Overcoming Negative Self Talk

Do you have a voice in your head that’s constantly chatting to you? (It’s the voice that’s saying to you right now, “Yes, I do!” or “Voice, what voice? I don’t have one”).

Trouble is, the internal chatter is often negative. Thoughts such as “I can’t do this”, “I don’t deserve a promotion”, “I’ll never be good at sports” are generally very unhelpful. They may be conscious thoughts, but often the voice is chatting away at an unconscious level – and it is persuasive nonetheless.


Mentors can help their mentees defeat this negative self-talk in a few different ways.


Name it

Asking your mentee to name their thoughts (often assumptions or beliefs) brings them into their conscious awareness. Just asking “what were you thinking at the time?” or “what assumptions were you making?” helps the mentee become aware of their inner conversation and gives them more power to interrupt the pattern.


Challenge it

Common forms of negative self-talk include catastrophising (e.g. “I can’t do anything right and I will lose my job and my home”, personalising (e.g. your partner is angry and you automatically think you’ve caused their anger) and filtering (e.g. filtering out positive things and always focusing on the negatives – “Nobody likes me”).


Gentle challenge by a mentor can only take place when there is strong rapport in a conversation. It might go something like this:


Mentee: “I feel so alone at work. Nobody ever talks to me. They obviously dislike me”

Mentor: “It’s hard when you feel isolated at work…. Can you think of a time when somebody does talk to you?”


The mentor validates the mentee’s feelings – you cannot really challenge that. Getting the mentee to think about exceptions to their statement helps them to see how black and white their thinking may be, before moving on to a deeper conversation about what is happening at work and how they might be contributing to the problem. For example, feeling left out or ignored may have resulted in them withdrawing from workmates, which may have worsened the situation.


Reframe it

Reframing helps the mentee take the edge off a negative thought by replacing it with something a bit more positive. For example, I’m not good at this” becomes “I’m not good at this… yet… but with practice I will get better”.


Blow it out

Once a negative thought is named, it can also be blown out of the water by changing the tone of the voice to something OTT (over-the-top). Have your mentee say the thought out loud with a Donald Duck or Sponge Bob voice.  Any OTT voice that sounds ridiculous will do. The silliness can help the  mentee distance themselves from the emotional reaction to the thought.


Thank it

Some people give their negative voice a name. Let’s call it Jemima. Jemima has good intentions – she just wants to protect you from harm. When Jemima says “you’re no good at this” she is hoping you won’t keep trying, because that way you won’t be disappointed if you fail. Problem is, people with loud Jemima’s may give up trying anything and cannot reach their potential.


Jemima will always be there – negative thinking is so ingrained. But invite your mentee to say something like this to themselves (or out loud): “Thank you Jemima, I know you only want the best for me. But thinking I’m not good at this is not helping me right now. I am going to try something different this time”.


Replace or pair it

Negative thoughts can be habitual and so to keep them at bay, the trick is to notice the thought and then take some action. Ideally the negative thought is replaced by one more positive (as in the reframe technique). Pairing it with a new thought also works. It reminds us that we can control our thinking and it begins to trigger more frequently the neurons that trigger optimism, positive self-regard and creativity.


There are many more techniques for working with limiting thoughts and beliefs. As mentors, we need to remember to respect our mentees and to tread lightly with any tools and techniques, so they don’t feel threatened. Before you try any of the suggestions, you might like to try them out on yourself.

© Melissa Richardson