No one is going to read this blog post.
No one is going to read it, and yet here I am writing it. Researching. Satisfying a personal curiosity, something I’ve pondered over and over, and putting my thoughts down for someone — anyone — to read.
If they feel like it.
But they probably won’t.
Like many people I know — wait, I’ll clarify: like many successful women I know — I am prone to more than my share of negative self-talk. The voice in my head, the story I tell myself that I can’t do something or that I won’t do it well. It’s the voice that may keep you from starting a business or going out on your own, it’s the voice that may keep you from training for that marathon or writing that book (**ahem**turns mirror around to face the wall and gets back to researching**).
When I look at myself and those to whom I am close, and when I think long and hard about why we say the things we say to ourselves, I see a lot of similarities. First, as I mentioned, a lot of us are female (I’m not looking to start a massive feminist conversation here on gender inequality — we can have that conversation another time, so just take me at my word). Also, I don’t want to speak for them or name names — their stories are their own to tell, but I speak from my perception of their feelings and the filter through which I have consumed our conversations. Second, we’re Type-A personalities, lots of prominent D in the DISC profile, perfectionists, business owners, and entrepreneurs; we tend toward introversion (and are probably really good at hiding it) and generally present to the world around us an aura of success, fearlessness, extroversion, outspokenness, and overall success.
However, despite the façade we present to those around us, that voice in our heads is there, even if we don’t see it, don’t know about it, even if we don’t talk about it, even if we never notice the chink in our armor. It is the voice that can hold us back. The voice can lead to overthinking, analysis paralysis, and stopping before we start.
We also become ridiculously adept at justifying negative self-talk. Recently, while waiting to hear some (very good) news, I started doubting whether the call would come. I was pretty sure it would. But time seemed to drag on and on, and still no call. I steeled myself for the “no” while secretly allowing myself to be just a wee bit excited about the possibility of the “yes.” When I finally had an official word, I texted a close friend, with whom I’d dissected the possibilities of when the call could come, why it probably would be “yes,” why it might be “no,” and so on. She was the first one I texted:
Me: “Just received!” [screenshot] “Whew!”
Her: “Never had any doubt! Stop listening to that self-doubt!”
Me: “I mean, you never know until you know…”
Her: “AND you like to beat yourself up.” [winky face] Me: “Well, yeah. There’s that.”
The justification that “you never know until you know,” or “it could happen,” or my favorite, “I like to prepare for the worst and be excited when it doesn’t happen,” is something that I witness time and again among my female friends. It appears to be, if not uniquely, then prevalently female.
For me, though, and for many of the friends I’m talking about, this is also the voice that can lead to self-challenging (I made that up), to the other voice that says, “Oh yeah? Watch me.”
This leads me to the question: can negative self-talk actually be good for you?
I did some pretty extensive Google searches of phrases such as “positive effects of negative self-talk” and “can negative self-talk be good for you.” The overwhelming consensus is, of course, no, it’s not healthy. I also Googled a dozen versions of “are women more susceptible to negative self-talk” and “women and negative self-talk” and “gender differences in negative self-talk.” It appears (from my searches) there haven’t been a lot of studies on this, though I can tell you from personal conversations with a lot of the women in my life this is most definitely a thing (the two studies I found are linked in MORE READING below). From Psychology Today to Huffington Post, the searches yielded results ranging from explaining the toxic effects of that negative monologue in your head to defining types of negative self-talk to flipping my search terms (in a bit of reverse psychology?) to explain the extraordinary effects of positive self-talk (“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!“).
What’s interesting to me, however, is that when I changed the search criteria, the narrative shifted once I navigated away from self-help and psychology and navigated toward business-related writings. It becomes less about boosting your self-esteem with tips for silencing your inner critic and combatting your negative internal monologue with affirmations and notes you write yourself on Post-Its and stick to your bathroom mirror (not that there’s anything wrong with those things) and becomes more about harnessing that negative energy and converting it into power and process. These articles acknowledge what I’ve felt personally: that positive affirmations “can be a difficult habit to maintain” and that “unreasonably optimistic thinking can trigger a self-defeating spiral.”  And while they don’t discount the power of positive thinking, they stand firmly behind the belief that painting over your insecurities and viewing everything through inappropriately rose-colored glasses is nothing but a temporary fix. Your insecurities will still be there; the voice will still be in your head.
