What is Self-Talk?
Self-talk is the internal dialogue or narrative that we hold about ourselves.
It encompasses all the things that you say to and about yourself.
Even though you might not be aware of it all the time, your self-talk has a significant impact on the way you perceive yourself, the people around you, and the world in general.
Negative vs Positive Self-Talk
Developing positive self-talk isn’t easy, and many people struggle when they first embark on this element of their personal development journey.
You see, our brains have a negativity bias - our attention and memory are automatically focused on negative things much more often than neutral or positive ones.
We’re hardwired to remember negative experiences and to focus on the negative things that we don’t like about ourselves, in contrast to the positive ones. In addition, early experiences and learned thinking patterns come into play.
The thoughts “I’m not good enough”, “I can’t do anything right”, and “I’m a failure” come to mind much easier than anything kind about ourselves.
We’re wired to go back to the past and remember all the times when we made mistakes, had unwanted behaviors or negative performances.
We replay these messages in our minds over and over again, and we keep experiencing intense negative emotions.
The good news is, developing positive self-talk gets easier with practice.
It’s important to note that when you use positive self-talk, you’re not lying or deceiving yourself.
You’re not denying the reality around you or your behaviors.
And you’re not just complimenting and flattering yourself without any basis for it.
Instead, you reframe how you perceive things and you keep your negativity bias under control.
You show yourself self-compassion and understanding for who you are, what you’ve been through and what you’re facing right now. You remind yourself that you’re a life-long learner, and that you’re still working on developing your skills and abilities.
Did you know?
Positive self-talk and self-compassion act as a buffer between negative life events and our emotional functioning in general.
The use of this strategy is associated with multiple benefits:
- Enhanced performance at work and in daily activities
- Increased ability to cope with challenges and changes
- Reduced stress and pain levels
- Increased problem-solving skills
- Increased emotional intelligence
- More stable and deeper social relationships
- Greater life satisfaction and wellbeing
So, How to Use Positive Self-Talk Effectively?
Here are two top tips:
- Use The Friend Response
Do you sometimes feel that you’re your own worst critic and that you put yourself down?
Are you too harsh, authoritative, or even mean when you speak to yourself?
Some of the negative things we tell ourselves in our inner dialogues, we'd never say to a loved one, to a stranger or even to a perceived competitor or enemy.
If you wouldn’t say it to a loved one, do not say it to yourself!
Why are we protecting the ones around us and are willing to put so much care and effort into how we talk to them, but we're not willing to do the same for ourselves? Do we not deserve the same level of care and effort?
Yes, yes, we do! We just need to be reminded of it. And this is what positive self-talk and self-compassion are all about.
When you catch yourself saying negative and even cruel things about yourself, stop and ask: Would I talk like that to my friends? If the answer is no, then you need to respond with a more compassionate and understanding sentence.
- Avoid Labels
Am I really a bad person just because I did an unwanted behavior?
Am I really stupid just because I didn’t manage to understand something in that situation?
Am I really incapable just because I made a mistake?
Am I really unlovable just because someone didn’t want to be in a relationship with me?
No, no, no!
These are all labels that we attach to ourselves. When we say we're incapable or unlovable, that means that we see ourselves only through those lenses and it comes with a sense of permanency – if I'm incapable, I will not believe I'll be capable of completing a similar task tomorrow or the next day.
Just because we have these thoughts, that does not make them true, or even logical or applicable. And they are certainly unkind.
Of course, we do not want to make mistakes or do negative actions, but we should examine our behaviors and see how we can improve them so in the future we have higher chances of performing in the way we desire.
Even if you're unable to do something right now, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it in general and that you can’t try again later or tomorrow.
Instead of labelling yourself, focus on developing a constructive, supportive and motivating inner dialogue.
Why did you make a mistake? Maybe you were not paying attention, you didn’t have all the information you needed, or you were running low on energy and resources, or your intense emotions got in the way.
What can you do to minimize the impact of these factors in future?
If what you’re saying to yourself does not bring you any value and does not positively motivate you to improve your behaviors or your skills, then all you’re doing is submitting yourself to mental suffering.
Try talking to yourself in a calm but clear and reassuring way, avoiding all unkind labels.
Developing positive self-talk is difficult but important for your wellbeing. It’s often misunderstood – it’s not about giving yourself excessive praise and compliments. It’s about training your mind to see the bigger picture and not focusing on the negative so much. Respond to your inner critic by asking yourself how you’d speak to a friend. Don’t pay attention to them when they bring up unkind labels. Focus on being constructive, supportive and motivating with yourself.
About RoxanaRoxana Petrus is a psychologist and an emotional health specialist with a background in cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy. She currently supports amazing women in finding their emotional balance and improving their communication skills. She is located in Basel, Switzerland and works mostly online, offering individual sessions, different programs and workshops.