Self-Talk, Positive or Negative: 9 Tips to Change, Improve Your Performance, and Declutter Your Mind

self talkHow do you speak to yourself? Inside, how do you address yourself? It’s a more important question than you may realize because self-talk, positive or negative, can change your life.

If you take a walk through your local book store or scroll through your newsfeed, you’d find an abundance of posts about “positive attitude.” And as great of a trend as it can be, it rarely delves into the nuances of how our minds work or, for that matter, how life works.

We don’t have a positive/negative switch that we can flip at will. Emotions, circumstances, and the emotions and circumstances of other people can all affect how we get through our day. Take a look inside. 

We may no be able to control what happens, or even how we feel, but we can take a look at how our inner dialogue impacts us, examine how it serves us, and even declutter our minds so that we can see, partake in, and improve life with the help of self-talk. 

 

What is Self-Talk?

Some people think in terms of pictures, others in words or colors, but our subconscious often has a voice, and throughout the day, it speaks to us. For example, we think, “oh, I like that dress,” as someone walks down the other side of the street or “I need to take out the dog” as we wait in line to get a coffee.

But that’s not the whole story, is it? 

That voice can also judge, provoke, implore, examine, encourage, and degrade us, and no one would ever know. When people often think of voices in their head, they think of mental health disorders like schizophrenia while ignoring the fact that they are likely reading this sentence inside their head. And that, my friend, is a voice. 

The issue isn’t whether or not you can hear yourself reading this; it’s how your inner voice speaks to you in moments of conflict or joy. Is it telling you that you don’t deserve this promotion? Perhaps, it’s trying to convince you that the way you were treated with abuse, neglect, or disdain was not hurtful but character-building. 

It can be a lot. So how do you improve your performance or be kinder to yourself when it’s so easy to get caught in a spiral of negative thoughts? Sometimes, it can feel like the voice in your head is your worst enemy.

When it seems like your subconscious is constantly feeding you lines that do nothing but bring you down, it’s time to take action. And when you’re bogged down by negative thinking, you can’t perform at your best. 

You are not at the mercy of your thoughts—starting today, you can choose to change your internal monologue. Of course, it won’t switch overnight, but with consistent effort, that little voice in your head will start sounding a lot more cheerful.

Let’s discuss how to turn your negative self-talk around, boost your confidence, and improve your performance, but first, let’s discuss some terms.

 

What is Negative Self-Talk?

Negative self-talk is the voice that is picking you apart from the inside out. It knows all of your worst insecurities and convinces you that everyone else does, too. Its weapons are usually shame, fear, or guilt, and it’s not afraid to use any or all at one time. 

Our negative automatic thoughts can impact our mood and the way that we feel about ourselves and others. Often, negative self-talk results in shaming ourselves or others, which leads to further disconnection and lack of motivation. However, shaming into action doesn’t work. 

Next time you’re having all or nothing thoughts such as the following in this article, stop and recognize them, then try responding with self-compassion instead. For example, if you have an idea such as: “I should have remembered to send a birthday card, I’m such a bad friend.” 

For most of us, finding compassion for others is such an easy thing. We see that any amount of compassion for ourselves, however, doesn’t always come naturally. Take our quiz to find out how unforgiving of yourself you are.

 

What is a Limiting Belief?

A limiting belief is almost always a false belief. A limiting belief is something — typically formed in our childhood — that constrains us. For example, we may have internalized an idea like: “I can’t pursue my dreams because to do so would be to risk likely failure.”

There are many different applications of limiting beliefs that intrude specifically to put a barrier between you and action, thought, or feeling. For example, if someone is told by their mother that driving on highways is way too scary or too dangerous and that “you just can’t do it.” Every time they are going to work they think “I can’t drive on highways,” and they actually believe that. 

