There’s a dialogue going on inside your head. Some of that conversation is about a variety of things, but a lot of it is all about you. You can use your self-talk to nurture, comfort, console, love, appreciate, and encourage yourself. You can also use it to judge, criticize, frighten, and tear yourself down. When you choose to elevate the quality of your self-talk, you choose to elevate the quality of your life. That’s how important positive self-talk is.
What Is Self-Talk and Why Is Positive Self-Talk Important?
The self-talk we’re going to focus on here is the inner conversation you have with yourself about yourself and the world around you based on your long-held beliefs about how life works.
The more frequently you dwell in negative self-talk, the harder your life is. When you choose to dwell in positive, uplifting self-talk, you are happier, spread positive energy, and experience more peace, less stress, and more success in your life. The upside of positive self-talk is really that powerful!
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Self-Talk Worksheet: Monitor Your Inner Dialogue
Before you can do anything about your self-talk, you need to start paying closer attention to what you’re saying to yourself. It’s time to be the observer of your thoughts. For 24 to 72 hours, I suggest keeping track of thoughts that you notice —either because they come up so often, or because they seem either positive or negative to you.
For many of us, the negative thoughts outnumber the positive ones by ridiculously large margin. If you find that’s true for you as you observe your thoughts, don’t criticize or judge yourself harshly; just recognize that this an area you need to work on.
I’ve provided a downloadable worksheet below that you can use to monitor your inner thought life. (It’s free.)
Now, monitoring your thoughts is just the very first step. Let’s explore the other things you need to understand about positive and negative self-talk. Then, I’ll introduce you to some very important self-talk lessons from people who’ve experienced a great transformation in their lives by increasing the quality of their self-talk.
The Way You Talk About Yourself to Yourself Has Become Habit
Experts estimate that the average person thinks about 50,000 to 80,000 thoughts per day. Not all those thoughts are original. In fact, most of us have inner dialogues that are more like tapes we play over and over and over. We’ve done this for years and our self-talk has become so automatic, we don’t even notice what we’re doing to ourselves.
Brain expert Dr. Daniel Amen calls the negative thoughts that come up on autopilot “ANTS” … which stands for automatic negative thoughts. If you want to get deeper into how the brain works, I recommend checking out his work or watching one of his PBS specials.
You can’t change your negative thought patterns if you don’t recognize them. That’s why I said the first step in improving the quality of your self-talk is starting to notice what you’re saying to yourself.
How Self-Talk Works
Our self-talk is more powerful than many of us think. Perhaps the best way to explain how self-talk works — and how it impacts your life — is to show you an example of self-talk in action. So, here goes.
Self-Talk Scenario One
You believe that you’re capable of handling a rather difficult situation before you. Your inner dialogue affirms that confidence with self-talk that goes like this: I’ve got this. This is easy for me. I remember when I faced a challenge like this before, and everything worked out. Everything’s going to be fine.
Self-Talk Scenario Two
Now, imagine you do not believe you are capable of handling a situation before you. Your self-talk might go like this: I’m never going to get this. I’m going to fail. I’m a failure. I never get things right. I don’t know why I even have to do this; life isn’t fair. My life stinks.
Notice how when you believe that you can do something, your self-talk is positive and when you believe you can’t do something, negative self-talk that spirals out of control.
Why Is Positive Self-Talk Important?
The two scenarios I just shared give you a glimpse into why positive self-talk is so important. When your inner dialogue affirms your abilities and your inherent self-worth — and comes from a place of self-love and positivity — you experience more success, love, peace, and positivity in your life.
Negative self-talk, on the other hand, is like a bully. It beats you down. It’s constantly lying to you, giving you messages like you’re not good enough, not capable enough, and not worth much if anything. This can leave you feeling miserable, demoralized, and constantly struggling. It can also turn you into a bitter, unhappy person who’s difficult to be around.
Where Does Negative Self-Talk Come From?
I’ve found that negative self-talk comes from years of conditioning and long-held self-limiting beliefs. [Suggested additional reading on B&C: 62 Self-Limiting Beliefs that Block Happiness and Success]
Many of us developed our negative self-talk habits when we were children. Sometimes it came from parents or authority figures in our lives. We observed how they treated themselves, figured that’s what we should do, too, and picked up some pretty lousy self-demoralizing habits.
Other times our self-talk comes from feedback we receive throughout our lives. It could come from a teacher, boss, friends, or even from our romantic partners or spouses. We hear a message that we’re not good enough and we internalize it. Messages of not being good enough then permeate our self-talk.
