How to Stop Negative Self-talk

By Heather Campbell

By Heather Campbell >>

All business leaders have times when they can’t switch off – we all know that feeling as reflections on the day just finished, or the one to come, buzz around in our heads.

This can be invigorating when the thoughts are ones of success and achievement. But they are a huge drain on energy when they are more negative.

This is a time when self-talk can lead us into a pointlessly negative place. It’s an occasion to ask ourselves some specific questions to take control again.

These are the questions that, in my own self-talk and in my work with clients, I have found are particularly effective.

1. Your mind is churning with doubts about whether you did the best thing in the circumstances

I love these two tips from the Dalai Lama. Rather than wondering if he took the best action, he asks himself two questions:

  • Did I do whatever I did to the best of my ability at that time?
  • Was my intent good?

I think these are great questions; if we can answer yes to these – no matter what anyone else would have done, no matter if we could have done something better on another day – then what more can anyone ask? What more can we ask of ourselves?

2. You are beating yourself up because you know you did the wrong thing

Ask yourself:

  • Does it really matter? If the answer is no, then forget about it! If the answer is yes, then ask yourself:
  • Is there anything I can do to change it? If the answer is no, then forget about it. If the answer is yes, then ask yourself:
  • Am I prepared to do that? Again, if the answer is no, forget about it. If the answer is yes, then get on with some action!
3. You are worrying about something that might go wrong in the future

Three great questions come courtesy of Dale Carnegie. First ask yourself:

  • What is the worst case scenario?
  • Can I survive that?

Then, having looked the worst outcome firmly in the eye and realised it is survivable, the killer question:

  • How likely is it that the worst case scenario will happen?

I have used these questions frequently with clients who are having sleepless nights worrying about something. When they stop to reflect they realise that, not only can they survive the worst case scenario, it is highly unlikely that it will happen.

But the most fun comes from turning the tables on this one. Once you’ve completed the worst case questions, ask yourself:

  • What is the best case scenario?
  • How likely is it that the best case scenario will happen?

It’s amazing how often people realise that the best case is actually more likely to happen than the worst case. But, because we are more driven by fear of failure than we are by desire for success, we obsess about the negative.

Once you’ve worked out that you can survive the worst case and looked at the potential best case, make the most of your positive mind-frame. Plan what is needed to take steps towards the best possible outcome.

Of course there will be situations so serious that more in-depth thinking is required. But these simple questions are highly effective for all those times that we needlessly worry and waste our time on negative thinking. And those times are by far the most common in everyday business life.

Ever found yourself on a downward spiral of negative thinking? Do you have your own techniques for dealing with it? Have you found the advice above useful? Leave us a few words below with any questions, thoughts, opinions – we’ll respond to all comments.

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  1. I found a book called Mind Power by James Borg very insightful. He takes the ideas you discuss and models methods of dealing with the “chattering mind”. Not just for managers, but for everyone, it is right to think about how we think.

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