How to shut up that insistent negative voice in your head

Your brain is just trying to protect you, but the constant stream of self-doubt is holding you back. Here are some tactics to override it.

How to shut up that insistent negative voice in your head
[Photo: Ewelina Karezona Karbowiak/Unsplash]

Have you ever found yourself facing a new challenge and suddenly a thought emerges in your head–“I can’t do this,” “I’m going to fail”? These negative thoughts can be very powerful and overwhelming, preventing you from being able to pursue new opportunities. So, how do you turn off this negative mental chatter?


“Your brain’s primary purpose is to protect you,” says executive coach and behavior psychologist Marcia Reynolds, author of Outsmart Your Brain. The first thing your brain says to you when faced with a situation where there’s any doubt is “don’t do that,” “you’ll be humiliated,” “you’ll be hurt.”

Related: 4 ways to train your brain to be more open-minded

Recognize the thoughts

From an evolutionary perspective, the brain’s reason for existence is not to be creative and brilliant, but to prevent you from being in harmful situations. That doesn’t bode well if you want to take risks and create new things. Reynolds says in order to get over the brain’s instinct to protect you, you need to say, “thank you brain, but I really don’t need that message right now.”

Instead of saying “I’m having a negative thought, I must be a negative person,” recognize the thought and say, “Oh, that’s interesting, look at what my brain is doing.” Once you recognize that the thought you’re having is your brain trying to protect you, you can take a step back and ask yourself what you need to do now to shift your thoughts.

Related: Can this four-minute brain hack turn you into an optimist?

Look for the truths

When your mind jumps to the negative, ask yourself whether those thoughts have any truth behind them. If you are up for a promotion and your mind starts to say, “you’re over your head, you’re going to fail,” ask yourself what truths make this real. Then look for the evidence that refutes that thought. Think about all the times when you felt out of your comfort zone but succeeded.


Train your brain to recognize the positive

Reynolds says we can train our brain to be more positive by engaging in a morning visualization exercise. Ask yourself “What is it that I want to achieve today?”, “how am I going to show up today?” Visualize what your day will look like when you’re at your best, then at the end of the day, ask yourself what you did during the day to achieve those things that you visualized in the morning.

Rather than going over what went wrong during the day, write down what went well, even if it was small. “You need to give your brain evidence that you can be successful,” says Reynolds. Making this ritual a mental habit can help to shift your perspective and avoid the negative mental chatter that can otherwise hold you back.

Related: How to trick your brain into thinking that you have more time

Focus on the Emotion.

To train your brain to deal with negative thoughts, Reynolds outlines a technique used by sports psychologists to help professional athletes stay in the zone. Exhale, releasing the negative thought, and clear your head. Next, place your awareness in the center of your body, the spot just below your navel. This helps you to stay grounded.

Finally, focus on how you want to feel. “Emotions affect our thoughts and behavior,” says Reynolds. If you want to feel confident, recall a time when you were confident and remember what your body felt like in that state. Perhaps your shoulders were pulled back and you felt taller. Recall and focus on that feeling. This exercise can trick your mind to silence that negative nonsense that’s going on in your brain.

About the author

Lisa Evans is a freelance writer from Toronto who covers topics related to mental and physical health. She strives to help readers make small changes to their daily habits that have a profound and lasting impact on their productivity and overall job satisfaction