What is self-talk?
I can’t believe I just said that. Do you think they think I’m stupid now? How does my hair look? Wow, I just ROCKED that presentation; go me! I’m not smart enough to lead this project. I can and WILL run this 5k if it’s the last thing I do!
All of these are examples of self-talk. Self-talk is that inner dialogue that is constantly going on inside your head, playing out past or future scenarios over and over again in your mind.
Two brains image via Shutterstock
It’s probably easiest to think about negative self-talk as the little devil on your shoulder – the guy who’s always telling you you’re not good enough, that you’re fat, or that you’ve done something embarrassing and should go hide in a corner now before you do anything else to humiliate yourself. Sure, this little devil only lives in our minds, but what we think can very quickly affect how we walk through the world. In other words, negative self-talk can do real damage, even if we never speak a single word of it out loud.
Positive self-talk is that angel on your other shoulder telling you how amazing you are — that you deserve to be happy and nothing can get in your way. You might be familiar with positive affirmations: little sayings we can use to bring positive change into our lives. Research has shown that just as negative self-talk can be detrimental to our well-being, positive self-talk can be just as beneficial for our health.
What’s the Harm in Negative Self-talk?
Dr. Daniel Amen, a very well known brain doctor who used an integrative approach to heal conditions such as anxiety, depression, addiction, and ADD, describes negative self-talk as automatic. He argues that these negative thoughts can be harmful to how our brains actually function.
When we engage in negative self-talk, chemicals are released in the brain that make us feel stressed out and sad. If you’re constantly having negative thoughts about yourself, then your brain will actually trigger you to behave in a destructive way. You will eventually become sad, unproductive, and lonely because you are internalizing all of that negative self-talk.
How to use positive self-talk to improve performance
Recent research has suggested that positive affirmations can help protect us against the damaging effects of stress, and thus increase our ability to problem solve. This study showed that participants who were under chronic stress were better able to problem solve and showed lower levels of stress when given the opportunity to practice daily affirmations. In other words, by consciously practicing positive self-talk, people were able to reduce stress AND be more productive. Sounds pretty good!!
There are many different ways to use positive self-talk to improve your mental wellbeing. Sometimes it comes to us organically because we already feel great about ourselves, and sometimes we need to conjure up a few positive thoughts to respond to the web of negative self-talk we don’t even realize we’re weaving until it’s about to trap us.
Here’s an example of how I used it to combat self-doubt:
The other day I was planning to give a presentation to a group of about 20 people. I always get nervous before public speaking, but this time I was being particularly hard on myself.
I didn’t prepare enough. I’m not informed enough to be speaking about this topic to this group of professionals. What if someone asks a question that I don’t know the answer to? I’m going to look so dumb.
I couldn’t get these thoughts out of my head. But then I remembered some personal positive affirmations that resonate with me.
I possess the qualities needed to be extremely successful. My ability to conquer any challenge is limitless. I am a strong, indestructible woman.
Writing these positive affirmations out now, they seem really cheesy. But they really carried me through that presentation!
Try and think of a few go-to positive affirmations that resonate with you so that you’re armed and ready the next time you catch yourself engaging in negative self-talk. They might make the difference between accomplishing your goals and succumbing to defeat!
Two brains image via Shutterstock