Chartered Occupational Psychologist, Consultant, Speaker and Writer

How to End Negative Self-Talk


Do you hear it?

That voice in your head that’s putting you down?

Criticizing you?

Telling you you’re not good enough?

It’s worse than your parents at their most critical, and that teacher who never stopped putting you down, combined in one nightmare voice.

And it Just. Won’t. Stop.

Not All Self-Talk Is Bad

Everyone has this self-talk track going on in their heads. But not everyone’s self-talk is negative.

Those who’ve managed to cultivate self-compassion have a gentler voice. A kinder commentary. A supportive talk-track.

More and more research supports the idea that self-compassion enables people to suffer less while also helping them to thrive.

But happily for those of us whose self-talk is more devil than angel, psychologists agree that self-compassion can be developed.

Be Your Own Best Friend

The way in which we talk to ourselves isn’t the way we’d talk to a good friend. So the best way to become self-compassionate is to replace your ‘Self-Critic’ with a more ‘nurturing best friend.’

The Self-Critic is what psychologists call the voice in your head that says negative things such as:

  • ‘Who do you think you are, trying to be a musician/lawyer/dancer/writer/yoga teacher. You don’t have what it takes.’
  • ‘You might as well give up now, you’re never going to get promoted’
  • ‘You’re too fat/thin/tall/short/fair/dark’
  • ‘He doesn’t really like you. He’s just going out with you until someone better comes along.’

How did you feel when you read the statements above? Perhaps uncomfortable, sad, or pessimistic?

Your emotions are engaged by your ‘self-critic’ (what Arianna Huffington calls the ‘obnoxious roommate in your head’ in her book, Thrive), and you might have applied some of the above (made-up) statements to yourself and felt unhappy.

In the same way, research suggests that it’s important that you don’t just think about self-compassion, but you really feel it. Here’s how.

Create a positive figure in your head

      1. Visualize that positive figure as strongly as possible, emotionally as well as intellectually.
      2. Give them any qualities you like, and consider them a best friend, a ‘nurturing parent’ (it doesn’t matter how you feel about your own parents), or even a mentor figure.
      3. Be as imaginative as you can – this is your creation. Give her or him a name, a profession, age, describe what they look like, and importantly, their qualities or personality (they don’t even have to be human!). Make sure that as part of your description you include the qualities of wisdom, strength, warmth and non-judgment.
      4. Visualize your creation in every way possible, and use all your senses. What do they, and their comments look like, sound like, feel like?
      5. Activate your emotional system as well as your thinking system. You’re trying to create a new relationship with yourself.
      6. Once you have your figure clear in your mind, write a letter from them to you.
      7. Consider, how would this character relate to you? What kinds of things might they say? How would they treat you with compassion? With acceptance? With non-judgment? What would they say about the issues you’re currently struggling with?
      8. Get feedback from someone who cares about you, about both your description of your ‘best friend’ and the letter if you’re comfortable with that. Carry the letter and the description around with you, and re-read them regularly, out loud whenever possible.

Your Best Friend in Action

There’s a myth that we’re motivated by judgment and criticism.

That the more we tell ourselves we’re doing it wrong, we’re not enough, the more motivated we will be to change. That we need to beat ourselves up to make sure we’re on the right track. But psychology suggests that’s not the case.

Next time your ‘self-critic’ pipes up with talk about how badly you’re doing, imagine what your ‘best friend’ would say. To help you, re-read the letter or description.

Gradually, you’ll get more used to their ‘voice’ and eventually, your self-critic will be replaced, or quickly countered by, your ‘best friend’.

Now can you hear it?

That voice in your head that’s talking you up?

Praising you?

Telling you you’re just perfect as you are?

It’s better than your parents at their most supportive, and that wonderful, kind teacher who you’ll never forget, combined into one supportive voice.

And it Just. Won’t. Stop…

8 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Suzie Cheel May 3, 2016, 3:47 am

    Interesting point Ellen, yes it is interesting how we can learn from negativity, as long as we don’t dwell there or we can have to make much more effort to raise ourselves and our vibes back up. Great tools you have suggested xxoo
    Suzie Cheel recently posted…Your May Abundance ReadingMy Profile

    • Ellen May 4, 2016, 5:44 am

      Thanks so much Suzie. Yes, definitely something to learn from and not dwell on as you say <3

  • Allanah Hunt May 3, 2016, 8:13 am

    Thanks for this great article which reminds us to watch what we say to ourselves!

    • Ellen May 4, 2016, 5:44 am

      Thanks for reading Allanah!

  • Elle May 3, 2016, 9:05 pm

    It never ceases to amaze me Ellen…how the things we say to ourselves tend to be more negative than positive. Love the tools you share for changing this around and hopefully as more people become aware that what they’re saying to themselves doesn’t make for a better life, they’ll stop!
    Elle recently posted…4 Things to Remember When You’re In A SlumpMy Profile

    • Ellen May 4, 2016, 5:45 am

      Thanks Elle, and yes, it is so strange how different we are inside our heads versus how we would treat another person. Awareness is the first step!

  • Mahevash May 31, 2016, 1:06 pm

    Interesting and actionable ways to beat that evil inner critic!
    Mahevash recently posted…Conquering Stage FrightMy Profile

  • Sandra Pawula June 30, 2017, 3:02 am

    I love this idea of creating my own bestfriend in my head and really FEELING self-compassion. We all need this, don’t we?
    Sandra Pawula recently posted…Do You Need a Break?My Profile

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