Whether you tell yourself, "I'm never going to be promoted," or you constantly think, "People think I'm weird," negative self-talk affects how you feel and how you behave. In fact, the conversations you have with yourself often turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
For example, imagine someone who thinks, "I'm socially awkward, and no one wants to talk to me." To cope with his awkwardness, he avoids striking up conversations with people and limits his interactions. Consequently, people think he is socially awkward, and his belief about himself is confirmed.
Over the years, I've worked with countless people in my therapy office on changing their negative dialogue. And I've seen firsthand how developing a more productive inner dialogue helps individuals build the mental muscle they need to create positive change.
So whether you call yourself names or you always talk yourself out of trying something new, here's how to deal with negative thoughts in a healthy way:
1. Recognize your negative thoughts.
When you get an email from the boss that says, "I need to meet with you as soon as possible," is your first thought that you're about to be fired, or do you think you must be getting a raise?
Many of your thoughts are automatic. They just pop into your head without any conscious effort.
So it's important to take a second to evaluate your thoughts, so you can recognize thoughts that are unrealistic, unproductive, or irrational.
2. Look for evidence that your thought is true.
Just because you think something doesn't make it true. In fact, most of your thoughts are more likely to be opinions than facts.
So ask yourself, "What's the evidence this is true?" Sticking with the example of the email from the boss, what evidence do you have that you're about to be fired?
Create a list of the evidence that supports your thoughts. Perhaps you called in sick for days in a row recently. Or maybe you missed a deadline on an important project a month earlier. List as many reasons as you can.
3. Look for the evidence that your thought isn't true.
Then, create a list of reasons why your thought might not be true. Maybe you are one of the hardest workers on your team, and you know that your boss rarely fires people without good reason. Or maybe you've been called into meetings with the boss before, and you've never gotten fired.
If you struggle to find contrary evidence — which is common when your emotions run high — ask yourself, "What would I say to a friend who had this problem?" If your co-worker said, "I'm about to get fired," you'd likely be able to conjure up some reasons why that might not be true. So give yourself the same consolation you'd give someone else.
4. Reframe your thought into something more realistic.
Once you've looked at the evidence on both sides of the equation, develop a more realistic statement. Telling yourself, "My boss wants to talk to me. There could be many reasons for that email," can help you keep things in proper perspective.
Don't try to convince yourself of things that are overly positive — that won't work either. Instead, the goal should be to create a statement based in reality.
5. Ask yourself how bad it would be if your thought were true.
Sometimes, the best way to deal with negative self-talk is to face it head-on. Ask yourself, "How bad would it actually be if I did get fired?" Then, spend a few minutes thinking how you'd respond.
Whether you decided to apply for a different job, or you chose to start your own business, you'd have options. It wouldn't be the end of the world. Reminding yourself that you'd eventually be OK can help take some of the panic, dread, and worry out of the situation.
Practice Replacing Negative Self-Talk
You might never get rid of your negative self-talk completely — and that's fine. The goal is to recognize that your brain's predictions and conclusions are draining your mental strength.
Once you acknowledge your thoughts aren't realistic, you'll be less affected by them. Responding to your thoughts in a healthy way will reduce the discomfort and unproductive behavior that accompanies negative thinking.
The more you practice replacing your negative self-talk, the more equipped you'll be to reach your greatest potential. After all, you'll never become your best self if you're constantly beating yourself up or dragging yourself down.