How to Spot + Stop Negative Self-Talk in its Tracks
This week I’m diving into negative self-talk with my online program beta testers (shout out to you beautiful people!) and wanted to open the conversation to you all. This is a theme that I see come up again and again with my clients and certainly with myself. So how do we get out of our own way? Our thoughts give way to our emotions, so if we want to feel better, we need to think better. But first, we need to become aware of our negative thought patterns so we can squash them as they come up. Below are the 10 most common types of cognitive distortions.
1. Mind Reading
Mind Reading is when we assume we know what is happening in someone else’s head, usually in regards to us. Of course, more often than not we resort to negative assumptions. I am guilty of engaging in this one ALL THE TIME whenever I teach a group fitness and don’t see a sea of bright, shining faces smiling back at me. My negative self-talk kicks in and starts telling me that nobody likes this exercise, everyone hates the class, etc. etc. when really they’re probably just focusing on not dropping a kettlebell on their foot.
Overgeneralization is assuming that a negative event will continue happening again and again based on isolated information. Simply because one terrible thing happened doesn’t mean it is always going to be that way. An example of this would be getting ghosted (that obnoxious thing where guys never call or text again without explanation) and assuming that it is bound to happen if you ever talk to a guy ever again.
Magnification is exaggerating any tiny “flaw,” or imperfection about yourself or over stressing about a perceived mistake you made. Beating yourself up for deviating from your healthy eating plan with a piece of birthday cake would fit the bill for this one. Another example would be calling yourself a failure for not making it to the gym after a busy day at work.
Minimization is the flip side of magnification where you quickly dismiss your positive qualities. You might be crushing it in your professional world but constantly tell yourself how you can’t do anything right when it comes to health and nutrition. Or you’re quick to dismiss someone complimenting your toned arms and immediately point out how much they jiggle when they’re not flexed.
5. Emotional Reasoning
Emotional reasoning is when you put your emotions over your values in decision making. You engage in this one when you don’t do the thing that makes you uncomfortable. If you quit because you feel scared, even though you know doing the task ahead is something you value, you let emotional reasoning get the best of you.
6. Black-and-White Thinking
Black and white thinking is when you let your thoughts live in the extremes. It’s the all-or-nothing approach that leaves no wiggle room or margin of error. When you set crazy goals for yourself, like Whole 30 or eating a raw vegan diet, you’re setting yourself up for failure or completely misery without any flexibility.
Personalization sounds exactly like it is – when you take things that may or may not be beyond your control or even about you extremely personally. Say you’re working on a team project at work and your supervisor gives some constructive criticism to someone on your team. You immediately blame yourself for not picking up that task yourself and doing it right. Cue the anxiety when you stress about things that are beyond your control.
8. Fortune Telling
Fortune telling is similar to overgeneralization and goes hand in hand with mindreading. It’s when you predict a negative outcome for the future without evidence. To go back to my example where I assume everyone in my class hates the workout (mindreading) I would then say to myself that there is no way they’ll ever come back (fortune telling), even though I have no concrete evidence for this.
Labeling is just what is sounds like – reducing yourself to a single, one-dimensional (usually negative) label. Your pants are tight? You call yourself fat. You finished the bag of cookies? You tell yourself you’re a failure. These labels are an inaccurate oversimplification that result in a poor sense of self.
10. Should Statements
Should statements can bring about anxiety and guilt due to the usually high expectations you put upon yourself when you say you should or shouldn’t do something. Telling yourself you should have already lost the baby weight by now or you shouldn’t give into your cravings for chocolate places unhealthy pressure on yourself and leads to anxiety, guilt, and self loathing.
So what do we do about these cognitive distortions?
The first step is recognizing them. Notice them in yourself but also start to take note of when the people around you use them. With this added awareness, see if you can be more intentional about your self-talk. When you catch yourself spiraling, grab a journal and start to do a brain dump of all the self-sabotaging things whirling around your head. Acknowledge your thoughts and honor your feelings. Then, as if you were a neutral professor reviewing a paper, look over your journal entry and find counter examples of the negative thoughts you had about yourself. Try to tease out fact from fiction so you can get a fuller picture of the situation that is more grounded in reality.