dealing with negative self talk

what about those negative voices in our heads? what can we do with them?

  • not listen (we have great practice with that: remember how you didn’t listen when mom told you to brush your teeth?)
  • reason with it
  • switch to a positive thought
  • write a gratitude list
  • reverse the talk (e.g. replace “i’ll never get out of this funk” with “come to think of it, i’m not doing as bad as i was yesterday”)
  • write down what the voice says and throw out the paper (kudos to barbara sher‘s wishcraft)
  • read a book on the subject
  • tell the voice you’ll give it 3 minutes, and that’s it for negative talk for the day
  • talk back, e.g.:
    • “your must be out of your mind!”
    • “don’t use that tone of voice with me!”
    • “last time i listened to you, i felt miserable for 10 days

and if it really bugs you, of course you can see a counsellor!

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

14 thoughts on “dealing with negative self talk

  1. Jeff

    Write down those negative thoughts on paper. Focus on them while you do it, then crumple up the paper and throw it away. This exercise can also be used for those of us with anxieties. Write down what’s bothering you, give your written words some focus as to give “them” some attention, then, crumple up that piece of paper and throw it away, thusly, “throwing away” your current focus so that you may now concentrate on other things. It’s a “Visual” exercise, some people need to actually “see” what’s in their mind that is bothering them, then overcome it by esentially destroying the paper containing the words and then throwing it all away. Some people are “hands on” while others are able to “read” and just take spoken advice.

  2. isabella mori

    great suggestions! you’re so right, jeff, we all have different ways in which we “take in” and deal with the world. it sounds like you’re a visual person. are you one of those people who has a real easy time seeing colours in their minds?

    lol, difficultpt – you know, my motto is, whatever works, works. we don’t have the time to process absolutely everything that comes our way – so, hey, if pretending those thoughts aren’t there works for you, all the power to you!

    re the blogging – i had a post that talked a lot about that a few months back.

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  4. Andy

    Here are some other methods I’ve used to deal with negative self-talk (which, by the way, I do feel should get a hyphen, to distinguish it from “talk you give your negative self”):

    1. Listen to the negative self-talk and heartily agree with it—but roll your eyes, wink, chortle, and use other derisive body language to indicate that you’re just patronizing the self-talk so it’ll think it’s right and leave you alone. This also works great when you want a bit of extra space in a public place.

    2. Ask the negative self-talk if it’d please continue in Punic, Cornish, Ge’ez, or some other extinct language, rather than English. Tell it that you know it’d have no trouble doing that because it obviously knows everything. When I do this, my self-talk either (a.) shuts up in embarrassment; or (b.) rattles on in an approximation of one of the extinct languages, which is much easier to ignore.

    3. Whenever the self-talk says anything, reply, “I know you are, but what am I?” in your best Pee-Wee Herman impression. (See “public place” note in #1.)

    4. As you’ve mentioned, it does work well to write down everything the self-talk says, then throw away the paper. However, if the self-talk speaks too quickly, try saying, “Will you hang on a second? I’m writing this down and I don’t want to miss anything.” I find that the self-talk is usually flattered that I’m giving it so much attention and is glad to let me catch up. By pretending to write v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, you can make the self-talk add huge delays between utterances. This also makes it even more fun to destroy the paper later (which I usually accompany with an evil “nyah-ha-ha!” like Snidely Whiplash in “Dudley Do-Right”).

    4a. (Variation on #4) Write down just the first letter of each word the negative self-talk says, then look for secret messages, drawing elaborate circles, diagrams, etc., like the guy in “A Beautiful Mind.” The self-talk hates this.

    5. Pick a secret word, then excitedly wait for the self-talk to use the word. When it does, play a few loud notes on a trumpet, shout, “You’ve said the magic word!”, and tell the self-talk it’s won a valuable prize—an all-expenses Bahamas vacation, a new car, etc. Tell the self-talk that all it has to do to receive the prize is to listen to a one-hour time-share condo presentation. Then begin the presentation immediately and watch the self-talk run away screaming.

