A Simple 5 Step Process To Help Clients Eliminate Negative Self Talk

As a hypnotherapist, I watch for any signs of negative self talk with every client, regardless of what they're coming in to see me for. Negative self talk is important to recognize because it can limit your client's success, and if you catch your client sharing out loud with you limiting or negative beliefs, or if they explicitly share with you that they're "really hard on themselves" or "really negative", those are signs that you need to address their negative self talk, or negativity in general. Here is a process that I have learned through working with hundreds of clients is a great technique for helping clients get rid of negative self talk :

Step 1 : Ask a Question

Here's one of the most important questions you can say to your client:  'Let me  ask you something, would you ever say what you say to yourself out loud to someone else ?'

Most likely they will respond with a strong 'no' or 'of course not'. And often they will be shocked, never having thought about it this way before. Sometimes though they  are talking to someone else like that too. So if they say 'yes', then ask them how it makes them feel when they talk like that to someone else? Guilt is usually a common response at this point, and if that's the case you'll need to address that at some point in your sessions.

The importance of this question gets a client to change their perspective on what they're actually doing to themselves. This one question may be all you need to do to get them to at least believe they need to change this behavior.

Step 2 : Reframe the purpose of negative self talk - motivation to do and be better

Next, ask your client the purpose of this type of talk. Usually you'll find the positive intention - that it's intended to be a motivator to encourage the client to do or be better. You can even educate your client on their always being a positive intention behind every behavior, even if it seems be entirely negative. This is important to find out because you can then ask your client: 'How well is that method working?'

You can follow up with 'How would you motivate a good friend who was going through the same thing you are now, would you be negative?' Usually their answer is 'no, I'd be encouraging and supportive'. And your response can then be to praise them for how they treat a good friend, and suggest that they start treating themselves the way they would treat a good friend going through the same thing - with kindness, compassion, and support.

Step 3 : Strengthen the process with a metaphor

Neuroplasticity is a term that basically means that our brain can change. If you're interested in integrating neuroscience into your hypnosis practice I recommend a great book called Keeping the Brain in Mind: Practical Neuroscience for Coaches, Therapists, and Hypnosis Practitioners. Simply put for my purposes as a hypnotherapist, I think of it as our ability to change behaviors and habits. I like to explain our ability to change habits and behaviors to my clients with a metaphor, and my favorite is the hiking path.

In order to stop the negative self-talk  habit, I ask them to think of the habit like a hiking path. Over time a hiking path becomes worn down because of the number of times it's been travelled upon, and that's the same way with their brains and this habit - the brain choses this path because it's familiar. In order to break this habit, your client must effectively get off that old path every time the brain puts them on it.  And I use hand gestures to actually show them that they're getting off the old pathand going to get on a new path - a better path. Every time they get off the old path (gesturing with my left hand) and get on the new path (gesturing with my right hand), they are weakening the old habit, and strengthening the new one. Pretty soon the old path will grow over with weeds, and the brain will not use it anymore.

You can also use any metaphor you'd like with this, another one is "starving" the old way.

Step 4 : Replace the negative self-talk

So what does this "new" path look like, technically? You can share with your clients how the brain works with negatives - basically that it's impossible to NOT think of something. In order to NOT think of it, we have to first think of it. So technically we can not program ourselves with "I won't use negative self-talk".  What does work is that we give the brain something else to think about - and naturally the negativity is pushed aside. 

Here's how we get them on the new path,  is called "Rewriting their story" - a simple hypnotic suggestion that they  use every time they catch themselves in negative self talk. Effectively they're "getting off the old path"  by saying their new story.

The new story is something that you will help your client write. I do this in my office on a small piece of paper and hand it to them, making note of it first so I know what their new story is. I tell them that we'll do a draft version in my office, but I want them to think about it and rewrite it using their own words and using something that resonates with them. Here's the format of the stories I use :

  • I'm on a path to .... ( healthy eating and losing weight every day, which makes me happy and fulfilled) / (being kind to myself and focusing on the positive things in my life, doing this simple thing makes me happy)
  • Every day I ..... (smoke less and less, and that makes me feel in control and content) / (treat myself with kindness and respect, and I notice the small things in life that make me happy)
  • If nothing else use Émile Coué's famous phrase :  "Every day in every way I get better and better"

 Step 5 : Reinforce in hypnosis through future pacing and forgiveness work

Reinforce the new story using future pacing in hypnosis - have your client see, feel, hear, smell, and taste the changes they came in for, and imagine themselves in the future having already made all the changes. Then tell them that when they say their new story to themselves, that future self that they imagined will come to mind, bringing back all the good feelings associated with it, and how that is a lot more motivating than any negative self talk.

It's also important to note that guilt is often a close companion of negative self-talk, so forgiveness work, specifically forgiveness work can be very important.

Lastly, I'll mention that they should be kind to themselves, and that mistakes are simply opportunities to learn. What we focus on grows, so focus on the positive.