Do you ever have those days where it feels like your inner critic is in full force? All day long, it’s telling you that you’re not good enough, you can’t do anything right, and that you’re a failure. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.
Many people regularly experience negative self-talk. But mindfulness to conquer negative self-talk can be a powerful tool to help you break free from this negative pattern.
In this article, I’ll explore why we have negative self-talk in the first place and share some mindfulness strategies you can use to conquer it once and for all.
Think about the last time you accidentally spilled a cup of coffee. Can you remember what went through your mind? Did you laugh it off thinking, “Oh, I’m such a klutz sometimes!” or did you criticize yourself harshly, “I can’t even hold a cup right, I’m hopeless!”?
These internal dialogues that we all have with ourselves are what we call “self-talk.” It’s like having a little commentator inside your head, constantly narrating the events of your life, both big and small.
Imagine watching a football match on TV with the sound on mute. You see players running around, making passes, and scoring goals, but without the commentator’s passionate play-by-play, the game feels a bit flat, doesn’t it? The commentator adds context, interpretation, and sometimes, a bit of drama.
Our self-talk works quite similarly. It interprets and gives meaning to our daily experiences. If you’ve ever found yourself replaying a conversation in your head, evaluating how you performed in a meeting, or anticipating how a future event might unfold, you’ve experienced self-talk.
Let’s consider imagining a fictional person, Sarah, a young professional, who has a big presentation coming up at work.
As the day approaches, her self-talk kicks into high gear.
Positive self-talk might go like this: “Yes, I’m nervous, but I’ve prepared well. I know my stuff. I can handle this.”
On the other hand, negative self-talk might sound like: “I’m going to mess up. I always do. They’ll think I’m incompetent.”
The same event, but two vastly different narratives. That’s the power of self-talk!
Understanding self-talk, and more importantly, learning to guide it in a positive direction can be an incredible tool in our mental wellbeing toolbox.
Remember, we can’t always control what happens to us, but we can certainly control the narrative we attach to it. And that’s where mindfulness and controlling our self-talk comes in.
The Negativity Bias
We as humans have what’s called a “negativity bias.” This basically means that we pay more attention to negative experiences than positive ones.
Research has shown that this negativity bias can impact our thoughts and beliefs about ourselves.
For example, let’s say you make a mistake at work. You might beat yourself up about it for days (or even weeks) afterward.
But what about all of the times when you do something right? It’s likely that you don’t spend nearly as much time dwelling on those moments.
This is why negative self-talk can be so damaging. It takes the mistakes we make and blows them way out of proportion.
Suddenly, we start believing that we’re incompetent and unworthy because of one small error. This can have a major impact on how we think about and see ourselves.
Types of Negative Self-Talk You Need to Stop Using
There are so many ways we talk down to ourselves. Some people focus on the things they can’t do, while others focus on their mistakes.
And some people tend to be extremely self-critical when it comes to evaluating their performance and behavior.
Regardless of what kind of negative self-talk you use, it’s important to understand that it’s not serving you.
The more you learn about negative self-talk, the more you’ll be able to catch yourself in the act and start to turn things around. Let’s take a look at some of the most common types of negative self-talk:
1. All-or-nothing thinking
This is when you see things as black and white with no middle ground.
You might tell yourself that you’re a failure because you didn’t achieve your goal perfectly. Or, you might think that the entire day was a waste because you made one small mistake.
2. Mind reading
Mind reading is when you assume that you know what other people are thinking without any evidence to back it up.
For example, you might think someone didn’t invite you to their party because they don’t like you. Or, you might think your boss is angry with you because of how they looked at you in a meeting.
Catastrophizing is when you blow things out of proportion and make them seem much worse than they actually are.
For example, if you make a small mistake at work, you might convince yourself that you will be fired or that everyone hates you.
Labeling is when you give yourself (or others) a negative label based on one small event or trait.
For example, you might call yourself “stupid” because you made a mistake. Or, you may label someone as “lazy” because they didn’t do something you wanted them to do.
Personalization is when you take responsibility for things that are out of your control.