The good news is that just as negative self-talk is learned, it can also be unlearned. It’s a habit you can break. And, if you’re struggling with loving and appreciating yourself — if self-acceptance seems like a remote concept to you — then it’s time to elevate yours self-talk.
You CAN do this! I know, because I’ve done this and it changed my life. And if someone as hard-headed as I can be can embrace better habits, I have every faith that you can, too. You’re more powerful than you realize!
Related Read on B&C: It’s Time to Start Thinking and Acting Like the Powerful Person You Really Are
The Person Who Helped Me Improve My Self-Talk the Most
I have to give props where props are due, and in this case I give Louise Hay’s work top credit for helping me change how I viewed myself and my life and helping me transform my self-talk. Her affirmation work and mirror work are legendary for helping people heal their thoughts and their whole lives.
Here are the top resources I recommend from Louise (I own them all!):
9 Lessons to Replace Hurtful, Critical Self-Talk with Positive, Living Self-Talk
While Louise Hay was instrumental in my transformation, I also became an avid reader of anyone who talked on the subject of self-talk and self-love. To give you that same advantage here, I reached out to experts and everyday people and asked them about their self-talk, self-compassion, and self-love journey. The nuggets of wisdom that came back were amazing!
Below are some of the lessons that I hope will help you transform your inner-dialogue so that you can experience more peace, love, success, and happiness in your life.
1. Adopt a Kinder Mindset
“I’m a counselor specialized in interpersonal communication and relationships. I’d love to answer your question about self-compassion because it’s something close to my heart that I today teach to many others through my counseling.
I’ve always been very self-critical. When I mess up, I carefully analyze the situation to see what I did wrong. I still do this. But what I’ve changed is how I talk to myself when I find myself at fault. Instead of telling myself how stupid I am for messing up, I look at my mistakes with a kinder mindset. I say ‘I see that I did that wrong, and that’s okay. Perfection isn’t realistic. I’ll try to do better next time now that I’ve learned something new.’” -Viktor Sander, Counselor, Social Pro Now
Viktor Sander, Counselor, Social Pro Now
2. Would You Say THAT to Someone You Love? A Self-Talk Exercise
“When I struggle with negative self-talk I imagine saying the same unkind thing to either my mother or my daughter — two people I love and care for deeply. This imaginative exercise is eye opening! If I would not say those things to someone else, I have no business saying them to myself either.
I find that this technique has helped me re-train my inner dialogue to be generally more uplifting and as a result it has led to greater self-love. We must be intentional to only foster an internal narrative that is full of grace and kindness!” -Caitlyn Scaggs, CaitlynScaggs.com
3. Be Intentionally Self-Loving & Appreciate Yourself
“I went through an extreme dark night of the soul six years ago where everything in my life fell apart. Transforming my self-talk and committing to a higher degree of self-love were the only things that pulled me through. I now have my clients use these tools to great success as well.
Here are my two tips for better self-love and self-talk:
One: Intentionally do something kind for yourself every day. Buy yourself your favorite coffee, take a walk, take a relaxing bath … whatever it is, do it in the spirit of doing something kind for yourself that you’ll really enjoy.
Two: Identify what you most want others to say to you, and say it to yourself. For most people it’s hearing that we’re loved or appreciated. The problem is that we wait for others to deliver the message to us (which sometimes takes a really long time) rather than give it to ourselves.” -Tristan Gutner, Transformation Coach, TristanGutner.com
4. Listen Attentively to Yourself & Offer Grace
“Words are like nutrients but we often consume fast food, void of substance. As a black woman whose life hasn’t been magical, I have had to extend grace and kindness as the world doesn’t always tend to do. I am very ambitious yet I’m still far from my standards of success. I have to admit and accept that I have done the best I possibly could in a rigged game of life.
A key method I have used to speak kinder is to listen to myself. Going fast through life we often aren’t tuned in with our thoughts. When I see myself in distress, I jot my thoughts and examine them. I try to find the gold in my thoughts. If I feel I’m trying to be impressive, I can uncover the root and refocus on that fact I’m enough or I’m equally valuable. Giving grace is the best gift you can give yourself.” -Christian Sismone, Blogger & Image Consultant, ChristianSismone.com
5. Stop the Self-Hate
“Self-love starts with stopping the self-hate or negative talk. Once I recognized that listening to the negative tape in my head affected everything about how I viewed life, how it made me feel, and how I acted, I worked hard to retrain my brain. The first thing I had to do was recognize when I was doing this. Then I had to purposely change whatever the negative statements were saying into more positive statements — something encouraging and understanding instead of critical.
