something to write with.

If you’re like me, then you had to have a pretty jar. You can use anything, including a shoebox or a coffee can. I found a ceramic canister and wrapped beads and tassels around the handle on top because I can’t resist a DIY opportunity. If you find crafting to be a fun and calming way to spend your time, then grab a container with a lid and do it up.

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Every time you have one of those dark, negative, hurtful thoughts… write it down. Then fold the paper up, write the date and time on the outside if you’re a stats geek, and put it in the jar. Imagine sealing that thought away where it can’t hurt you anymore. After all, it’s just a piece of paper now!

Writing the thoughts down also helps to reveal how extra they can be. It’s easier to interrogate the claims when you see them on paper. Oh really, EVERYONE secretly hates you? You’ll NEVER amount to anything because you can’t even get the dishes done at the end of the day? You’re a big dumb idiot who doesn’t deserve nice things because you accidentally dropped your phone and cracked the screen?

In my experience, this method has worked a lot better than saying the thoughts out loud or imagining myself saying them about a loved one. Your mileage may vary, of course, and if you’re struggling you shouldn’t feel pressured to fix it yourself. Therapy can help you work through these issues as well, and you shouldn’t ever feel ashamed to ask for help.

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