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10 Strategies to Silence Negative Self-Talk and Defy Your Inner Critic

Accept your thoughts, but don’t give into them.


By Marina Khidekel, Editorial Director at Thrive Global
Courtesy of modus_vivendi / Shutterstock

Courtesy of modus_vivendi / Shutterstock
As much as we’ve tried to fight it, we’ve all engaged in negative self-talk, and listened too closely to our inner critic (Thrive Global’s Founder and CEO Arianna Huffington calls that critic the “obnoxious roommate living in our heads”). We know this kind of internal dialogue isn’t healthy — research has shown that talking down to ourselves can have a negative impact on physical performance, self-esteem, and anxiety — yet we still often revert to it when something doesn’t go our way.

When we change our way of thinking, though, something remarkable happens: The Mayo Clinic says positive self-talk can lower stress levels, rates of depression, and ultimately increase life span.

We asked members of the Thrive community to share the habits that helped them silence their negative self-talk. Their course-correcting strategies are both actionable and creative, and will help you confront your inner critic with an entirely new perspective.

Turn to self-affirmation

“I was addicted to approval in my career. One career pivot, two psychology degrees, and much re-training later, I now know that we need to give ourselves approval, so we don’t rely on what others think. Self-affirmations are brief, positive statements that are strengths-based and known truths. They help beat the negative thoughts that get in the way of the positive. They couldn’t make my career stress disappear, but they did re-program my thinking and dial down my inner alarm so I could respond in more intentional ways. I end daily affirmations like this: ‘Focus on these words. The person who knows you best chose them!’”

—Helen Hanison, executive coach, Brighton, England, U.K.

Accept your thoughts, but don’t give into them

“The author Eckhart Tolle once said, ‘Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have.’ To this end, I have come to realize more and more that living in the now entails accepting limiting thoughts, as they are part of the now, yet not succumbing to them. It’s impossible to be unhappy and fully present in the now.”

—Jassir de Windt, communications professional and lecturer, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Reach for pen and paper

“I need to get it out on paper to stop the wheels from turning. Writing is the thing that saves me.”

—Caitlin Donovan, acupuncturist, New York, NY

Identify your voice and silence outside influences

“I have learned — in years of therapy — that negative self-talk isn’t just some random roommate in your head who talks you down. It’s the voice that you heard when you were a child. It’s the judgment I grew up with and the world view of the adults around me who weren’t very optimistic. The way we talk to our children becomes their internal voice. As a mother of two young boys, I am acutely aware of that, and how important it is to be aware of the way we communicate with our children. In my experience, those voices don’t ever fully go away. You can’t silence them; you can’t erase them; they will always show up when you least expect them. But, by being aware of them, they lose their power over you. What matters is how you live with them. I don’t fight them anymore — I hear them and recognize them in a split second. I think, ‘Ah, that’s something my father would say.’ And then I move on because it’s not my opinion; mine is different. And that works for me.”

—Maria Mayer Feng, personal photo book designer, New York

Smile to elicit positive energy

“I squash negative thoughts by smiling in the moment. I smile big and say, ‘Thank you! Thank you for showing me that I still have work to do in this area of my mindset. Thank you for showing me that feeling fear, doubt, and shame is a reminder that I am passionate about what I am doing. Thank you for reminding me to connect with what is true.’ The smile changes my energy to find the positive outcomes of a hard moment. It changes my state, and reminds me that I am a work in progress. My willingness to decide what I want to take with me in that moment, and what I want to leave behind, empowers me to quiet the negative thoughts and focus on what drives me forward.”

—Kareen Walsh, CEO/business growth strategist, Greenwich, CT

Reimagine your inner voice as TV show character

“I learned this trick from columnist Tara Mohr: Create a picture of what your inner critic looks like. Mine looks like a character on a TV show I used to watch called “Dot Cotton.” Do you take this person seriously, or would you take advice from them? Chances are, the answer is no! So why listen to it? I love this method because it helps to filter the messages we get, so we can start to trust our instincts instead of our inner critic.”

—Ciara Gogan, empowerment specialist and impact coach, Rockland, MA

Channel your self confidence

“A lack of self confidence is the biggest blocker to reaching your personal goals. Whenever you hear your internal voice putting yourself down, talk out loud to yourself and say, in the present tense, a phrase about yourself that states the opposite of how you are feeling. For example, if you think you can’t go for a promotion because you are not worthy, say, ‘I am great at what I do and am overqualified to move ahead!’”

—Lisa Andria, reinvention coach, Long Beach, CA

Give your inner critic a ridiculous name

“I’ve found that trying to silence negative thoughts makes me fixate on them instead, and going to war with my mind doesn’t work either. Instead, I’ve given my negative voice a ridiculous name (one that you’d never call your child — think Neville, Gertrude, or Maude) and it has been a game changer. When I catch Neville saying, ‘You’re sucking at life today, Andrea,” I reply, “Cheers for that Nev, but that’s not terribly helpful right now.’ And then I redirect my attention to the sensations in my hands or feet, so that Neville can’t grab my attention and run with it.”

—Andrea Featherstone, mindfulness consultant, Melbourne, Australia

Self-soothe with a simple phrase

“Years ago, I read about a tribe in Africa that teaches its children how to self-soothe or silence fears when they worry about dangerous things that could happen. They teach their children to say, ‘This is a story that doesn’t need to happen,’ when fearful thoughts take over and grip their little minds. I think this is a simple, yet wonderful way to course correct any negative self-talk. It tells the brain to stop the story that is emerging. Halt. Stop. No need to go further. I love it and I’ve used it often since reading about it. Try it yourself and I’ll bet you’ll see results immediately.”

Talk. It tells the brain to stop the story that is emerging. Halt. Stop. No need to go further. I love it and I’ve used it often since reading about it. Try it yourself and I’ll bet you’ll see results immediately.”

—Camille Sacco, meditation instructor, Winter Park, FL

Lose interest in the negative

“I have discovered through experience that a great deal of negative self-talk is driven by our interest in feeling bad about ourselves. One strategy that works wonders is developing a consistent habit of saying to yourself, ‘I am not interested in feeling bad about myself today.’ Once I developed this habit of empowered self-taIk, I found that I was capable of diffusing negative self-talk at will.”

—Ozioma Egwuonwu, founder and CEO, Lisbon, Portugal

(Thrive Global)

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