This takes practice and a lot of awareness. It also takes time to learn what to say.That first step is incredibly important in becoming more positive and loving towards yourself.” – Janie J, Speaker and Author, JanieJ.net
6. Look in the Mirror & Say Something Loving to Yourself
“As a mom of three, I’ve noticed that I’m most prone to negative self-talk when it comes to my postpartum body. I would look in the mirror after a shower and notice the stretch marks running across my belly and the extra weight that has settled in my midsection and hips…not liking at all what I saw reflected back.
I’ve started replacing those negative thoughts with positive ones. Anytime I look at myself and a criticism pops into my head, I immediately think of one thing I do love. It’s helped and is helping me to be more appreciative of all my body has done. Now when I look in the mirror, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t a negative, but the progress I’m making and the beauty in the changes.” -Ravelle Worthington, Founder, Mommy Brain
7. Find a Phrase that Lifts You Up & Repeat it Often
“I had a low self-esteem most of my life and have done a lot of work to transform it. One phrase has really made a difference for me. I repeat it to myself regularly … at first it created doubt and skepticism deep inside. Then it was a kind of shield against negative thinking. As I continued this practice and brought the phrase into my meditations and writing sessions, it started to transform my belief in myself. I now embrace my power and it has brought my coaching and speaking to a whole new level.
The phrase is, ‘I deserve all the best life has to offer and I was created with the ability to achieve it.‘” Trista Polo, Coach, Speaker, Trainer, & Podcast Host, IWokeUpAwesome.com
8. Give Yourself the Self-Compassion You Need & Deserve
“When I was doing my PhD, I had a car accident in which I fractured my neck and dislocated my elbow (I could’ve easily died or become disabled if I were to fracture another part of the spine). As a competitive athlete, I told myself I’m useless at times because I couldn’t do physical activity for a few months, let alone play sports.
In order to be resilient and positive during the recovery process, I applied the three components of self-compassion based on pscyhologist Dr. Kristin Neff’s research (self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness) in my self-talk mantra, which is:
‘It’s painful for me to feel this now. Everyone feels this way sometimes. May I be kind to myself in this moment. I’m worthy of receiving self-compassion.’
This facilitated my physical and emotional healing, which helped me come back to compete in my sport at a high level.” -Dr. Alan Chu, Assistant Professor and Chair of the Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology Program at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay and Certified Mental Performance Consultant
I'm a pretty big fan of Dr. Kristin Neff's work, too. You might want to check out these gems.
9. Make a List. Then Make a Better List
“When I find myself being negative, I write a [two-sided] list:
- On one side are all the things I am saying to myself.
- On the other is a rebuttal to each with what I would say if I was treating myself with compassion.
I channel the kindest person I can be and come from a place of self-compassion when I write a response to each thought. That list helps me look at myself and the situation in a more positive light. The act of writing it calms me down. It lets me see all the thoughts that are actually circulating in my head. It helps me identify the problem(s) so I can address them one at a time and find solutions. It also reminds me that self-compassion is what I most need to heal myself.” -Shelli, Johnson, Weight-Loss Expert, ShelliJohnson.com
There Are Many, Many Reasons to Improve Your Self-Talk
The lessons you’ve just learned about how to improve your self-talk will help you elevate your inner dialogue. But, lest you underestimate the power of positive self-talk and let your new habits slip, I want to remind you what positive inner conversations can do for you.
Here are a just a handful of the real benefits of starting to practice positive self-talk:
- You’ll experience less stress and anxiety.
- You’ll be happier and more confident.
- Your newfound sense of self-appreciation will help you form better relationships, and ditch the ones that aren’t healthy for you.
- You’ll heal parts of yourself that have suffered for far too long.
- You’ll be more successful in your career.
- You’ll more comfortable in your own skin.
- You’ll smile more.
- You’ll feel better equipped to venture outside your not-so-comfortable comfort zone, armed with a new sense of positive self-belief.
- You’ll lose the weight of all that agony and all that negativity you’ve been carrying around.
A Powerful Ted Talk on Positive Self-Talk
In many ways, raising the vibration of your self-talk involves learning how to deal more effectively with your inner critic (or inner bully!). Kari Romeo learned to change the way she thought about herself and talked about herself and shares those lessons in this inspiring Ted Talk called, “Teach Your Inner Critic a New Story”