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How You Talk to Yourself Matters

The most important conversation you are having is the one in your head.

Key points

  • What you say to yourself, good or bad, can either build you up or tear you down.
  • Take time to reflect on your self-talk, and believe that it can change in positive ways.
Bran Sodre/Pexels
We reserve our harshest words for ourselves
Source: Bran Sodre/Pexels

Negativity from another person is bad enough, but when it comes from your own head, that's rough. Self-talk is what you say to yourself, in your head. It is the monologue running through your mind as you go to work, talk to your boss, have a difficult conversation with a friend, read your Facebook feed or drive through traffic. The content of your self-talk is important because, believe it or not, you are the most influential person, in your head. Yes, other people can certainly influence the way we feel and think, but at the end of the day, we are the ones who accept or reject the messages received from others.

Regardless of what others say or do, we make the choice to accept the negativity of others. If you are in the habit of doing so, know that when you accept and repeat those negative messages, it is no longer the other person talking, but you who is speaking. Their negativity has now become your inner monologue, aka self-talk. And what you say to yourself, good or bad, can either build you up or tear you down. The following suggestions are intended to raise your level of awareness, evaluate whether your self-talk is negative or positive, and how to shift your thinking to be more positive.

Reflect on Your Self-Talk

Take a moment and reflect on your self-talk. It may help to find a notebook and record the unfiltered content of your thoughts. After writing, walk away from the notebook for a little bit. Give yourself some time before you return. This will give your mind a chance to get distracted, so you can read what you wrote with fresh eyes. As you read, take notice of patterns. Do your thoughts tend to drift towards worry? Do you tend to be self-critical regardless of the circumstances? Do you tend to feel defeated, like you aren't capable of achieving a goal? What are the messages that run through your head? What kind of labels do you apply to yourself? What kind of advice are you giving yourself? Try to answer each of these questions, then evaluate whether your self-talk is constructive or destructive. If you, like others, struggle with destructive self-talk, pay close attention to following counsel on how to shift your self-talk towards the positive.

Replace the Negativity

Let’s say you’re a person who gets nervous and overwhelmed when having to present a project at a business meeting; messages race through your mind that you are incompetent. You think that others can tell you’re nervous and are put off. This is an example of negative self-talk. And in the given situation, it doesn’t help you. It only increases your nervousness and panic.

But what if you could challenge and replace that negative self-talk with something more positive? When you become aware of your self-talk and intentionally replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk, it can positively affect your mood, behavior, and decision-making.

If you are working on a project and you make a mistake—your inner self-talk could be one in which mistakes are normal and they are a part of the learning process. Therefore, you don’t beat yourself up, but you reflect and continue.

Min An/Pexels
Talk to yourself like you would a good friend
Source: Min An/Pexels

Reassure Yourself

In the example shared above, self-talk can help you think about a problem in a productive, helpful way. It can support you when struggling or doing something difficult. You can talk yourself through any challenge— reminding yourself of something that you already know, something that comforts you or gives you a sense of strength. One helpful way to do this is to imagine your child or niece or nephew and what kind of encouragement they would give you? More than likely, they would treat you in a generous, kindhearted way. Channel that kind of attitude when you talk to yourself.

Relabel Your Talk

Pay close attention to the kinds of labels you apply to yourself. Negative words—such as "loser," "screw-up," "good for nothing," "stupid," "lazy," "unmotivated," "incompetent"—act as self-fulfilling prophecies. You think it and it will happen. Challenge yourself to think of healthy, more authentic labels that speak the truth of the situation, but direct you towards a goal. For example, relabel "screw-up" with "learner." We all screw up and make mistakes. You are learning and your greatest blunder would be to not learn from the mistake.

Greta Hoffman/Pexels
Change how you label yourself
Source: Greta Hoffman/Pexels

Relate to Yourself

If your self-talk tends to be negative, relating to yourself as you would a friend may help. How? Mentally project your self-talk onto an imagined friend; put your words in their mouth and hear them out. More likely than not, in hearing their feelings, you would be overcome by empathy and compassion. You would feel deeply for them, and express care after hearing their negativity. Now, mentally swap out the imagined friend and put yourself in their position. Their words are now yours. Express self-compassion towards yourself. The negative self-talk may not immediately disappear, but you subordinated negativity with a stronger, louder voice of compassion and kindness.

Reinterpret Your Truth

Instead of assuming your negative self-talk is true, reimagine your negativity as a distorted message that contains some useful information. How do you do this? Probe your negative self-talk for any kernels of truth, any nuggets of wisdom. The kind of self-talk that hurts the most usually contains some element of truth. Exercise a degree of surgical control and separate what is true from what is distorted. The truth in your self-talk could be vital for your growth, yet because it keeps getting entangled with distorted negativity, keeping you from capturing any benefit from it.

Rescue Yourself

A rescue is an act that someone else does to another person, right? Not necessarily. You can rescue yourself in a tough situation. Imagine you are in a stressful moment and your self-talk is ruthlessly negative and distorted. Does your self-talk, in that moment, help or hurt you? It's definitely hurting you and making a bad situation worse. Play out the same scenario, but instead of accepting your negative self-talk the moment it starts, you recognize how you are talking to yourself and how it's affecting you. You then decide to make the conscious choice to talk to yourself positively. You can help yourself identify what you are feeling, process those feelings, seek help if needed, think of solutions and then act on a solution. You can self-talk yourself through a crisis.

Reanalyze the Information

Reassurance is the act of reminding yourself of something you already know. Reanalyzing is reflecting on new information and discovering something new about yourself, another person, or the world. Receiving feedback from a colleague or supervisor regarding your performance can be a scary thing, but that information may be vital for your growth. Fear-based self-talk could easily stop you from gaining a benefit from the new information. Practice acceptance of yourself and don't be afraid of new information.

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