What is Self-Talk?
Each time an event happens in our lives, the information about it enters our minds. We then interpret that information, forming beliefs about what the event means, how it is going to affect us, or why it happened. We cannot always control the events that happen, but we can control how we think about them. Some say that the major differences between success and failure is the way we talk to ourselves.
Negative self-talk hurts us and most of the time we do not notice we are doing it. Fortunately, it is possible to turn this negative habit into a positive one!
- “I shouldn’t have ate that piece of cake.”
- “I can’t do this presentation.”
- “I’m such an idiot, I’ll never pass this exam.”
- “I don't want to embarrass myself or the team, so I won't sign up to play.”
Do You Say Things like This to Yourself?
This kind of thinking has detrimental effects on your mental health. Your self-critical voice directly affects your self-esteem and works by emphasizing past failures, setting impossible standards of perfection, ignoring anything good that happens, and assuming others’ thoughts about you are negative.
Positive self-talk gives us motivation to maintain healthy habits and can easily be incorporated into our daily lives. With continuous positive self-talk we can develop a healthy image of ourselves and, in turn, boost our self-confidence.
Positive thoughts means positive emotions, behaviors, and producing a better outcome. Negative thoughts often lead to negative emotions, behaviors, and poorer outcomes.
Replace the Negative with the Positive
Focus on the Solution
Dwelling on a problem instead of a solution is the essence of negative self-talk. “I don’t know how to do this problem. I’ll never pass the exam.”
Instead: Most problems have solutions. Ask yourself, “How can I make this situation better?” or think “I will work through this problem until I can understand it.”
Expect the Best
“What if I don’t pass the exam?” “What if he doesn’t like me?” Expecting the worst creates anxiety and causes us to behave ineffectively.
Instead: Ask questions that give positive outcomes. “How can I prepare for the exam?” or “How can I make a good impression?”
Could, Not should
Words like “should” or “must” suggest rules and standards for our behavior that do not exist in reality. These words imply there is a consequence for non-compliance, which can evoke feelings of guilt. “I should go to the gym but I never have time.”
Instead: Replace with the word “could” and realize that you do have choices. “I could go to the gym after class or on my lunch break.”
We distort reality by thinking only in extremes and this makes our efforts either total failures or complete successes, with nothing in between. “I’ll never pass this exam because I always draw a blank.”
Instead: Be realistic. Replace those exaggerated words with ones that more accurately reflect reality and give yourself options. “I haven’t actually ever failed an exam. I’m going to relax and I’ll do fine.”
Take it in Stride
Every bad thing that happens is a horrible disaster. “I missed the bus and today’s class is the most important.”
Instead: Be realistic and stop scaring yourself. Bad things do happen, yet most are not necessarily tragedies or disasters, but rather inconveniences and mistakes. “I can always talk to my professor afterwards and get any information I missed.”
We use negative labels to lower our self-esteem. “I’m so fat. I need to go to the gym.”
Instead: Remember that people’s faults or shortcomings do not define them.
We sometimes resort to assigning guilt instead of solving a problem. “That person took my study spot and now I can’t concentrate.” Blaming others can make us feel vindicated in a wrong-doing and allow us to avoid responsibility.
Instead: Focus on what you can do to find a solution to the problem and take responsibility. “The campus is big with plenty of other study spots available.”
Become Aware of Negative Self-Talk
When you are aware of your own negative self-talk you can stop doing it. Here are some ways to stop.
- Every morning when you look in the mirror say something positive in your head or out loud (e.g., “I’m going to have a great day today” or “I’m beautiful”). It may sound silly but it does work.
- Write these affirmations on your mirror or on a sticky note so you have them right in front of you.
- Eventually these positive thoughts will become habitual and your self-image will be healthier.
- Carry an index card. On one side write “positive” and on the other side “negative.”
- During the day, each time you find yourself doing positive self-talk, make a mark on the “positive” side.
- Each time you berate yourself or use negative labels, make a mark on the negative side.
- At the end of the day, tally up the marks to see how well your self-talk is going. If it is mostly positive, you are on your way to a positive future.
- If it is mostly negative, use this experience to create new thought patterns for the future and actively work to angle your self-talk towards the positive side.
Ask Yourself a Question
- When you notice yourself thinking negatively, instead of trying to stop yourself from thinking a negative thought, try to direct your thoughts.
- The way to direct your thinking is by asking yourself a question. Ask a positive question like “What is my goal?” or “How can I make myself stronger to better deal with this?”
- A question gets your mind going in a new direction and focuses your attention on something more positive.
- Once you decide on a question to ask yourself, keep asking it. Ponder it and let it run through your thoughts to bring you into a new, positive state of mind.
Notice Three Wonderful Things
- At the end of the day, think back to your experience and note three positive experiences.
- Write them down focusing on the sensation, image, thoughts, emotions, and meaning attached.
Stress, Attitude, and Concentration
- Improving your attitude can reduce stress.
- Understand your sources of stress and manage it strategically!