The Importance of Reducing Negative Self-Talk

By: Rebecca Chen

Published | Mar 19, 2019

Negative Self_Talk

Did you know that over 70-80% of self-talk– the things we say to ourselves – is negative?

Seldom do we give ourselves a mental pat on the back for our accomplishments. It’s easy to brush off our successes and focus on the rest of our to-do list or the criticism that we’re given. However, experiencing positive thoughts flood our brain with endorphins, which helps us relax so we are more alert and centred. In fact, research shows that positive self-talk improves confidence, moods, and motivation making it easier to achieve our goals.

The Danger of Letting Negative Self-Talk Persist

“I tried rerouting my thoughts but found that I was reinforcing the original negative thought even when I was trying to think a more positive thought! That showed me how entrenched the negative pathways are on that particular issue.” – Starling Member

Every time we think negative thoughts like, “I’m not doing enough” or “someone else would be better at this job”, neural pathways strengthen in our brains.

Think about the act of exercising to bulk up your muscles. Every time you go to the gym and lift weights, your muscles become stronger. After weeks or months, your biceps will likely become larger and more prominent. The same logic applies to our thoughts.

Our brains are made up of vast neural networks influenced by our thoughts, behaviours, and feelings. Over time, having the same thoughts or reactions strengthens these neural paths. The more these networks are activated, the stronger they become making it easier and easier for them to activate again.

This is dangerous because strong negative comments can eat away at our confidence and our assertiveness. At Starling Minds, we see the effect that unhealthy thought patterns have on members every day. With enough self-berating, any seasoned professional may become unsure of themselves and the decisions they make. Here are some comments from professionals in Starling’s Community:

“I’ve never really felt very confident in my life. I’ve always compared myself to others and felt like they were smarter more attractive and better than me.”

“My confidence has been somewhat shaken over the course of the past few months. It seems that everywhere I turn, I uncover something else that needs to be fixed.”

“I never seem to resolve or implement a plan of action before another challenge arrives.”

How to Turn Your Negative Self-Talk Around

The good news is that with practice, we can rewire our brains and reroute our thoughts into positive ones full of encouragement and self-acknowledgment! This can be done with a cognitive-behavioural strategy called thought-balancing. Developed by clinical CBT psychologists, thought-balancing one of the most effective exercises for helping people think in a more balanced and realistic way. Here are some comments from Starling Members who are practicing thought-balancing:

“I am becoming more aware of how harmful my thoughts are on my confidence and overall well-being.”

“Recently I’ve been dealing with a very stressful situation at work and it’s not helping that all I can think about are worst-case scenarios. Using Starling’s thought-balancer has really helped me to take a step back to reframe the way I’ve been viewing things.”

Thought-balancing involves self-reflection and generating evidence that proves our negative thoughts wrong. Often, people find that they are being too hard on themselves, have all-or-nothing thinking, or have too much on their plate. After engaging in a thought-balancing exercise, here is what a few Starling Members recognized:

“Part of my struggle is that I am aware of when I am trying to do too much for too many people or holding myself to high standards in my work, but I don’t prioritize my needs at all.”

“I tend to think that things should be a certain way and I get upset when they aren’t. But I can’t magically change the world to follow my rules, so I will focus on what I can change, which is my reactions in these situations. My goal is to be less reactive with situations and people that I can’t control.”

“I need to find one thing that I can do well and feel positive about it. The positive thinking and sense of accomplishment will inspire me to repeat my efforts and get into the zone.”

Many Starling Members have successfully changed the way that they talk to themselves:

“I need to give myself a break sometimes!”

“I have to remember what I DO accomplish.”

“I am not a failure, I never have been.”

As one Starling Member puts it, the “feeling of being a failure is the one that haunts us the most.” And while this could be due to a variety of reasons, “When we set impossible standards, it’s easy to slip into a rut.” By leveraging neuroplasticity and creating new networks that are more positive, we can set expectations that are more realistic and give ourselves permission to celebrate our successes and accomplishments. What are you waiting for? Start balancing your thoughts today!

Rebecca Chen

Rebecca is Starling Minds' Community Manager. She is passionate about normalizing the discussions around mental health by creating a safe space to bring people together in support of one another.

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