Are You Addicted to Negative Self-Talk?

I was reading a parenting guide couple of days ago, on which I learned that children tend to believe negative assessments about themselves from adults, and they develop an inferior self-assessment if you criticize them on a regular basis. For example, a child who gets used to hear “you are weak in math”, or who regularly get lower grades for the subject of math at school, will definitely develop into an adult who actually is weak in solving the simplest of math problems.

When I was thinking alone this line, I tend to realize that this is not only true with children, but also with adults. If we are not asleep, every one of us keeps on talking to someone, every single moment of the day. Just think about it. During the day, you talk to your work colleagues, friends, parents, schoolmates, children and strangers you meet at bank, bus stop, or in a store. If you are not talking to somebody else, you are talking to your self, which psychologists call as “self talking”.

As a rule of thumb, we can say an average person spend 60% of his normal day (while awake) self-talking and the rest 40% talking to others. Depending on your job and status, these percentages might slightly differ. This means, 60% of the day you are listening to your own voice speaking to you, and you hear (sometimes over hear) what others are speaking.

The point at which I am trying to getting at is; what you hear within yourself (self-talk) and from outsiders will shape your own “assessment” of your personality. Therefore, it is obviously important for you to have positive and optimistic self-talk within yourself, and use similarly positive language when talking to others, if you desire to live a happy life or if you want to be a person who is liked by others around you. On the other hand, if the words coming out of your mind are always a complain about something or someone; you cannot possibly think of seeing an end to the miserably sad life you are spending.

Take these two example dialogues.

Scene 1
Sam: Do you know the latest news? Interest rates are down these days; I’m thinking of taking a loan and invest in some stocks. Stock exchange thrives these days, so this is a good opportunity to make few bucks.

Dan: Ya, I got the news. But this won’t last for much longer, banks will raise the rates after the election. I have the feeling stock market will also come down quickly. It’s only a set of inflated numbers I believe.

Sam: So, BTW why don’t you also take a loan and buy a new car? Car prices go low these days, so this is the best time to buy your dream car.

Dan: Oh, forget it. Another stupid government gimmick. They only reduced tax on luxury vehicles. I was looking to buy a motor cycle.

Scene 2
Sam: Good morning everybody! Sorry I’m late today, I got late to wake up, BTW what do we have in mail this morning? Any good news from our new clients?
Dan: Oh… shit! That stupid taxi driver ruined my day. He was so slow driving so I got late.

Sam: Hey, Danny.. John called me last evening and asked about the order. Are we on target?

Dan: What do you mean? At this rate we are never going to deliver it on schedule. Jane from accounts still not approved budgets for those purchases. People at the factory are damn slow. We will never finish the order if they keep going home sharp at five.

Now which character best fits your own? Are you Sam or are you Dan? In these two examples, Dan is a typical complainer. Dan always sees the darker side of the story. He is always over suspicious about the world, the people and everything. He sees a conspiracy everywhere. For every single matter he faces in life, he put the blame on someone else. Typical persons like Dan, will never take responsibility of a mistake. Instead, they will blame it on someone else or something else. Choices that are more popular are; weather, traffic jam, external disturbances, and in Sri Lanka most popularly they blame it on the government!

Just like in the case of children who tend to believe that they are weak in math; these typical negativists build up a negativist life style, reinforced by their own negative self-talk. More you hear negative things inside, more you become negative and lethargic in your daily life. Not only that, but you also damage the morale of the people who listens to you regularly.

How Does it All Begin?
People never come to this world as negativists. Instead, they catch the disease from others, while or after growing up. If you are surrounded by a set of relatives who complain and whine as a family ritual, most probably you will too become a whiner. If you are not get diseased by your immediate family, then there is a chance for you to catch the germ from people whom you associate most. (That is the reason why you have to be careful in selecting the friends you hang out with). Just imagine if you are locked in a room with a person who never speak a positive toned word about anything, and will reply to you with a “yes, but” negative remark for every single word you speak, what would be the outcome after a day? You will definitely be converted into a negativist, and you will become the perfect partner for that person. This is why you have to control your negative speeches at the presence of others.

