3 Techniques to Stop Negative Self-Talk Without Using Affirmations

How do you handle negative self-talk?

Do you notice when you’re being hard on yourself… and then judge yourself for not being able to stop your thoughts?

Or perhaps you try saying positive affirmations, hoping that they’ll help you feel better… but you often end up just feeling even worse about yourself.

We all have so much to offer and yet, because of self-doubt we often hesitate to share our true selves with the world.

So what CAN we do about our negative self-talk?

I have several techniques to help uproot negative thinking patterns, which I use on myself and with my coaching clients.

And none of them involve affirmations!

When affirmations are incongruent with your overall mindset, they lead to an internal conflict or struggle and end up backfiring.

Yikes! This is exactly why you might end up feeling worse when you use them.

And is it really any surprise that we can’t wash away our negative thinking by dousing it in a superficial shower of positivity?

Here’s the good news!

You’re NOT stuck with your limiting beliefs for life.

And here’s the bad news…

It does take time to rewire your thinking patterns. But hey… if it’s going to make you a happier, healthier, more joyful person isn’t it worth the effort?

So what are some options for stopping negative self-talk that actually do work?

1. Get Real

It’s time for that big meeting again… you know, the one with the CEO and all those senior executives.


You’re on deck to present today and you have a controversial new idea to share.

Double gulp.

And then it happens… the parade of negative thoughts start dancing through your brain before you’ve even had a chance to enter the proverbial arena.

“No one’s going to listen to you… What were you thinking when you came up with this idea? You should have played it safe and just told them what they wanted to hear. No one is interested in in what YOU think…”

Perhaps you’re familiar with this particular tune?

It feels terrible when the negative thought train starts to leave the station and the downward spiral into “OH MY GOD I’M TOTALLY INCOMPETENT AND GETTING FIRED!!!” territory begins.

You may have even tried thinking an opposite thought in this type of scenario… perhaps an affirmation along the lies of, “I am Athena the Goddess of WAR and thou shalt do my bidding!” And ended up feeling even worse.

Here’s the thing, when you’re telling yourself something that isn’t true, you’ll feel a negative reaction in your body. 

The “Get Real” Technique:

So, instead of buying into your negative thinking or using an affirmation, try “getting real” by telling yourself something like: “I sometimes feel like people don’t see the value in what I have to say. And this may or may not be true.”

You might notice that your body releases tension when it hears something that feels true.

And that’s where getting real is a helpful technique. When you’re telling yourself something that is true or at least closer to the truth, that physical sensation will shift to something more positive.

And then guess what?!? When this happens, you have a fighting chance of actually sharing your new idea, your controversial opinion, or your 18 cat pictures from this past weekend without feeling all contorted inside about it.

When your energy shifts in a more positive direction… people listen to you differently.

Try getting real with yourself by experimenting with accurate and honest variations of your negative thoughts and see which ones “feel” better for you.

2. Challenge Your Language

Picture this… It’s 4:00 p.m. and once again, your staff member has let you down. What’s worse is that you knew this would happen. Her track record for following through is pretty lousy. Now the project is going to be delayed… this will be reflected in your annual review… You might as well say goodbye to that promotion you were dreaming about! $%#*#@!!! Once again, you’re stuck doing ALL OF THE WORK.

You’re feeling totally trapped… like you don’t have a choice. Essentially like you’re being forced to do something that you don’t want to do.

It’s no surprise that we generally don’t like being forced to do things. And interestingly enough, we often believe we have no choice about doing things when that’s not actually true.

What you tell yourself about the situation in your mind either makes you feel empowered or like a victim in the situation.  

The Challenge Your Language Technique:

Instead of telling yourself, “I have to do all the work.” try telling yourself, “I’m choosing to do all the work.”



Language shapes our mindset and how we feel about our reality. And unless someone is holding a gun to your head, you literally don’t “have to” do anything. (And even then, it’s debatable… but let’s not go down that rabbit hole right now.)