The power of such a belief is that it sounds somewhat logical. Who could condemn you for protecting yourself, right? You might be thought of as prudent and careful. You may even get very good at convincing yourself that these are qualities you should live by. In reality, however, you are limiting yourself and probably missing out on many adventures and opportunities. These are the two hallmarks of a limiting belief:

  • they are false
  • they are self-sabotaging

Another factor of a limiting belief is that your set of beliefs is often more than one, and they are specific to you and your upbringing. So, while a person is thinking about how they aren’t enough to get their dream job, and when they get that job, they’ll be thinking about how they won’t ever be good enough to get that promotion.

The issue is limiting beliefs are being listened to and perpetuated by negative self-talk. What kind of life is that?

 

More Examples of Limiting Beliefs Occurring in Self-Talk

  • I must be fit and attractive to be acceptable.
  • What matters is what others think of me.
  • I can’t show people my authentic self, or they won’t like me.
  • Others are smarter and more prepared than I am.
  • I’m too old, too poor, too unattractive, too stupid, etc.
  • It’s wrong to enjoy my life when others are suffering.
  • I’m not born to be a leader.
  • People are not trustworthy.
  • It’s too late for me to succeed.
  • I’m just not good with money.

These and countless other similar beliefs unknowingly form when we are young. Unfortunately, this means they are deeply embedded. Gratefully, though, they are not permanent. So here is a new belief for you: “I am capable of changing limiting beliefs.”

 

Warning Signs of Negative Self-Talk

People who experience negative self-talk may not even know it. They can go through their day smiling, but inside, they are constantly attacking themselves. They can’t help it.

Can you? These thoughts hit in our most vulnerable moments, and it’s challenging to work through. You often walk along, thinking about your day, where you have been, and where you may be going. So, be on the lookout.

Learn how to recognize these jabs, and don’t just let this dialogue go. As painful as it may be, it’s essential to distinguish these self-sabotaging, self-inflicted digs.

They are short, snappy, and spontaneous.

They come in hot like “I look like an idiot” or “I’ll be just like my father.” Automatic thoughts can be positive, but they are often quick doses of doubt that make you freeze or step back in moments where, when looking back, you know you had it. 

They are often overgeneralizations.

These look a bit like “I’ll never amount to anything,” or “Nobody can help me,” so they include absolutes, such as:

  • Always
  • Never
  • Everybody
  • Nobody
  • Everyone
  • No one
  • Anything
  • Everything

These extreme words usually make the thought patently false. Unfortunately, your subconscious can’t speak for everyone. 

Automatic thoughts can use should, must, or ought.

These terms often provoke guilt, as in “I should have visited my father in the nursing home more often when I had the chance,” or “I must do better.” How helpful is that? 

Albert Ellis, MA, Ph.D., warns against this self-flagellation: “Don’t should yourself.” And many therapists note, “Should and never are two words you should never use.”

Automatic thoughts are almost always accepted when they occur.

Though they are usually irrational, but hours later, in therapy or when filling out a thought record, the fear of getting expelled because you slept through a final exam seems much less plausible.

Holding yourself to impossible standards and running yourself over the coals when they aren’t met isn’t helpful.

Automatic thoughts breed more automatic thoughts.

This might look like someone letting hyperactive fear turn a forgotten blood pressure pill into an imminent funeral or a single low-flying plane into the sequel to 9/11. However, a chain of thoughts leading to disaster can be a warning sign for automatic thoughts.

Automatic thoughts are usually related to your fears and standards. 

Thus, someone brought up to be a people pleaser may have automatic thoughts beginning with the birthday card they forgot to send or the meatloaf you feel was not good enough for your guests. You might convince yourself that these slight issues could cost you your friendship or reduced relations with the people in your life. 

Negative automatic thoughts can attach themselves to anything. 

A strong feeling that seems unrelated to anything in the environment, or is out of proportion to the situation, may signal automatic thoughts. For example, perhaps the stranger you just saw reminds you subconsciously of the neighborhood bully from your childhood, and you end up feeling helpless and angry.

 

9 Ways to Change Self-Talk

If you are sitting there thinking that this is a real issue, you’d be right. But, thankfully, it’s something you can change. Anything that is potentially negatively affecting your life is worth the time and work it takes to change it; negative self-talk and automatic thoughts are no different. 

