How to challenge negative thoughts and stop beating yourself up
Do you struggle to see the bright side? Read on for top tips to help you stop negative thoughts and self-criticism.
What is negative self talk? It's that little voice in your head which tells you you're not good enough – that you're not good at your job, that people don't like you, that bad things are going to happen to you.
It can be really hard to break the cycle of negative self talk which is often linked to anxiety and depression.
You might feel that you just can't shake these nagging thoughts – that the intrusive thoughts racing through your mind might be true, no matter how irrational they are.
But there are ways to reduce negative thoughts and challenge the false beliefs that you've acquired and we're going to look at a few techniques which might help.
How to stop negative self talk
One way to overcome negative self talk is to tackle it head on – you'll need a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. We're going to do a little experiment.
Imagine you have a difficult day ahead of you and you've been dreading it for a while. You've probably found it hard to sleep and are feeling anxious. Here's what you should do:
- First, write down at the top of the paper what the dreaded event is – it could be a job interview, a social occasion, or even a date.
- Draw three columns on your paper. In the left-hand column you're going to write everything that could possibly go wrong: "What if I don't get the job?", "What if my date doesn't like me?", etc.
- In the second column, challenge your negative thoughts and write what could happen if the day goes well instead. "What if the interviewers like me", "What if I get on well with my date", and so on.
- The third column is for your results and you'll fill this in after the event. Make a note of what actually happened and how you felt about it.
Was it as bad as you were expecting? Most of the time you'll find that it wasn't and that your worries were unfounded.
By challenging these unhelpful thoughts, you'll teach your brain that overcoming negative self-talk is possible.
How to stop beating yourself up
Self-criticism is a very common tendency. The usual way of approaching this is to give ourselves a hard time for giving ourselves a hard time.
We perversely believe that digging further down into the hole will get us out of the hole. We like to pile on the agony.
Instead, simply notice the voice and the tone of the voice in your head. When you're talking to yourself in that condemnatory way, acknowledge that.
Just say to yourself, "I'm talking harshly to myself."
Another approach is to smile at the critical voice. Don't get into a war with it.
You don't end a war by going to war. If there's a fire and you want it to go out, you need to let it burn itself out of fuel.
Getting mad at yourself is throwing fuel on the fire.
Ask yourself how it feels when you're being critical of yourself.
Once you really start to that the purpose it serves is to make you feel depressed, then slowly it will fall away.
But until then a part of you thinks that it's a necessary thing and is there to protect you.
Don't fight it. Sit down a few times a week and say hello to the critical part of yourself. Ask how it feels. Listen to its concerns. Let it reveal itself to you.
Meet your inner critic
The 'little me' is the voice in your head which commentates all day long. Identifying with this little voice is what causes us much distress.
It tries to convince us that it has all the answers to our problems when in fact it is part of the problem itself.
It is born from the need to be somebody as we are growing up. Some people use the terms ego, egoic mind and the self for this voice.
Different terms resonate with different people – but they refer to the same thing.
Extract from Happiness and How it Happens: Finding Contentment Through Mindfulness by The Happy Buddha, published by Leaping Hare Press.
Photos by Ben White, Verena Yunita Yapi, Eunice Lituañas, Jad Limcaco and Jake Young on Unsplash.