Challenging negative self-talk6
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What is self-talk?
Self-talk refers to those thoughts or things you say to yourself. Positive self-talk can be a really great strategy to feel better about yourself.
Even though you can’t always control the situation you’re in or change other people, you can change the way you think about the situation. An example of negative self talk would be if you tell yourself that there’s no reason to study for an upcoming test if you already know that you’re going to fail. In this situation you may not even try to study because you believe regardless if you study or not you won’t pass. However if you think more positively about a situation it can change the outcome for the better. If you believe that you will do well on the test, then you’re more likely to do well on the test. Don’t doubt yourself, you’re capable of achieving a lot more than you think.
A challenge with negative self-talk is that what you think or say to yourself might seem true. You might assume that your thoughts are facts, when in reality they are based on your perceptions. If you are feeling down on yourself for some reason, this can lead to your thoughts being especially harsh.
When you feel anxious, depressed or stressed out, your self-talk is likely to become more extreme—you might expect the worst and focus on the most negative aspects of your situation. So it can be helpful to put a more positive perspective on things. For example, you can try to challenge your self-talk by trying to imagine a friend in the same situation. Many find it helpful to use that distance as a way to identify any irrational thinking and make suggestions for reframing the situation.
Changing the way you think about things might not be easy at first, but with time and practice, you’ll get better at it. Give it a try—it’s worth the effort! With practice, you can learn to notice your own negative self-talk as it happens, and consciously choose to think about the situation in a more realistic and helpful way.
Dispute the self-talk
Disputing your self-talk means challenging the negative or unhelpful aspects of your thinking. Doing this enables you to feel better and to respond to situations in a more helpful way. Once you start examining your thoughts, you might be surprised to realize how distorted some of your previous thoughts were.
Whenever you find yourself feeling depressed, angry, anxious or upset, use this as a signal to reflect on your thinking. A good way to test the accuracy of your perceptions is to ask yourself some challenging questions. These questions will help you check out your self-talk and see whether your current interpretation is reasonable. It can also help you discover other ways of thinking about your situation. Recognizing that your current way of thinking might be self-defeating—and prevent you from getting what you want out of life—can sometimes motivate you to look at things from a different perspective.
Ask yourself these four main types of questions:
1. Reality testing
- What evidence supports my thinking?
- Are my thoughts facts or interpretations?
- Am I jumping to negative conclusions?
- How can I find out if my thoughts are true?
2. Alternative explanations
- Are there other ways that I could look at this situation?
- What else could the situation mean?
- If I were being positive, how would I perceive this situation?
- Is this situation as bad as I’m making out to be?
- What’s the worst thing that could happen?
- What’s the best thing that could happen?
- What’s most likely to happen?
- Is there anything good about this situation?
- Will this matter in five years?
4. Goal-directed thinking
- Is thinking this way helping me feel good or achieve my goals?
- What can I do that will help me solve the problem?
- Is there something I can learn from this situation to help me in the future?
This fact sheet comes from Taking Charge! A Guide for Teenagers: Practical Ways to Overcome Stress, Hassles and Upsetting Emotions by Dr. Sarah Edelman and Louise Rémond.
Foundation for Life Sciences, 2005
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