Everyone has a negative inner voice. For some this voice speaks up occasionally. For others the voice is a frequent visitor.
According to Steve Andreas in his book Transforming Negative Self-Talk, “An internal voice may remind us of past failures, sorrows, or disappointments, torture us with criticism or verbal abuse, describe frightening or unpleasant futures, or disturb us in other ways.”
A negative inner voice can make us feel hopeless and helpless, because we can’t control the demoralizing thoughts brewing in our brains. However, there is something you can do — many things, in fact.
One of them, though, isn’t eliminating the voice. Trying to stop it only makes it louder, according to Andreas.
Instead, in his book, he suggests making small changes to how we listen to this voice.
Here are three unique exercises from Transforming Negative Self-Talk.
1. Turn down the volume.
According to Andreas, remembering an event when a sound moved away from you or you moved away from a sound “elicits the same internal neurobiology that occurred when that happened in the external world. That same neurobiology can be used to make a corresponding change in your internal world.”
We can use this to our advantage when quieting the inner critic. Think of the various experiences you’ve had — preferably repeat experiences — in which the volume decreased because of some event or something you did, he writes.
For instance, think of a time you covered your ears with your hands or submerged them in a bathtub or ocean to muffle the sound. Think of a time the person who was talking to you turned away, or a loud car or bus drove by and silenced their speech.
Use these experiences to help you turn down the volume of your negative inner voice.
2. Ask positive questions.
Adding positive phrases or questions to your inner dialogue, which aren’t empty affirmations or sugary sweet statements, can help as well. For instance, Andreas suggests asking ourselves: “What else can I enjoy right now?”
Such a question “changes what you attend to, and how you feel in response,” he writes.
Instead of focusing on negative thoughts or complaints or problems, you direct your attention toward what you can enjoy, and what you can enjoy in the present moment.
He includes other examples: “What else can I notice about my healthy functioning right now?”; “What else pleases me right now?”; “What else is beautiful to me right now?”; and “What else can I love right now?”
3. Link opposite thoughts with self-acceptance.
Some statements aren’t helpful because they contradict our negative inner voice, creating a conflict. So when you say, “I am lazy,” followed by “I accept myself,” you might not be so convinced.
According to Andreas, there’s a way you can genuinely accept yourself without debating your inner critic. The technique is used in EFT, the Emotional Freedom Technique.
First, think of something you don’t like about yourself. Next pay attention to how this is said (e.g., “I’ve failed repeatedly”). Then add the word “even though” in front of that statement, followed by “I deeply and completely accept myself.”
Here’s an example: “Even though I have failed repeatedly, I deeply and completely accept myself.”
So this is the format: “Even though I [critical self-evaluation], I deeply and completely accept myself.”
You also can use this to feel better or achieve your goals. Andreas suggests this format: “Even though I [statement of problem or difficulty], I [statement of a positive outcome].”
Here’s an example: “Even though I have failed repeatedly, I can learn to succeed.”
You can even change the sentence to say that this issue actually makes it easier for you to accomplish your goal.
Andreas shares this example: “Failing repeatedly means that I know a lot about how to fail; if I just do the opposite, that should be a path to success.”
Your negative inner voice can be very convincing, especially if it’s been around for a long time. However, you can quiet this voice and even channel it to create a useful inner dialogue. The key is to find exercises that work for you.