4 Types of Negative Self-Talk and How to Stop Them

Published on
Feb 24, 2023
Written by
Coryne Forest
Personal Development

<tap tap> “Hi.  My name is Coryne and I am an optimist.”

So starts any Optimists Anonymous meeting. I like to think that if 32 years with the Army didn’t beat the optimism out of me, then it must be an inherent trait.

In general, we as people like to think we’re optimistic, positive people. After all, no one wants to be considered a grump. Besides, isn’t that what we’re taught from the time we’re children, to smile and get along with the other kids?

In truth, we don’t always quite hit the mark. We might mean to be positive, but those negative thoughts have a way of creeping in, especially if we’re tired or anxious. In fact, our brain is wired with a bias to negativity.  It kept us safe. If I didn’t know whether this strange berry was poisonous, it was safer to assume it was going to kill me than to try it. As modern people, we try to control that negativity bias, but strong emotion has a way of derailing us, as do the negative influences around us.

And, boy, are there plenty of negative influences around us!

In short, we’re constantly being broadsided by negativity, and we can’t help but respond in kind.

How do we learn to recognize when our self-talk is turning negative and stop it before it gains a foothold in our lives? We start by learning how to identify the most common culprits and then start to rewire Typour brain to have a more positive bias.

Black and White Thinking

Since I used to work almost exclusively with engineers and scientists, I saw this a fair amount in my clients.  It comes from that mathematical, logical brain that said there was one right answer, or the best solution.  It shows up in statements like “I always forget to put the cover sheet on the TPS Report.” Or “I never remember that guy’s name.”

The minute you start using ‘all’ or ‘nothing’ statements you’re already falling into a negativity mindset.

That negativity bias is a sneaky devil and shows up here, because you tend to remember the times you forgot the cover sheet or didn’t remember that guy’s name.  Your brain actually looks for proof – and often finds it!

When this comes up, the best thing to do is to remind yourself the world doesn’t really work that way. In fact, there are more shades of grey than you might think.

Force yourself to remember the times you did, in fact, remember the report cover sheet.  List out the times you did remember people’s names.  What has to be conscious thinking at the beginning, can become automatic with practice.

Tunnel Vision

One only has to tune into the evening news or click onto a new site to find out how awful the world is right now. The images of war, mass shootings, natural disasters come at us hot and heavy.

It’s no wonder we can see the bad in everything, we are being fed a steady diet of it!

It can make us feel lost in a sea of despair and negative self-talk, too. Here you see the world as only negative and seek out proof by pointing out every flaw or failure.

It doesn’t just have to be world events, either.  We all know that person who seems to be on a mission to play devil’s advocate in meetings.  No matter what idea is tossed out or statement is made, they are there to tell us why something is wrong or won’t work.

Often, that devil’s advocate is the voice in our head that prevents us from speaking up in the first place.

This is defeated by rewording the statements as they come up. Look for the positive spin you can put on things.  “Look at this beautiful, sunny day!” “Yeah, you’ll probably get skin cancer.” “Yes, but I can put on SPF 100 to play is safe and enjoy the sunshine.”

The Disaster Plan

When you can only see the negative outcome in everything.

We sabotage ourselves with this negative self-talk, often before we ever get something started.  We have a good idea and then immediately discount it for whatever dire reason our brain can come up with at the time.  

For this, accept that sometimes, failure happens. You can even use dire predictions to work out a ‘plan B’ in case you need one, but also remember to remind yourself there’s also a chance of success in what you try. There’s no reason to assume the worst.

I literally have used the words in my head, “well, that’s one version of the world.  Here’s another” and give myself a best-case scenario.

The Guilty Conscience

You messed up. Once. A long time ago. It’s time to let it go. For some people, their brains are expert at bringing up the past, regardless of how much time has passed or what you’ve done to correct the mistake.

I remember one time I accidently sent a text meant for one person of a group to the whole group.  In that text, let’s just say, I wasn’t very nice to another member of the group.  I had to make it right and I was humiliated at making such a dumb mistake.  My brain is still not over that incident!  

To this day, I need to remind myself of the lesson I’ve learned. Remember, the past is in the past. Look forward, seeing the possibilities. Let go of the rest.

And check who you are sending a text too, if it’s a not-very-nice text!!

The world really is a more wonderful place than you might have realized. When you let go of negative self-talk, you’re giving yourself the ability to try out a new frame of mind and see just how good things can be. Embrace positivity. Discover what the world has to offer!

Louis Armstrong got it right when he crooned What a Wonderful World!

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