1. Identify the Negativity Traps That Drain You

First, it’s crucial to figure out the catalysts for your negative thinking. What sets it off?

For example, you might start beating yourself up when you make a mistake. Does it happen when you are at home, or is it worse when you are at work? You might also begin criticizing yourself relentlessly when you feel awkward and shy during a social occasion.

Once you understand what’s inspiring those negative thoughts, you can begin to tackle the problem.

2. Keep a Journal and Note Your Self-Talk

Journaling is beneficial for all sorts of thought patterns, and negative self-talk is no exception. In addition, writing down anything about your day can help clear things up.

Coupled with the fact that each day, we make countless decisions, the bulk of these choices rest on what we believe to be true. It’s super helpful to document these beliefs and the behavior they inspire. It helps put things into perspective thoughts because thoughts are powerful, but seeing them on paper is another thing entirely.  

3. Change the Narrative of Your Self-Talk

Now, it’s time to start changing the narrative in your head. Then demonstrate, let’s say that you’re struggling to learn a new skill at work or in a college course, and every time you mess up, you can’t help but berate yourself.

Instead of thinking, “I’m a failure, and I’ll never do anything right,” reframe your situation. Try telling yourself, “I’m a human being, I’m doing my best, and I’m learning.” Make a conscious effort to do this every time.

4. Morning Affirmations Make a Difference in Your Self-Talk

Start your day off on the right foot. Once you know how you specifically need to change your self-talk, you can start working on a list of affirmations that help you get into the right mindset to have a happy, productive day.

Write down the phrases that make you feel more secure and confident, and make a habit of repeating them to yourself each morning. Sit in front of your mirror, give yourself a big smile, and recite your list. If that feels a little silly, you could also try writing your affirmations in a journal each morning.

5. Make a “Miracle” List

What if you had no self-imposed limits? Allow yourself to take a flight of fancy. Make a list of what your life would be like if you could do anything you want to. Then, take your time and craft an entire landscape. Next, review your writing and identify everything limited by your own beliefs.

6. Take a Pause Now to Improve Your Self-Talk

Sometimes, you may need to stop what you’re doing, take a few deep breaths, and take a moment to yourself to stop the cycle of negative self-talk. You can even say “Pause” out loud to let yourself know that it’s time to drop that thought.

Can’t stop in your tracks and just drop everything you’re doing? That’s okay. You can practice this anywhere, even at work. No one else has to know what you’re doing! Simply think, “Stop” or “Pause,” breathe, and try to shift your focus towards something else for a minute or two. 

Don’t feed those negative thoughts with more attention.

7. Practice Meditation to Uplift & Affirm You 

Meditation can help you learn to let go of thoughts that bring you down. Instead of accepting these thoughts as accurate, you can practice simply observing them and acknowledging the emotion. But it doesn’t mean you have to give in.

You can also try guided meditations with uplifting affirmations. Specifically, falling asleep to a soothing guided meditation track can help you wake up in a better mood the next day.

8. Try-On Some New Beliefs For Size 

It’s a limiting belief to accept that you can’t embrace new ideas. Make a list of a few beliefs you’d like to try on for size. Maybe it’ll be more than a “few”?

For example, if you often believe that you aren’t worthy of all you have in life. So you might try on the belief that you are enough and see how it feels. You might be surprised by how helpful this is.

Self-talk comes from our inner landscape of what we believe to be the truth on a level we may not reveal to the rest of the world. The things we say to ourselves are the things we see as trustworthy, no matter how hurtful or ridiculous. Permitting yourself to accept some other truths can be the beginning of the change you may significantly need.

This just in: Change can be exciting. You don’t have to live your entire life in one town, work at the same job, or simply root for the same sports team. Challenge yourself to try the beliefs you identify. Then monitor how this evolution makes you feel. The odds are it will be more comfortable than you allowed yourself to imagine.

9. Improve Your Self-Talk and Performance with Intentional Reminders

Place little positive reminders around your house to lift your mood. It may sound cheesy, but it can work wonders. And if it helps counter your negative self-talk, then who cares?

