How to Cope With Negative Inner Dialogue

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Chatter" by Ethan Kross. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Is your inner dialogue too loud and negative? Do you often judge and scold yourself for not living up to some made-up standards?

We all have moments when our inner dialogue spirals into a negative tirade, judging, blaming, and putting us down. One way you can counter self-accusations is to distance yourself by using second-person pronouns.

Here’s how to cope with negative inner dialogue by using the pronoun-replacing strategy.

Avoid Using the “I” Pronoun in Your Self-Talk

One way to adopt a new perspective is to shift the pronouns your internal voice uses. Kross claims that the pronouns you use in your inner dialogue affect the power of your inner critic. People who address themselves using the first-person pronoun “I” experience more negative emotions than people who address themselves using different pronouns. Pronouns other than “I,” such as “he,” “she,” “they,” and “you,” give you distance from your current situation, preventing you from losing yourself in negative emotions that fuel your negative self-talk. When you use these other pronouns, your brain’s threat response is less activated.

(Shortform note: Kross’s suggestion that you shift the pronouns in your self-talk suggests that you have some degree of control over what your internal voice says and how it says it. However, as previously noted, some experts claim that we can’t control which thoughts arise in our minds. This suggests that you can’t prevent your internal voice from using the negative “I”  pronoun when the voice first arises. Therefore, think of Kross’s pronoun-replacing strategy as one you employ after your inner critic says something negative using the “I” pronoun.)

Combining Kross’s Pronoun-Replacing Strategy With His Other Strategies

Although Kross doesn’t say so in his book, it may work well to combine his pronoun-replacing strategy with his other perspective-adopting strategies. Since each strategy targets your inner in a slightly different way, combining them may increase your ability to quiet your inner critic. To try this, avoid using first-person pronouns when using Kross’s first three perspective-adopting strategies. We’ll illustrate how to do so using this scenario: You did poorly on your job’s first performance review.

– Use second-person pronouns to think of your problem as a project. Tell yourself, “You have a number of areas of growth, and making progress on these will both strengthen your skills and impress your superiors.”

– Use third-person pronouns to compare your present to the past. Tell yourself, “In her previous job, she also had a rocky start. She improved her skills in that job, so she can improve her skills in this one, too.”

– Use second-person pronouns to imagine how you’ll feel in the future. Tell yourself, “The embarrassment of receiving a negative review will eventually pass, and then you’ll be able to focus on making improvements based on your boss’s advice.”
How to Cope With Negative Inner Dialogue

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  • How negative self-talk interferes with your happiness, health, and success
  • Research-based strategies for managing negative self-talk
  • Four actionable tips for quieting your internal cynic

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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