What is negative self-talk and how do we combat it?

Negative self-talk is when we speak or think poorly of ourselves. Using “I can’t” phrases or “I’m no/not good enough” phrases. Even comparing ourselves to others is another form of negative self-thinking. Statements like “look what they can do”. Or,  “I will NEVER be able to do anything like that”, often stops us from giving trying or a true effort.

Some people suffer from wanting to be perfect or the best at something before even starting a sport or activity. We often see this in children, and we as adults take the time to talk to them, and remind them that they are just learning and everything takes time and practice before they will be able to master it. I’m not sure where we as adults forget this.


Negative self-talk is very prevalent when it comes to exercise and physical activity. The “I can’t” phrases are still there; they’re just said differently.  

“I’m not athletic”, “I’ve never been very good at sports” or “I’m not very coordinated”.

These statements may seem harmless, but when you take a hard look at them, the “I can’t” statement often stops people from going any further, especially with physical activity.

As children, our parents would often say, “there’s no such thing as I can’t”, but as adults our past experiences tell a different story. A negative attitude or perception towards you doing an activity, limits the possibilities of success. Taking a step back and checking in with yourself to try and understand why you feel a certain way is the first step towards changing negative self-talk.

Wanting to be healthy, but being intimated by the idea of going to a “gym” or facility with a bunch of strangers, makes it easy to talk yourself right out of going to the gym. “I’ll make a fool out of myself”, is very limiting thinking. But when you change your thought process to “I’ve never been before, but I’m going to have a friend to go with, makes me excited to try”. This statement is positive and keeps the opportunity open to try. Recognizing your insecurity is great and finding a solution to the insecurity is even better. You’re breaking down the barriers before you and puts you one step closer to achieving your goals.

Other comments like, “I’m not athletic”, or “I’ve never been an athlete”, closes a great deal of opportunities for yourself. We have an image of what an “athlete” looks like, people like hockey player Sydney Crosby or soccer player Christine Sinclair.

My opinion an athlete is one who is dedicated to their effort of improving themselves in whatever sport/activity they’re focused on. Whether it’s walking for heart health or playing a sport professionally, both make you an athlete.

Creating positive self-talk is no easy feat. We’ve spent many years developing this negative attitude or self-perception and falling back into old habits is easy. When you hear yourself saying negative words, try to catch yourself and interrupt what you’re saying immediately. For example, if you’re talking about swimming and you say that you aren’t very good at it. STOP, change your phrase to, “I’m improving” or “I’m getting better”.

Work on a positive mantra while you’re doing the activity, especially if you’re starting something new. For example, if your goal is to walk up a set of stairs at your favourite park without stopping, every time you go, have your mantra, “I’m getting stronger and healthier, every stair I climb is a stair closer to my goal”.

A favourite of mine is for every negative comment you say or think about yourself; you have to say 7 positives about yourself. This may seem very challenging, but trust me, there are more good, great, amazing things about you than there are negative.

A challenge for the week, try to catch yourself saying something negative and change it to a positive affirmation.

You’ve got this; the inner athlete is in there and is ready to shine.

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