We often use the words “can’t” and “have to” because we’re not prepared to deal with the consequences of making a different choice.

When we shift our language away from words like “can’t” or “have to” and instead use words like “choose to,” or “will,” our brains start to recognize that we have a choice… that we are empowered.

And even if nothing shifts immediately in our behaviour, this creates a much more empowering mindset and opens us up to the possibility of choosing a different course of action… or at least accepting the part that we play in creating our current reality.

Either option will likely feel better than trying to convince yourself that you’re forced to do something when you actually do have a choice.

3. Thank the Belief

You’re finally ready to make that leap of faith into a new career… perhaps you’ve been dreaming about leaving your corporate job to become an artist… or maybe your side hustle of training dancing ferrets is finally getting some traction.

And then the voice inside your head starts up again, “It’s too late. You’re too old. You’ve already invested so much in your current career. You should just stay where you are, no one cares about dancing ferrets… you should have gone with dancing mice like Bob suggested! What on earth were you thinking???” 

But your heart knows that something needs to shift. And the truth is that if you don’t do something to follow your dreams… anything… you’ll always regret it. 

Here’s the deal… we usually develop the habit of talking to ourselves in a negative way because of some past experience that we lived through.

For whatever reason, we learned that it was better… perhaps even safer… to be down on ourselves and not shine as brightly as we’re truly capable of doing.

We can fight the belief and try and shove it out of our minds, but this can feel like you’re constantly swimming upstream.

The Thank the Belief Technique:

So instead fighting against it… try thanking the belief.

Thank it for keeping you safe.

Thank it for helping you when you needed it.

Thank it for still trying to protect you.

And then… gently let it know that you’re ready for new adventures. You’re ready to grow… and you’ll figure out a way to handle whatever happens when you show up differently in your career or in your life.

When we thank our limiting beliefs instead of trying to push them away like unwanted parasites, we honour the part of ourselves that needed them… the scared, vulnerable, and sensitive part of ourselves.

And when you acknowledge that part of yourself, it stops feeling the need to scream at you to protect it. Once that part of you knows that you value and respect it… the negative self-talk pretty much melts away, almost effortlessly.

A Final Thought

You can stop your negative self-talk without using affirmations.

When your nasty inner dialogue rears its ugly head, remember to try (1) getting real, (2) challenging your language, or (3) thanking the limiting belief, whichever feels like it would be the most helpful in the moment. 

Rewiring our self-talk is our life’s work for many of us.

It takes patience and tenacity. But as Martha Beck says in Steering by Starlight:

“Seeing the inaccuracy of your own limiting ideas and thoughts is the only way to genuine freedom. If your entire life situation were to change at this moment but your false beliefs remained embedded in you, you’d very quickly find yourself right back in the same sort of trapped, optionless hell you left behind.”

Martha Beck

Thank goodness for thought work!

Which of these did you try? Leave a comment and tell me how it went.

2 thoughts on “3 Techniques to Stop Negative Self-Talk Without Using Affirmations

  1. Thank you for his helpful post! I always get stuck when I try to use affirmations because I immediately start arguing with them, saying, “That’s not true! I’m not [insert positive quality]!” Actually, affirmations can be really triggering for me and send me deeper into negative thoughts. They take me back to being a little kid and feeling really angry, and adults trying to soothe me, which brings up feelings of not being listened to. As if someone is saying, “There, there. Everything’s fine” when I don’t feel fine at all.

    As I read your techniques, I could literally feel my body relax and the tingles of “Yup!” pour over me. Not sure which of these will work best for me yet, but I’m gong to write them on a Post-it so I can remind myself to try them next time I start getting sucked into a negative thought vortex.


    • That’s amazing Megan! Thank you for sharing the piece about affirmations. I’m sure many others will be able to relate and I know that I certainly can. It’s great to hear that these techniques resonated with you! I love the idea of keeping them handy on a post-it note for when those sneaky negative thoughts creep up on you.


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