Living with Chronic Pain

Changing Negative Self-Talk to Positive Self-Talk


“Self-talk” is a person’s internal dialogue. It is an automatic, continual process that occurs in the brain. These thoughts can be logical and reasonable or illogical and false.

Self-talk can also be either positive or negative. Negative self-talk is distressing and pessimistic. Positive self-talk is supportive and hopeful. However, positive self-talk does not mean that sad, stressful or complicated situations are ignored. It simply helps to reframe unpleasant situations or negative beliefs to tolerable or even productive.

Negative self-talk and negative thinking typically occurs in the following ways:

  • Filtering involves mentally removing the positive aspects of a situation and focusing only on the negative aspects.
  • Polarizing involves seeing things as only good or only bad, nothing in the middle.
  • Ruminating involves repeatedly replaying upsetting thoughts or events in the mind.
  • Personalizing involves blaming oneself for a negative situation, regardless of the actual cause.
  • Catastrophizing involves automatically anticipating the worst possible outcome of a situation.

Whether self-talk is positive or negative, it influences emotions, mood, and even overall health. This is why it is important to learn to replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk.

Ways to Change Negative Self-Talk to Positive Self-Talk

Just like developing any other habit, changing self-talk from negative to positive takes time and effort. However, with consistent practice, positive self-talk can become the norm.

Six ways to change negative self-talk to positive include the following:

  1. Identify negative thoughts. In order to change negative self-talk, individuals need to be aware of when it is happening. Recognizing critical, negative thoughts and writing them down can help an individual identify any common themes or any times or locations where negative self-talk tends to occur, such as at work or with certain friends or family members.
  2. Evaluate and flip negative thoughts. When a negative thought occurs, it should be evaluated rationally. It’s important to identify if filtering, polarizing, ruminating, personalizing, or catastrophizing is associated with the thought. It can then be flipped from negative to positive. For example, the thought “I messed up that presentation and will never be successful” likely involves filtering, ruminating and catastrophizing. An example of flipping it to a positive thought is “The beginning of my presentation was very strong. The ending was a bit weak, but I will work to improve it so my next presentation will be even more successful.”
  3. Choose positive people. Without even realizing it, individuals can absorb the emotions of those around them. Therefore, surrounding oneself with positive people rather than negative people can help encourage positivity in one’s own life.
  4. Talk about negative thoughts. Talking to someone about negative thoughts can help put them into perspective. Sharing thoughts with a positive family member or friend or a counselor or therapist can be beneficial while working to address negative self-talk.
  5. Place positive images or words in sight. Inspiring images or encouraging quotes can help redirect negative thoughts. These images and words can be placed around the office or home as sources of positivity.
  6. Celebrate wins in life. Celebrating successes and accomplishments, no matter how big or small, is important. Remembering these wins helps promote confidence.
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