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Positive self-talk is an effective stress reduction tool.
From correcting negative thoughts to coping during difficult times, positive self-talk changes lives.
If you’re struggling with negative thoughts and want to be kinder to yourself, we can help.
But before we review how to have positive self-talk, let’s consider what self-talk means and how to spot negative thinking. We’ll also look at some specific examples of self-talk.
Let’s take a look at what self-talk is and why it’s important.
What is self-talk?
Self-talk is your internal dialogue. It’s the endless stream of unspoken thoughts that run through your head every day. This inner voice reveals your beliefs, thoughts, questions, and ideas.
Self-talk can be negative, positive, or a mix of both. If you’re generally a positive person, your self-talk will be more positive. If you’re generally a negative person, your self-talk will be more negative.
There’s also some nuance to self-talk. You might hear some internal dialogue that’s illogical or doesn’t quite match up with who you are.
This is normal and nothing to worry about if you know how to use positive self-talk to overcome it.
What are the benefits of positive self-talk?
Positive self-talk enhances your well-being and helps you effectively manage stress.
Other possible benefits of positive self-talk include:
- Healthier immune system
- Reduced pain
- Better cardiovascular health
- Improved mental health
- Improved self-esteem
- Increased vitality
- Greater life satisfaction
- Reduced stress
- Better physical well-being
- Increased lifespan
It’s still unclear exactly why positive self-talk supports these health benefits. But one theory suggests that having a positive outlook helps you cope better with stress.
In other words: having positive coping skills reduces the effects of stress on your body.
Another theory is that positive people tend to live healthier lifestyles. They eat healthier, exercise more, and don’t smoke or drink too much alcohol.
Rumination: the flip side of positive self-talk
Keeping an eye on your thoughts is crucial for your health and well-being. In this section, we’ll explore the negative side of self-talk.
What is negative thinking?
Rumination is the dark side of self-talk. It happens when you replay negative thoughts over and over again in your head.
Here’s an example of rumination:
“I really messed up at work today. Man, did I mess up. I’ll probably get fired. I can’t do anything right. Why did that happen? No wonder I can’t get a promotion.”
And here’s an example of positive thinking/self-talk:
“I messed up at work today, but I learned something from it. I understand where I went wrong, and next time I’ll do a much better job. I’ve got this. I’m sure I can still get that promotion.”
What are the side effects of negative thinking?
Having constant negative thinking can lead to:
- Chronic stress
- Mental illness
- Low quality of life
- Poor communication
- Low self-esteem
The 4 negative thinking categories:
Identifying negative thinking is the first step to improving your self-talk. This type of thinking generally falls into these four categories:
- Magnifying: you focus on the worst parts of a situation and pay no attention to the positive parts. For instance, you return from a tropical vacation and only talk about how expensive and hot it was.
- Polarizing: you see things as either good or bad, black or white. There’s no room for a middle ground. For instance, you think you have to be perfect — if you make mistakes, you're a failure.
- Catastrophizing: you expect the worst. For instance, you spill coffee on your shirt and assume the rest of the day will be a disaster.
- Personalizing: you blame yourself when bad things happen. For instance, your boss is in a bad mood, and you automatically assume it’s because of you.
When you recognize what types of negative thinking you have, you can use the power of self-talk to help you. It doesn’t happen overnight. But with time, practice, and dedication, you can correct your negative self-talk.
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In this section, we’ll cover five techniques to overcome negative thinking. We’ll also share some positive and negative self-talk examples for each technique.
Here are five ways to overcome negative thinking:
1. Monitor your thought patterns
Use the four negative thinking categories to track your daily thoughts.
When you spot a thought that’s magnifying, polarizing, catastrophizing, or personalizing, call it out.
First, mention the offending category. Then, start the next thought with, “I choose to believe…” and follow it up with a positive thought.
- Instead of, “This day is just going to get worse,” try, “I don’t want to catastrophize. I choose to believe my day will be great.”
- Instead of, “That lecture was long and a waste of time,” try, “I don’t want to magnify. I choose to believe I learned something new.”
2. Talk to yourself like you would talk to your best friend
Isn’t it strange how people can be nicer to their friends than they are to themselves? In some cases, if we spoke to our friends the way we speak to ourselves, we wouldn’t have any friends.
Change the script by focusing on self-love and self-acceptance instead of self-judgment.
- Instead of, “I bet the neighbors noticed I gained weight,” try, “I love my body no matter what size it is.”
- Instead of, “There’s no way they’d hire me,” try, “I’d be a great candidate for that position.”
3. Keep an eye on your stress levels
Thoughts and stress go hand-in-hand.
It’s difficult to think positively when you’re under high stress. And it’s also difficult to manage your stress when you have too many negative thoughts.