What are the typical words/phrases used by negative self-talkers?

  • I’m sick of doing this!
  • I don’t enjoy doing this
  • This won’t work
  • This is never going to work
  • I told you this wouldn’t work
  • People of this country are useless.
  • This exam is too hard, I have not studied enough to face it
  • I think I didn’t do well in the exam
  • Enough this madness
  • It’s hard to anything right with that person
  • He never do anything right
  • She’s a waste of time

Just for a moment, imagine that you are a computer. Imagine that above statements are a set of computer programming commands. The interface you use to program these commands is through your voice. If you program a computer with a set of commands, the computer will execute exactly the same actions! You will always be sick of doing everything. You will never enjoy what you are doing. You will never see a good result of what you are doing. Exam will definitely be difficult.

Imagine if you want to change the outcomes of your computer. What do you have to change? You have to change the string of commands you are passing to it. Stop passing negative commands and see the result!

Important thing to remember is, your negative self-talk may not only damage yourself, but also the others around you. Therefore, it is bad and dangerous as much as smoking in public places. I wish one day someone will pass a law  "no whining at public places"


Or let me call this ‘home work’. For the next couple of days, listen closely to your self-talk. Listen carefully what you speak to yourself from inside of your head. Pay attention about the things what you are talking with others. Don’t try to change anything. Just be yourself, but closely observe yourself like someone else is observing you. Are you using mostly ‘whining words’ or ‘complaining words’? Are you always blaming someone for something? What percentage of your speech is about good things of people, and what percentage of it is of bad things? Are you most of the time talking about other people’s weaknesses?

Do this exercise seriously, and you be surprised to see how much negative energy you have stocked in your mind, which slows you down in your journey towards happiness and success.

After doing this initial study about your ‘self-talk’ then come to an agreement with yourself, to refrain from self-talking negatively for the next two days. It will be harder in the beginning, but you will start to feel the difference in couple of days. No matter how hard it is to deal with someone whom you regularly interact with, never make a negative comment about that person. This does not mean you have to bluff that person. If you do not have anything positive to say, do not say anything. The idea is, avoiding speak negatively; it is not about talking positively. Stop complaining about the weather, taxi driver, or the lately arrived bus. Stop whining about what you could not achieve or do not have. Make it a habit, not speak anything negative for about two days. When you feel like some negative self-talk is going on inside you, speak to someone with a positive comment, or sing out a song loud so that you will forget that negative feeling.

The third phase of the exercise is to have a fresh perspective of the world around. Now look back at some of the jobs you earlier disliked. Think about a person you earlier thought as about ‘useless’ or ‘stupid’. Think about some of the decisions (by your boss, teammates, teacher, government etc) you earlier criticized. If you have properly done the first two stages of the exercise, you will suddenly realize the world is not bitter as you always whine about. You will realize, most of the time the problem was with the way you look at things/people, rather than the actual nature of those things/people.

Going back to the story of the children who are affected by repeated negative feedback from adults; I now believe, I would have been a great mathematician if, my grade 7 math teacher gave a second thought before putting 14% on my exam report card; two terms in a row.

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  1. I'm Dan :-( Thanks for sharing. I will try to practice your home work :-)

  2. Thanks for this. I also talk to myself out loud when alone and most of the stuff I say is extremely negative; either criticising others or myself. Sometimes I am dwelling on things that happened years ago and are no longer of any relevance. It's interesting you mentioned the connection with childhood and critical adults; I seem to recall quite a bit of that in my old case. It's as if that criticism was so repeated that my mother's voice has become entrenched in my thinking and I feel compelled to say it all out loud, criticising myself or others. It has become such a bad habit that I find it very hard to get through a morning without launching into a verbal tirade if alone. But thank you for this article; although it does not cover talking to oneself it has been like a moment of clarity for me, and I shall most certainly try to be kinder with myself and do the homework you set.

  3. It’s easy to talk to ourselves in a negative way, the hard bit and the part which makes us successful, (whatever that is for you), is to talk to yourself in a positive way.

    Thanks for the post.


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