Negative self-talk can be so much a part of the running dialogue in your head that you may not even notice it. However, it's important to recognize these feelings towards yourself if you want lasting change in your life. Research shows that while negative emotions can create short-term motivation, they're not effective in creating lasting changes in your behavior.

"We're motivated by negative emotions. While it's understandable to think that strongly felt negative emotions like regret, shame, fear, and guilt should be able to catalyze lasting behavior change, the opposite is true," says science writer David DiSalvo.

One review of more than 100 behavior change studies found that negative emotions such as fear and regret were actually the least effective change motivators.

Positive affirmations towards yourself make a much better motivating force. Sort of. The problem with that strategy is that most of us feel completely ridiculous complimenting ourselves in the mirror -- so we don't do it. Even if you manage to muster a weak, "gosh darn it, people like me" you don't sound convincing to yourself, so it doesn't work.

So, what does work?

  1. The first thing to do is to notice your negative self-talk. The one I catch myself saying most often is, "I'll never follow through." The result is that I stop trying, because why should I bother? In the moment, I can remember a couple handy examples of times I had an idea and didn't take the next step or a time I actually started and didn't finish. The dozens of things I have finished don't come as readily to mind.
  2. Second, ask yourself one simple question. If I heard a child say these words, how would I respond? As adults with responsibilities and experiences, we forget to be kind and encouraging to ourselves. While there is a time and place for tough, reality-checking conversations, the day-to-day dialogue we have in our own heads needs to be focused on what's possible--not excuses for what we don't think we can accomplish.
  3. Lastly, call someone in your life who helps put things in perspective. Most of us have someone like that. They're typically older with more life experience such as a grandparent, parent, or mentor. You're not fishing for compliments in this conversation. Instead, you're asking this person to remind you of the bigger picture or a time they thought things were bad but really weren't or turned out to be a valuable learning experience.

Putting negative thoughts in context takes out the sting because our choices and mistakes are rarely as bad as we think they are. Creating that positive spin is motivating and sets us up for success.

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