Rewiring: The neuroscience of overcoming negative self-talk

Negative self-talk, the persistent and often critical inner dialogue we engage in, can have a profound impact on our mental well-being and overall quality of life. Believe me, I understand the detrimental effects of negative self-talk. I have had enough of it myself. The 13 voices can get pretty loud at times, and no I'm not joking.


Perhaps, even more worryingly, we don't often even notice how horrible we are to ourselves. Think about some of the things you say about yourself, to yourself. I'll bet you wouldn't dream of saying those things to other people, so why is it OK to say it about yourself? 

In this article, we'll delve into the science behind negative self-talk and explore practical steps you can take to rewire your mind for a more positive and empowering inner dialogue.

The neuroscience of negative self-talk

Our thoughts have a direct impact on our brain chemistry, and negative self-talk can trigger a cascade of stress-related neurochemicals that affect our mood, cognition, and even physical health. One of my favourite quotes attributed to Bruce Lee is apt here:

Don't speak negatively about yourself, even as a joke. Your body doesn't know the difference. Words are energy and they cast spells, that's why it's called spelling. Change the way you speak about yourself, and you can change your life.”

When you engage in negative self-talk, your brain's amygdala, the emotional centre, becomes hyperactive, leading to heightened stress responses. Additionally, the release of cortisol, the stress hormone, can impair memory, decision-making, and emotional regulation.

Moreover, the brain's neuroplasticity, its ability to reorganise and form new neural connections, means that the more you engage in negative self-talk, the stronger those neural pathways become. This makes it crucial to intervene and reframe these patterns to foster a healthier mental state.

Practical steps to reframe negative self-talk:

Awareness and mindfulness

The first step in overcoming negative self-talk is becoming aware of it. Practice mindfulness to observe your thoughts without judgement. By acknowledging your negative self-talk patterns, you can interrupt them and begin the process of reframing.


Treat yourself with the same kindness you would offer a close friend. Self-compassion triggers the release of oxytocin, the "love hormone," counteracting the negative effects of stress hormones. When you catch yourself engaging in self-criticism, ask, "What would I say to a friend in this situation?" and offer yourself the same supportive words.

Cognitive reframing

Challenge and reframe negative thoughts using evidence-based techniques. When a negative thought arises, ask yourself if it's based on facts or assumptions. Is there another perspective you haven't considered? Replace distorted thoughts with more balanced and realistic ones. One common technique is to keep a thought record to help you step away and consider negative thoughts as an observer. There's a nice clean overview of this at Every Mind Matters - NHS

Positive affirmations

Although often criticised, positive affirmations can be effective when rooted in reality. Create statements that acknowledge your strengths and accomplishments. By repeatedly affirming these positive qualities, you can weaken the grip of negative self-talk.

Gratitude practice

Engage in a daily gratitude exercise. This activates the brain's prefrontal cortex, responsible for decision-making and emotional regulation. Focussing on what you are thankful for can shift your perspective from what's lacking to what's abundant in your life.


Utilise the brain's capacity for imagery. Visualise yourself successfully overcoming challenges and achieving your goals. This activates the same brain regions as actual experiences, reinforcing positive neural pathways.

Empowerment through action

Take small steps toward your goals. Each accomplishment provides evidence that counters negative self-talk. Celebrate your successes, no matter how minor they may seem.

Mind-body connection

Engage in activities that promote relaxation and reduce stress, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or spending time in nature. These practices influence the brain's neurotransmitter balance and promote a more positive mindset.

Remember, the journey to self-empowerment begins with a single thought and the determination to reshape your inner dialogue for a brighter and more fulfilling future.

Does this sound like you? Do you want to change that inner voice? Give me a shout and let's find your new voice.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Richmond TW9 & Penrith CA10
Written by Neil Bailey, NLP Master Coach
Richmond TW9 & Penrith CA10

Hi there! I'm not your average coach - I believe in bringing a sense of humour and light-heartedness to the table while still delivering results. Whether you're looking to change your life, build or change your career, discover your creative side, or just need a little time to simply feel well, I've got you covered.

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