    6. Turn the self-talk into a story. Example:

    [Self-Talk:] You can’t do anything right.

    [You:] …said Harold’s wife, as Harold’s croquet ball ricocheted off the birdbath and into his boss’s shrimp cocktail.

    [Self-Talk:] What do you think you’re doing?

    [You:] …his boss sputtered, wiping the cocktail sauce from his face with a monogrammed silk handkerchief.

    [Self-Talk:] So you think this will shut me up, do you?

    [You:] “Why, no, boss,” Harold stammered, feeling the sweat trickle from his armpits. “I… I guess I’m just a bad shot with the old mallet, that’s all. We don’t get much croquet practice over at the trailer park.”

    7. If you’re at home, close the curtains and/or turn down the lights to create a 1950s film-noir atmosphere, then walk from room to room, repeating the negative self-talk in an ominous-sounding, Humphrey-Bogart-style voice, as if you’re narrating a detective movie. Wear a fedora if you have one (you may wish to obtain one for this purpose). Add other imaginary characters as necessary, and don’t be afraid to rough up a few of them to solve the mystery.

    I have lots of ideas like this—and God knows I’m just sitting around here in the suburbs, so it’s not like I don’t have time to share more of them. Let me know.

    Cheers, Andy

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  7. Scott

    I loved Andy’s coping strategies, I might just try them, especially the Pee Wee Herman technique. My own n.s.t starts with an ominous feeling that, if I’m feeling resourceful (and I’m getting better at that) I ask what’s really going on, giving the self-talk a chance to come out and say what’s on my mind – when I do this (instead of succumbing to the negative feeling) the ensuing answer (and voice) is often something SO negative (ie” You’re ugly no one loves you”) it sounds over the top, and becasue it’s another voice, so ridiculously cruel I can say how stupid it is and then take pity on the voice and try and comfort it (myself).

  8. Chris | Martial Development

    Ask the voice to recommend a specific action towards solving the problem. Complete the action. Repeat as necessary.

    Forget everything you think you know about the negativity of negativity. It that voice is pushing you forward, feel grateful for it.

    If it refuses to assist you, then you now have a rock-solid reason to ignore it.

    Chris | Martial Development’s last blog post..In Defense of the Dojo Kun

  9. isabella mori

    hey, raul, i’ll be happy to boosts you up any time – on twitter and elsewhere. and you do it so well for others.

    chris – absolutely! you know, this really brings home the difficulty with blog posts. in a way, they’re little aphorisms – unless you turn the post into a 2000 word essay (or a 20,000 word book), it’s difficult to look at all the different angles of a topic.

    i agree with everything you say, particularly with moving with the negativity if it helps.

    i guess that was the martial artist speaking, huh?

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  11. J Johnson


    Thank you so much for your sharing this stuff. I am really feeling that I’m falling into a depression, due to my financial/economic circumstances. I recently graduated with a Masters in Urban Planning and have applied to about 50 jobs that I’m qualified for — entry level jobs — and haven’t gotten a single interview. AND my resume and cover letter are solid — working professionals edited it and advised me on it. However, none of my contacts can help me get a job in the field. SO I’m working at a job making 12-13 bucks an hour, been looking for a job in my field since I graduated 1 year ago — and on high-intensity for the last 2 months.

    My question is: I KNOW I need to see a counselor, lest I off myself or continue to spiral downward with my spiritual, mental and physical health, but I can’t AFFORD one 🙁
    I have no insurance of any kind, and almost no cash flow leftover to afford a good therapist.
    Do you have any tips for me to find a GOOD counselor that isn’t expensive — in NYC?
    I have seen a few good counselors in my life that REALLY helped me a lot, to see through a different lense than my own.
    However, the ‘free’ counselors at free clinics and other places that provide ‘free’ counseling is not really helpful for me, in my experience. Good therapists charge, and I wish I could pay. But is there any way to get a good counselor on a budget?

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