Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

8 Easy Tricks to Quiet Negative Inner Dialogue

Take your power back from the inner critic.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
Take power away from your inner critic.
Source: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Have you have felt insecure about your leadership abilities?

My client Michael did. This wasn’t because he didn’t like his job—it was because he felt like he wasn’t any good at it.

About one month into his new leadership role at Fortune 500 healthcare company, Michael couldn’t shake his imposter syndrome.

Despite the fact that he had multiple degrees and was obviously intelligent, Michael still found himself looking over his shoulder almost every day, waiting for the moment when his boss would tell him to pack up his stuff and leave because they had found out he wasn’t qualified or equipped to do the role.

Can you relate?

If so, you know well the harsh inner voice that says things like:

  • "No one wants to listen to you."
  • "You're not working hard enough."
  • "You’re such an idiot!"

…and so on.

As an executive coach to what I call "Sensitive Strivers," I see big-hearted leaders constantly get in their own way because they don’t know how to properly manage their own psychology.

8 Tips to Gain Control Over Negative Self-Talk

1. Give it a name.

Personify your inner critic. Give it an identity that’s outside of you so you can gain distance from it. One of my client’s called his inner critic Darth Vader. He went as far as to buy a Darth Vader Lego figure and place it on his desk. Every time his inner critic started causing a fuss, he’d look at it and say “not today, Darth,” which helped stop the negative inner dialogue in its tracks. Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way, calls her’s the Accountant. He is a grey-suited bore who is forever telling her to forget all this creative nonsense and to be more sensible.

Pick something silly and light-hearted so you start regarding your inner critic as something that lacks credibility. Doing so helps put your negative self-talk into perspective and takes away some of its power.

2. Play with your thoughts.

I like to sing my self-critical thoughts to the tune of Belinda Carlisle’s hit song “Heaven is a Place on Earth” or Hanson’s “MMMbop.”

You can also bring humor and lightness to your thoughts by simply changing the typeface. In your mind’s eye, picture making the font on your negative thought teeny tiny comic sans, for example. You’ll find it’s much easier to approach your thinking with a lighter mindset.

3. Remind yourself with a rubber band.

Keep a rubber band or hair tie on your wrist. Each time you notice that your inner critic is taking over, snap the band and silently say “STOP.” This brings you back to the present moment where you can have more command and control over choosing your thoughts.

4. End with an “and.”

There’s a popular improv comedy tool you can steal for managing your mindset: “Yes, and…”

Here’s how to apply it to your self-talk: Let’s say your inner critic is telling you something like, “I never do anything right.” Instead of trying to fight the thought, acknowledge it, because there may be some truth to it. Then, more importantly, focus on what other facts might also be true. For example, “Yes, I may have made a mistake, and I can learn from it to make changes next time.”

5. Draft power statements.

A power statement is a reminder that helps bring you back to your center. For example, “you can handle this” or “ a person’s reaction is a reflection of them, not me.”

Power statements are not positive affirmations. Positive affirmations are usually based on wishful positivity that is inconsistent with your actual beliefs. Power statements, on the other hand, are grounded and balanced reminders.

Keep your power statements somewhere visible and prominent. For example:

  • Post them on sticky notes you place on your computer monitor or mirror
  • Make one the background of your phone
  • Create them as calendar reminders you send to yourself a couple of times per week

6. Keep a brag file.

I have many of my clients create an ongoing place where they keep track of their accomplishments on a daily or weekly basis. This can be a Google Doc, a note on your phone, an email folder—whatever works for you.

Not only is your brag file uplifting, but more importantly, it helps rewire your brain’s negativity bias. Plus, at performance review time, your brag file is invaluable.

One of my clients used to struggle with talking about herself but having the brag file made it so much easier to speak to the results she had gotten over the past few years with confidence.

7. Create a playlist.

Music is proven to lift your mood and reduce anxiety, which makes it the perfect antidote to the demoralizing effects of the inner critic. Personally, I keep a playlist of my favorite uplifting songs on Spotify that I can switch on whenever I need a little boost.

8. Give someone else a compliment.

Get out of your own head and pay someone else a compliment. Edith Zimmerman, writing for "The Cut," explains it perfectly:

"I have a small piece of advice, which is that if you’re ever feeling terrible—in one of those clammy, 'what am I doing, what am I doing, everything is bad' spirals—get on the computer and email out a few compliments to people. It can jumpstart you out of your own head and back into the world. For me, it’s been like a lifeline when I’ve felt really down. And I feel the worst when I feel the least useful, so sending someone a compliment out of the blue feels like latching back onto the lowest rung of the utility ladder