Negative self talk: 3 simple steps to let go of self-doubt
I believe that you are destined for a happy, purpose-filled life. I believe that you make a difference to more people than you realize. I believe that you are a unique, incredible person with unique, incredible things to experience and accomplish. I believe that you are beautiful, inside and out. I believe, without a doubt, that you are amazing! The real question is: do you?
“When you change a belief, you change everything.” - Tony Robbins
Your belief... that’s what it really comes down to. Surrounding ourselves with builder-uppers who encourage us, cheer for us, and who always seem to see the best in us is a great place to start. We all need a good self esteem boost every now and then.
But when you start to truly, deep down believe all those things for yourself… well, that’s when real amazingness happens. When you believe you’re worthwhile, your worth and goodness stand all on their own - without needing to be measured against others. When you believe you’re beautiful, beauty starts looking back at you in the mirror. When you believe you’re good enough, you stop telling yourself you’re not. When you believe you’re happy, amazing, and capable of extraordinary things, you start living that way. Instead we tell ourselves things like “I'm not good enough,” or “She's a better mom than I am,” or “I'm such a bad friend.” And they're just not true. This habit of negative self talk is a tough one to break. It runs deep.
Thought habits and negative self talk
A stream of water running down a mountain naturally follows the path of the water before it. And with each minute the water flows, that path gets more and more defined. I’ve learned our minds work the same way.
Our thoughts follow the paths we’ve created for them. Every belittling thought of guilt, self-doubt and shame carves out the pathway deeper. We tell ourselves something over and over, and it becomes the default for next time. It’s a habit before we even realize it.
Changing a belief starts with forging new paths. If you want to feel joy and happiness you need paths that take you away from negativity and lead you to optimism instead. If you want to feel worthwhile and purposeful you need paths that steer away from self-doubt and take you directly to confidence and empowerment.
Ultimately you need to catch, challenge and change your negative thought habits.
Catch. Challenge. Change.
Personally, I’ve used this process in battling severe anxiety, as well as calming my worrying, regret-filled, perfectionistic self. I’ve felt the weight lift as I’ve erased some of my worst negative thought habits. Others I’m still working on. :)
It’s a process that takes patience and effort. But if you stick with it, it has the potential for powerful change.
Here's how it works:
Catch: Start recognizing what your negative thought habits look like and catch yourself in the act. Whenever you're feeling bad about yourself, look back. Almost always there's a negative thought habit that sent you there. But changing it always starts with finding it.
Challenge: Understand that this negative thought habit doesn't benefit you in any way! If this is hard to grasp or leads to an inner argument, then go back and read the beginning of this article… as many times as you have to. Please hear me and trust me. Any thought you feed yourself that leaves you feeling less than amazing is reason enough to change it.
Change: Replace the thought. Say it out loud if you have to. Literally block that old pathway and point it to a more beneficial direction. This isn't about changing the situation or finding a different way to rationalize or validate. This is about a simple adjustment in the way you think. You're not changing the outcome, but rather changing the words you tell yourself.
Here are three examples of how you could put this into practice right now. Take 'em or leave 'em. Either way, promise you’ll start tossing those negative thought habits out the window and embrace your amazingness instead. Promise you'll try?
Catch: “I should…”
“I should offer to help… even though I’m SO busy this week.” “I should at least make an appearance. She’ll think I’m a flake if I don’t show up at all.” “I shouldn’t have yelled at my kids. What a horrible mom I am!”
Challenge: When we give ourselves guilt trips, or do something to avoid one later, we often act out of obligation or just because we don’t want to feel bad about ourselves later. Pushing ourselves to step out of our comfort zone or supporting a friend even when it’s not convenient are all good things to do. The problem with being driven by guilt is that it’s easier to look back on the experience and resent doing it or feel even more guilty for not doing it at all. Either way, it somehow always ends with negativity and shame.
Change: Be driven by growth, not guilt. We all want to be a better than we were before, and the most impactful self-improvement happens in our day to day choices and actions. When you look at situations as opportunities for growth, rather than obligations, those small daily actions become major stepping stones to becoming who you were designed to be. All it takes is a simple shift in why you’re doing what you’re doing.
“I’m busy but I really want a way to give back. This is the perfect opportunity.” “I can only stay for a minute, but I know it will mean a lot to her to have me there.” “I feel so bad for yelling at my kids. Tomorrow I’m going to do better!”
Catch: "I’m not as good as her."
“She goes to so much effort to teach her kids. I need to get my act together.” “You’re such a better mom than I am.” “She’s so much better at
Challenge: When we compare ourselves to others, we not only miss out on the opportunity to celebrate someone else's strengths, but we also downplay our own by zeroing in on how we measure up to a different person with different strengths. It’s a lose-lose.
Change: Turn comparison into a compliment. I know it’s hard to do, but you’ll be surprised how empowering it is to focus on others’ strengths without attaching them to your own insecurities or weaknesses. Let them shine the way they do best and remember you shine just as bright in different ways. When you choose to soak up someone else’s light rather than spend your energy trying to outshine it, you’ll feel better about yourself and so will they.
“She does such a good job teaching her kids. It’s truly one of her gifts.” “You’re such a good mom! I admire you so much!” “She’s so great at
Catch: "I’ll never be good enough."
“I’m a horrible friend. I spent the whole time just talking about myself!” “I’ll look so much better once I’m more in shape.” “My house isn’t clean enough to have friends over.”
Challenge: You tell yourself you’re doing your best but deep down, you won’t really be happy (or give yourself a break) until you stop making mistakes, lose 20 pounds, and your house is spotless. You demand the unobtainable, relentlessly. Unfortunately, if perfection is what you’re striving for, you’ll always wind up with one conclusion: not enough. You’ll miss appreciating what you have done because you’re so focused on what you haven’t.
Change: People over perfection. This means shifting your focus from your flaws to finding joy in meaningful relationships and connection. Try spending an entire day in this new perspective and you may be surprised how many opportunities to connect that perfectionism has been robbing you of. You see your neighbor at the grocery store and instead of worrying about your outfit and hiding in the next aisle, you enjoy a sweet 2 minute chat and leave her happier than she was before. You have an honest, heartfelt conversation with a friend instead of worrying what she'll think of you and cutting the call short. When it really comes down to it, a happy life is about loving with our whole hearts the people in our lives, including ourselves.
“She was so sweet to listen. I think I must have needed it.” (Go one step further and tell her that. It’ll make her day!) “I'm a beautiful person ready to help others see the beauty in themselves.” “It's going to be so great to have my friends over. How can I make them feel comfortable and welcome?”
Change from the outside in
Catch. Challenge. Change. Just three simple steps to let go of the criticism and doubt we feed ourselves day after day and start replacing them with self-compassion and positivity.
It probably won’t feel natural at first. And definitely not easy. You may not even truly believe these new positive words you’re telling yourself. But change can come from the outside in just as easy as it can come from the inside out. It may not happen right away, but it’s only a matter of time before those messages start sinking in and finding their way to your heart.
And with all the negative self talk stripped away, you can start believing in a happier, more purposeful you. Because while I believe, without a doubt, that you are amazing, you ultimately are who you tell yourself you are.
And that conversation is entirely up to you.