Take a few Post-It notes, and write down short affirmations. Then, stick them in places where you’re sure to see them a few times a day—on your bedroom or bathroom mirrors, on your fridge, even in your car. You’ll find yourself feeling brighter every time you notice one. 

 

Is Your Mind Cluttered? 

This question is more important than you realize. So many people carry around with them a lot of “clutter” in their minds. We are trained to do so. 

How often have you been going through your day and you are carrying dates, times, tasks, what you need at the grocery store, thoughts about a new work project, a quick reminder that your kid’s soccer game is tomorrow, and the idea of taking a shower in your head all at one time?

A lot of us have this tendency to hold on to the thing that they should do but don’t, the person they argued with and may not be speaking to, all the “could” and “should” statements, and everything else they need to think about to get through the day. Doesn’t that sound exhausting? Does that also sound incredibly familiar?

If yes, then this may be hurting your self-esteem and confidence. And how could it not? You are basically in a constant battle with your mind over everything. 

Our office sees this type of thinking all the time, and we are here to tell you that though there is no quick fix to being stuck in your head, there are ways to improve your mental landscape. 

Self-talk has a massive impact on how your day goes and how you feel about yourself, but a cluttered mind can often control that conversation, and who can be agreeable over the top of a mess?

 

De-clutter Your Mind, An Exercise

The following is an exercise using “psychological completion” or “completion.” In effect, what we are doing is making specific tasks “complete,” drawing a line under them, and moving on. How nice will that be?

By writing the answers down to the following questions, they become more formal, and you are more likely to benefit from the exercise. So, do yourself a favor and get something to write with and something to write on

 

Putting up with:

  • Make a list of 10 things that you are putting up with at home.
  • Make a list of 10 things that you are putting up with at work.
  • Make a list of 10 things that you are putting up within any other area of your life.
  • Make an action plan to get rid of/communicate these things you have been putting up with. Be sure to focus on things you have control over and express YOUR feelings to others vs. demanding others change.

 

Unfinished matters:

  • Make a list of things that are unresolved/unfinished in your life.
  • Make an action plan of how to reduce this number. When will you start, and what are the tasks you will need to complete? Do you need to clear the air with anyone? If so, just do it. Life is too short! If you ever say that you would call someone or keep in touch with someone yet has done nothing about it? If yes, call them or send an email to them today.
  • Let go of as many could, would, shoulds, maybe, and ought statements as you can. Write these down.

 

Your standards:

  • Write down the standards that you have been saying to yourself that you should have; let go of these and write down a list of the standards you will have in your life from this day forward.
  • List 5 people you admire the most. Identify their most remarkable qualities, behavior, and how they lead their life. What standards do they have? What standards could you raise starting today to be more like them?
  • Respect that other’s standards will be different from your own. Think of 5 close colleagues or friends – what are their standards, and how are they different from yours?

By completing these exercises, you will be able to focus more on the here and now and your future.

 Read more about our self-esteem counseling services.

 

If You Need More Help with Self-Talk

Sometimes, the negative self-talk can be more than we can handle alone, and that’s not uncommon. If your days are riddled with limiting beliefs that leave you feeling trapped and less, then you may need to seek therapy.

These kinds of thought patterns can be the fuel for depression and anxiety, sending you down further and further into the pit of these dark feelings. Speaking with someone whose whole job is releasing people from these thought patterns can offer solace you may not have even known you needed. 

This also applies to when you may be feeling unmotivated, lack self-confidence, and more. Perhaps one of your current limiting beliefs is that therapy is not for you. You may tell yourself that you can figure it out and don’t need to ask for help. Therefore, reaching out to start counseling has the dual value of changing a limiting belief while you begin the work of changing many more limiting beliefs.

Reach Out

Your weekly sessions with a professional guide can be the perfect launching pad for a whole new slate of beliefs — without the restraining limits. Call us at 832-559-2622 or book an appointment online.

Clara Jennison
Clara has been writing for Eddins Counseling Group since 2020. She is a writer, editor, and researcher.

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