Challenging Negative Self-talk

Even though you can’t always control the situation you’re in or change other people, you can change the way you think about the situation or person. Self-talk refers to those thoughts or things you say to yourself.

Changing the way you think about things might not be easy at first, but with time and practice, you’ll get better at it. Give it a try—it’s worth the effort! With practice, you can learn to notice your own negative self-talk as it happens, and consciously choose to think about the situation in a more realistic and helpful way.

Dispute the self-talk.  Disputing your self-talk means challenging the negative aspects of your thinking. Doing this enables you to feel better and to respond to situations in a more helpful way.

Once you start examining your thoughts, you’ll probably be surprised by how much of your thinking is inaccurate, exaggerated, or focused on the negatives of the situation.

A good way to test the accuracy of your perceptions might be to ask yourself some challenging questions. These questions will help you check out your self-talk and see whether your current interpretation is reasonable. Recognizing that your current way of thinking might be self-defeating—and prevent you from getting what you want out of life—can sometimes motivate you to look at things from a different perspective.

Challenging questions
Ask yourself these four main types of questions:

1. Reality testing
• What evidence supports my thinking? What proof is there that my thinking is false?
• Are my thoughts factual, or are they just my interpretations?
• How can I find out if my thoughts are actually true?

2. Alternative explanations
• Are there any other ways that I could look at this situation?
• What else could the situation mean?

3. Perspective
• Is this situation as bad as I’m making out to be?
• What’s the worst thing that could happen? How likely is that?
• What’s the best thing that could happen?
• What’s most likely to happen?
• Is there anything good about this situation?
• Will this matter in five years?

4. Goal-directed thinking
• Is thinking this way helping me feel good or achieve my goals?
• What can I do that will help me solve the problem?
• Is there something I can learn from this situation to help me in the future?

Acknowledgement: This fact sheet was originally developed by youth and staff at, a website that helps teens get through tough times.

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