Dealing with negative self-talk


“I am such an idiot”

“I can’t do it”

“I’m not good enough”

Several of the leaders I’ve been working with have issues with negative self-talk. At first it was surprising (to me) when it surfaced, but we all have negative self-talk.

That voice is in the back of my head too. Often, it’s not very nice. Sometimes it’s a real meanie (edited out the potty mouth). Everyone has some amount of negative self-talk. And in times of stress or exhaustion, that voice in the back of your head gets louder.

It becomes is toxic and self-destructive.

If you say you can’t do something, you can’t do it. If you say you’re an idiot… eventually you believe it.

The way our brain works, the more often we repeat something, the deeper it gets entrenched. It becomes a habit that shapes who we are. Do we truly want to be the “idiot” or the “I can’t do it” or even the “I’m not good enough”?

If we don’t, then we need to make a change.

Change the negative self-talk habit

Think of negative self-talk as a habit.

One of my favorite books of last year was Atomic Habits by James Clear. A key lesson from his book is that the most effective way to change your habits is to focus on the person you want to become.

If you want to breakthrough and achieve your goals, getting past your raging inner-critic is a vital first step. After all, if YOU don’t believe in YOU, how can anyone else?

Easy change vs hard change

In the Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay Stanier discusses easy change vs hard change. Easy change we do all the time. Adjust a process. Go a different way home. Wear white after Labor Day.

Hard change. . . that’s something else. That’s moving forward to be future you. It’s about deciding who you want to be and making the necessary changes to become that person.

Reducing negative self-talk is hard change. You’re changing who you are, rewriting a piece of your brain’s operating system.

Do you want to be your own worst critic, or your own loyal cheerleader? Do you want to put yourself down, or lift yourself up? It’s up to you.


Catch yourself and reframe

If you’re ready to make the hard change and start the process of reducing your negative self-talk, we need to interrupt the negative self-talk and reframe it:

  • I’m such an idiot -> this is an opportunity to learn
  • I can’t do it -> I don’t know how to do it… yet
  • I’m such a failure -> I’ve had lots of battle scars to learn from

This is an active correction you need to consciously make. Each time you do it you’re creating a new habit and turning that negative state of mind to a positive one.

Pro tip: Try doing the reframe out loud at first. It’ll reinforce the change quicker. Perhaps not in front of a group of your peers.

Reward yourself

One of the rules of habit change is to find a way to reward yourself when you get it right. Since we’re taking an important habit, find a simple way to make the new habit satisfying.

Pro tip: When I started this habit change, I quickly discovered that in reframing I was changing my state of mind… going from negative thinking to positive. There’s a chemical response when that happens. It feels good! I amplify it by smiling and patting myself on the back (figuratively). That’s enough for me.

Be gentle and patient

This isn’t some reality makeover show where you’re magically transformed in 30 minutes. Mastering your self-talk is a long term (some would say forever) process. If your self-talk is 1% more positive every day, you’re doing amazing well.

“Small changes often appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold. The most powerful outcomes of any compounding process are delayed. You need to be patient.” – James Clear, Atomic Habits

Mike Knapp


Mike has been helping businesses achieve their goals for more than 20 years. He believes there is a better way for business owners and leaders to build their businesses and achieve their big goals. As a Gravitas Impact Premium coach, he leverages the 7 Attributes of Agile Growth™ to simplify the art of strategy and discipline of execution.

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