For example, if your friend gets upset with you, you might tell yourself that it’s your fault and that you’re a terrible friend. Or, if there’s conflict at work, you might think that it’s because you’re not good enough at your job.
The Effect of Negative Thinking on Your Health & Well Being
Have you ever noticed that you feel physically and emotionally exhausted after a long day of beating yourself up?
Maybe a few days later, you even start to feel sick. This is no coincidence.
Negative thinking creates stress in the body, and this can have serious effects on our physical and mental health, including:
- Chronic pain
- Sleep problems
- Weakened immune system
- High blood pressure
- Changes in appetite
Let’s face it: life is hard enough without adding negative self-talk into the mix. Fortunately, there is a way to break free from the harmful effects of negative thinking. And it starts with mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of bringing your attention to the present moment. This means you focus on your thoughts, feelings, and senses without judging them as good or bad.
When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and emotions without getting caught up in them.
You might notice, for example, that you’re having a thought about how you’re not good enough. But instead of getting caught up in this thought and believing in it, you simply observe it and then let it go.
It’s a simple concept that can be difficult to master. Our minds are constantly racing, and it can be hard to slow down and focus on the present moment. But with practice, it’s possible to become more mindful.
Related: Benefits of Meditation
How Mindfulness Can Help
So, how can mindfulness help you overcome negative self-talk? One study found that people who engaged in mindfulness reported higher levels of optimism than those who didn’t.
Here are a few other ways mindfulness can help you overcome negative self-talk:
1. Mindfulness helps you to identify negative thinking patterns.
When you’re mindful, you can observe your thoughts without getting caught up in them.
This allows you to see the negative thinking patterns causing stress and anxiety and work towards
2. Mindfulness helps you to challenge negative thoughts.
Once you’re aware of your negative thinking patterns, you can start to challenge them.
For example, if you’re catastrophizing, you can ask yourself what evidence there is to support your beliefs.
Or, if you’re labeling yourself, you can remind yourself that one mistake does not define you as a person.
3. Mindfulness helps you to focus on the present moment.
Focusing on the present moment can help you to feel calmer and more centered.
Negative thoughts are often about things that have happened in the past or that might occur in the future.
But when you’re mindful, you only focus on the present moment. This can help you to let go of those negative thoughts and simply be in the here and now.
4. Mindfulness helps you to be more accepting of yourself.
Negative thoughts are often self-critical and can make you feel bad about yourself. When you’re mindful, you’re more accepting of yourself and your flaws.
You don’t judge yourself for having negative thoughts; instead, you accept them as part of being human.
Conquer Negative Self-Talk With Mindfulness
Time to put it into practice! Here are some tips for using mindfulness to conquer negative self-talk:
1. Start by bringing your attention to the present moment.
If you’re having a negative thought, stop and notice what’s happening around you right now. Where are you? What’s happening? What can you hear? What can you see?
Once you’ve brought your attention to the present moment, take a few deep breaths. This will help you relax and calm down. Then bring your awareness back to whatever was causing the negative self-talk in the first place.
2. Take note of the negative thought and label it as such.
If you’re thinking I’m so stupid, label this thought as “negative self-talk.” Then ask yourself whether or not it’s true. Is this a fact or an opinion? If it’s an opinion, what evidence do you have to support that opinion?
If you can’t find any evidence, then this thought is just an opinion. You don’t have to believe in it. So let it go.
3. Replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk.
Replace negative thoughts with more realistic, accurate, and helpful ones.
For example, if you’re thinking I’m so stupid, replace this thought with, “I’ve made some mistakes today, but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid.” This will help take the sting out of negative thoughts and create room for more positive ones.
4. Practice mindfulness every day.
The more you practice mindfulness, the easier it will be to use it in moments when negative self-talk arises. Make mindfulness a part of your daily routine, and soon it will become second nature.
Negative self-talk can be harmful to our mental and physical health. So next time you find yourself thinking negative thoughts about yourself, stop and take a moment to practice mindfulness. It could make all the difference.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be construed as professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms of any mental health condition, we strongly advise consulting with a qualified healthcare professional.