Taming the Inner Critic: 6 Strategies for Building Positive Self-Talk

The information below is not intended as medical advice and is only intended to offer points you may wish to consider in 'non-emergency situations', together with signposting for more support. You should consult an appropriate medical professional if you have concerns about your mental health. 

Ever experienced a nagging voice at the back of your head telling you that you’re not good enough? Well, if so, you’re not alone. Negative self-talk, fear, anxiety and imposter syndrome happens to most of us from time to time and we can often be our own worst enemies. But when your inner critic won't budge, it can start to have a detrimental impact on your mood and overall wellbeing, bringing you down and diminishing your sense of self. Fortunately, it is possible to silence the negativity and to establish a more positive view of yourself, your skills, your expertise and your abilities. Keep reading to discover six tips to help you incorporate more positive self-talk and to start building your confidence back up.

What is Positive Self-Talk?

The phrase 'positive self-talk' might conjure up an image of someone listening to a self-help audio recording before work or reciting positive affirmations into the bathroom mirror. However, while those methods may work for some, what we're referring to here is the creation of inner dialogue that involves speaking to yourself in a kind and caring manner.

Positive inner dialogue is about reframing the unhelpful, negative thoughts you might have swirling around and replacing them with more optimistic and supportive words of encouragement. And by reshaping your mindset, you can reap some of the many benefits of positive self-talk such as improved confidence, enhanced resilience, reduced stress, and an overall much happier disposition. Depending on how loud your inner critic is, this of course, can be easier said than done, so let's take a look at some helpful strategies...

6 Strategies for Building Positive Self-Talk

  1. Imagine You're Talking to a Friend

The next time you notice self-criticising thoughts, it can be helpful to stop and pretend you're talking to a loved one. Ask yourself, how would you respond to them if they told you that they were beating themselves up for a mistake they made at work, or for guilting themselves for being away from family on regular work trips? Your response would likely be comforting, and you'd encourage them not to be so harsh on themselves. You'd likely also remind them of what a great job they're doing and point out some of their successes to help balance the scale.

  1. Use Your Name Instead of "I"

Similarly, beginning your positive self-talk journey could be easier if you stop using first-person pronouns. It may seem awkward or uncomfortable at the start, but third-person self-talk has actually been shown to improve emotion regulation*. While it can be, this doesn't necessarily have to be your name. You might find this method works best for you if you use your preferred pronoun when referring to yourself. For example, instead of thinking, "I can't do it", you could consider, "She can do it" instead. In doing so, you can create a more compassionate dialogue, as you take on the role of an observer, as opposed to yourself.

  1. Humour Yourself

If you find yourself becoming bogged down by negative self-talk, you might find it useful to change your perspective by using humour. This can help you to reframe situations that might usually initiate negative self-talk, allowing you to see things from a different angle. For you, this could look like making light of minor mistakes or ridiculing negative thoughts. Laughter is the best medicine, after all!

  1. Try Affirmations

An affirmation is a statement, said out loud, listened to, or written, that declares a positive belief or quality to promote positive thinking. Affirmations will differ for everyone, depending on what your focus is but some examples include: "I am proud of myself", "I am open to learning from my experiences", "I am a loving parent" and "I am a kind and fair manager".

For your affirmations to be most effective, it is recommended to use the present continuous tense and to repeat them approximately ten times. You can even try practising these with the whole family, since affirmations can be a great activity for children, too.

  1. Turn Negative Thoughts into Helpful Questions

Another strategy to tackle your inner critic and work on your positive self-talk is to challenge your thoughts with helpful questions. For example, the next time you think, "I can't do this presentation" or "This task is impossible!", try flipping these unhelpful statements. Instead, you could ask yourself, "How can I get this presentation done?", "Who can I speak to and what actions can I take to get support on ensuring the presentation gets completed?", or "How can I break this task down into manageable chunks?". Things start to sound a lot more manageable when you reframe them to sound more achievable and can take them on with optimism rather than doubt.

  1. Consider Seeking Additional Support

Our brains can be incredibly busy, and sometimes, this can lead to becoming overwhelmed with racing and negative - or even intrusive - thoughts. Over time, these thoughts can become all-consuming and in the long term, can affect your mental health. If you find yourself struggling with your inner critic, you may want to consider seeking professional help to support you further. We direct you to the Mind website for information on how to find therapy or counselling. You should always reach out to your GP for help and guidance too, as well as take a look to see whether your workplace benefits include coaching or counselling sessions.

*Third-person self-talk facilitates emotion regulation without engaging cognitive control: Converging evidence from ERP and fMRI | Scientific Reports (nature.com)