How I Learned to Recognize and Reduce Negative Self-Talk
by Adrienne Erin
Over the past three years I have run two marathons, four half marathons and so many 5Ks, I can’t even remember them all. And yet a few months ago, when a friend described me to a mutual acquaintance as a runner, I shook my head. “Oh no, I’m not a runner,” I said. “I’m really slow. I’m more of a jogger — just a step up from walking. Anyone could do what I do.” The acquaintance gave me a strange look, and it wasn’t until later that I realized why. I’ve accomplished some remarkable things through training and determination, and yet I waved those accomplishments away with just a few words. I let negative self-talk sabotage a conversation. After that day, I resolved not to do it again.
What It Is and Why We Do It
What is negative self talk? It’s essentially downplaying your accomplishments. For example, say you recently completed treatment at an alcoholism recovery center. If you’re using negative self-talk, you might shrug off someone’s compliment about overcoming your addiction by saying, “Well, it’s only been a few weeks” or “Yes, but I still have 50 pounds to lose now that I’m not drinking.”
People, especially women, use negative self-talk for a variety of reasons. It’s usually tied to low self-esteem. Someone either feels generally down about himself or herself, or they’re fishing for reinforcement. They might say, “Oh, I look so fat in this dress,” hoping a friend will reply, “No, you look stunning.”
Or it can be tied to a need to pump others up by downplaying ourselves. If a friend has been laid off but you just got a promotion, you might dismiss her congratulations with, “It’s not that much of a pay raise” or “I’m not even sure why they gave it to me.”
Why It’s Damaging
Whether you’re feeling bad about yourself or reluctant to overshadow a friend, negative self-talk can have dire consequences. It reinforces the idea that you are not good enough, and it makes you think poorly about yourself, which is never helpful.
Negative self-talk can also impact those around you. If you are constantly putting yourself down, it can be frustrating for your friends or significant other to hear you talk this way. They will try to convince you of your worth for a while. But if their positive reinforcements aren’t getting through, they will stop sharing them.
Worse, they may start to view you through the lens that you see yourself — never good enough. Because really when you get down to it, that’s what negative self-talk reinforces, the idea that as hard as you may try, you’ll never achieve perfection. The funny thing is, no one achieves perfection. So why are you being so hard on yourself?
How to Get Over It
It’s not easy to eliminate negative self-talk. The first step after recognizing it is to start convincing yourself that you really are worthy of positive reinforcement. I have found that the best way to do this is to imagine that I am talking to someone else.
If a friend who had run as many races as I had downplayed her achievements so aggressively, what would I say to her? I thought about this for a long time. Then I said in my head, “You’re being silly. You’ve pounded out 26.2 miles in one stretch. Even if you finished it slowly, you ran. How can you even think of refusing the title of ‘runner?’”
I won’t say that it was easy to eliminate the negative self-talk. I found myself drifting back into it if I wasn’t careful. But each time I started to downplay something I’d accomplished, I stopped, took a breath, and thought about what I’d say to a friend. Soon I began to accept compliments more easily, and once I even introduced myself to another woman who had completed a marathon as “a fellow runner.”
Today I not only avoid negative self-talk about myself, but I also try to remind my girlfriends not to do it to themselves, either. I notice that when I take the time to talk to them about negative self-talk, whether they’re blaming themselves for problems that clearly aren’t their fault or failing to take credit for the wonderful things they have done, that they, too, stop ripping on themselves. Often I have this conversation with one friend, and she passes along the “no negative self-talk” message to another as well.
Negative self-talk may burble up in our heads, but we can take away its power by refusing to verbalize it and remaining positive. That’s how I’ve become more confident, happier and yes, even a better runner. And I’m proud to call myself one.
About the Author
Adrienne Erin is a health-conscious writer who has always had issues with negative self-talk, but has learned how to deal with them. You can see more of her work by following her on Twitter at @adrienneerin.