That’s why it’s essential to prevent high stress before it starts — in your mind. When you catch yourself thinking about something stressful, immediately shift the focus to how resilient you are.
- Instead of, “This project is too hard,” try, “I can do anything I set my mind to.”
- Instead of, “The clock is ticking, and I’ll never finish this on time,” try, “I’ve been on deadline before — this is no big deal.”
4. Look on the bright side
Most experiences have a negative and a positive side if we look closely. You may not enjoy doing laundry, but you love having clean clothes to wear afterward. You may hate getting on planes, but you love exploring a new place once you land.
When you start focusing on the negative side of things, flip your thinking to the positive side.
- Instead of, “That movie was bad,” try, “That was a unique storyline.”
- Instead of, “That sounds boring,” try, “I’m looking forward to doing something different.”
5. Challenge your thoughts
Challenging your thoughts is the best way to see if they are true and logical. A great question to ask when you’re experiencing this is: is there evidence to back up what I’m thinking?
If there’s no logic to support those thoughts, change your point of view.
- Instead of, “They don’t want me to go to the party,” try, “They knew I planned on going out of town that weekend.”
- Instead of, “I’m stuck, and I don’t know what to do,” try, “With a little creativity, I’ll find a solution.”
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Here are seven ways to embed positive self-talk into your daily life:
1. Start in the morning
Set yourself up for success by practicing positive self-talk in the morning.
For instance, start the day with some positive affirmations and mindfulness meditation.
A positive affirmation is a positive and uplifting statement. Some examples are “I’m enough, and I love myself,” and “I believe in myself, I’m strong.”
2. Weave it into your routine
Make positive self-talk part of your everyday routine.
- Listen to an uplifting podcast when you’re in the car or when you’re doing routine tasks like washing dishes.
- When you’re at work, remind yourself that you’re doing a great job. You can also write down an uplifting quote on a post-it note and stick it on your laptop for inspiration.
- When you’re grabbing a coffee, practice your affirmations.
- Read an inspirational book on your lunch break.
- In the evenings, write down three things you love about yourself in your journal.
Whether you’re at work, in the car, or at home, make sure to regulate your thoughts throughout your day.
3. Work with your inner critic
Your inner critic is the voice inside you that criticizes anything about you. When your inner critic chimes in, you have a few options: ignore it, interview it, or shift your attention.
The method you choose will depend on the situation. If your inner critic is stopping by for a quick rant, ignore it, affirm yourself, and go about your day.
If your inner critic keeps pestering you, try interviewing it to see if it has something useful to offer.
If all else fails, shift your attention away from yourself. Focusing your attention on others silences your self-criticism. It also increases your compassion for yourself and others.
4. Refer to yourself in the third person
The language you use when you speak to yourself changes the way you feel. Especially when you’re faced with a challenge.
During a challenging time, try referring to yourself in the third person. Use your preferred personal pronouns such as ‘he,’ and ‘she,’ ‘they’ or your name whenever it makes sense.
Using the third person in self-talk can help you think more objectively. This helps your craft better responses and emotions. It can also help reduce stress and anxiety.
For instance, let's say you’re on the side of the road and your car won’t turn on. Instead of saying "I can't believe this is happening," try, “It’s going to be okay Mandy, we’re going to figure this out soon.”
5. Set daily reminders
An easy way to remember to improve your self-talk is by using automatic reminders. Set your phone or your calendar up to remind you to keep working on your self-talk.
You can set simple reminders like, “Don’t forget to track your thoughts today,” and “Be your own best friend.”
You can also set more detailed reminders like, “Keep an eye on polarizing thoughts today.” Or, “Remind yourself to breathe when you’re feeling overwhelmed.”
6. Check-in with yourself
Check-in with your feelings on a regular basis, especially on bad days.
For instance, if you’re noticing one negative event after the other, stop and check your self-talk. Is it helpful or negative? Kind or rude to myself? Then use the tools you learned in the previous section to flip the script.
7. Stay present
Staying in the present moment helps you focus on what’s in front of you instead of worrying about the past or future.
To remind yourself to stay present, savor the beauty and life that you see around you.
- When you wake up, enjoy the smell of your first cup of coffee.
- When you’re in the car, sing the song that’s playing on the radio.
- When you’re at work, stay engaged with your tasks and customers.
- When you’re outside, notice how beautiful the sky is.
- When you’re with loved ones, practice active listening when they’re speaking.
Being aware of how you talk to yourself is essential for your well-being.
Ready to start practicing positive self-talk? By choosing to flip the script, you’ll be on your way to correcting your negative thoughts.
Need help improving your self-talk? BetterUp offers personalized coaching to help you thrive.
Vice President of Alliance Solutions