The business-focused posts encourage reframing your negative thoughts, which I’ve realized while reading and researching for this post, is what I’ve trained myself to do, almost without realizing it. They encourage acknowledging, nurturing, understanding, and ultimately challenging them. I particularly like the suggestion of self-inquiry, analyzing the problem, creating steps to solve it, and focusing on progress rather than perfection (which, as a self-proclaimed perfectionist, I can say with certainty works for me). [1, 2] Negative self-talk doesn’t have to be self-limiting; it can be self-challenging. When I look around at the other women in my life, the ones with whom I’ve discussed this at length and ad nauseam, I realize that this is what we do in some form or other. We journal and make checklists, analyze the situation, and create a plan. We write it out, we create a keynote, we phone a friend (or let’s be real, we text a friend). In short, we tackle the voice, harness its power, and turn it around to work for us rather than against us.
Let’s talk analysis and reframing, then.
First, why do I feel like no one will read this? Well, let’s be honest: I tend toward long-windedness. I’m verbose. I’m overly academic. I believe my writing is readable but likely goes well beyond the average reader’s attention span. Also, why would anyone care what I have to say? I would hope that it’s for the same reason that I read articles by others: to learn, to apply back to my own life and experiences, to commiserate, to compare, to discuss, to analyze for themselves. But perhaps not. Maybe my words and thoughts won’t resonate, and that’s why people won’t read this. Maybe I don’t know my audience well. (Do I even have an audience? If not, where do I find them?) Maybe I’m boring. Maybe I’m not as funny/entertaining/smart/original as I think I am. Maybe I’m just my own worst critic. (Duh.) Maybe I need to shut the hell up and just write. (So I do.)
Next, how do I unpack and reframe all of that? The analysis is easier; the reframing takes effort, even if I write anyway (I do) and publish anyway (I will). The reframe goes something like this: someone out there will read this. They may not comment, and it may not spark a discussion, but likely someone, somewhere, will read it. Is that enough for me? I actually think it is. I think of all of the articles I read online, dozens just to write this post alone, the links and lists I make when I listen to my favorite podcast, the sites I bookmark and revisit time and again — and the number of times (I can count on one hand) that I comment, encourage discourse or dialogue, engage. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t learn something; it certainly doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy what I read or want to discuss it. That’s a bolstering feeling. That, to me, is a successful reframe.
Positive thinking — being my own cheerleader — really doesn’t work for me. It feels phony, which makes it feel more negative than, say, negative thinking. Instead, I’ve realized that what works for me is proactive thinking. I do my best pondering in that not-so-positive headspace — I think through problems, issues, topics, and conundrums — with a healthy* amount of self-doubt and procrastination, and then, when I feel ready, I sit down and get (sh)it done. I thought about this post, for example, for weeks; then I edited and revised it (according to my WordPress history and how many versions of this I have saved) 14 times. That’s my process; that’s what works for me. In reading the business-focused articles on negative versus positive thinking, this is not a bad thing.
So maybe it’s true that no one is going to read this. I’ve pondered and mused, examined and evaluated, researched and ruminated, and concluded that that’s okay. I wrote it for me. I wrote it for you, too (and if you chose to click the link and you’ve made it this far — thank you!). But like many writers, I wrote it for me, to satisfy the curiosity, to get it out of my head, to have something to do with the research, and to say to that voice, “I wrote it anyway, so there.”
Perhaps I’ll get back to writing that book after I finish my training run for January’s marathon…
- Forget Positive Thinking: This is How to Actually Change Negative Thoughts for Success – Forbes 
- 5 Ways to Turn Your Negative Self-Talk Into a More Productive Inner Dialogue – INC
- 4 Steps to Quickly Kill of Negative Self-Talk – INC 
- The Year of Conquering Negative Thinking – The New York Times
- Why Saying is Believing: The Science of Self-Talk – NPR
- 4 Ways To Stop Beating Yourself Up, Once and For All – Psychology Today
- Challenging Negative Self-Talk – PsychCentral
- Negative Self-Talk: 9 Ways to Silence Your Inner Critic – HuffPost
- The Psychology of Self-Esteem: Negative Thoughts Can Ruin Your Life – Elite Daily
- Gender Differences in Rumination: A meta-analysis – U. S. National Library of Medicine
- Analysis of Gender Differences in Self-Statements and Mood Disorders
- Getting Stuck in the Negatives (and how to get unstuck) – Alison Ledgerwood, TEDxUCDavis
DISCLAIMER: I am not a mental health professional, nor am I trained in advising on or counseling for mental health in any way. The opinions stated in the post above are mine and solely mine and represent the limited amount of research I have done, as well as my personal feelings and experiences.