How To Actually Get Better At Talking To Yourself

by | Mar 6, 2024 | Wellness

We’re all probably guilty of entertaining the negative voices in our heads in the midst of a situation where things aren’t exactly going our way. Whether you’ve missed a deadline on your assignment, dropped off the kids late for school, made a lacklustre supper or messed up a job interview, no situation is ever that grand for anyone to talk harshly to themselves.

Ask yourself this question? How often are you polite to others as opposed to the number of times you bash yourself when things go wrong?

“When it comes to our inner dialogue, a.k.a. self-talk, what we say to ourselves is often careless, critical, and even cruel. And while we may not think much of it, that self-talk is powerful and has more of an effect on our mental well-being than we realise,” explains psychologist Maya Rutstein, also a product architect for digital wellbeing platform, soSerene.

Quick recap: Self-talk is the inner voice that houses the beliefs we hold about ourselves. It shapes our perception of the world and personal reality, therefore influencing our emotional, psychological and physical well-being.

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The Origins Of Self-Talk

“There are many factors that influence our inner voice during the course of our lives,” explains Rutstein. “It starts early on. Our past experiences and upbringing play a significant role in shaping what our inner voice sounds like. Interactions we have and feedback we receive early in life shape our self-perception into adulthood.” She adds that social comparisons play a major role, too.

“When we compare ourselves to others and find ourselves wanting, this can lead to negative self-talk. Often this is exacerbated by social media, because we’re comparing our whole lives to carefully curated snapshots of other people’s lives,” says Rutstein.

Cultural, societal and family expectations can also set standards that individuals strive to meet, influencing self-criticism or encouragement. For example, when family members expect you to have ticked off certain milestones (such as marriage, children or buying a house) by a certain age, you may start to feel like a failure if you haven’t met their expectations. Personal achievements and failures can directly impact self-talk, too, with successes boosting positive self-dialogue and failures often leading to negative self-talk.

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Positive Self-Talk For The Win

When self-talk is positive, it can have a wide range of positive effects on our lives – from how we feel to how we show up in the world. People with a positive inner dialogue tend to be more confident, more productive and happier. “Have you ever felt frustrated because someone with less technical ability than you got promoted and you didn’t? Or that someone else built a successful business off an idea that you also had but didn’t have the guts to pursue?” asks Rutstein. “That’s self-talk at work.”

“Positive self-talk enhances mental well-being by reducing stress and anxiety and fostering a positive outlook on life. That optimism makes the other person believe that the business idea will be a success, making them more inclined to pursue it,” shares Rutstein. Positive self-talk also boosts self-confidence and self-esteem, empowering individuals to tackle challenges and pursue goals. Rather than being held back by self-doubt, the person believes that they are the one who should pursue the idea and turn it into a business.

“Positive self-talk encourages resilience, enabling individuals to recover more quickly from setbacks and maintain motivation. This emboldens the person to take the risk of starting the business, because even if it doesn’t work out, they’ll bounce back and try something else. Positive self-talk can even improve physical health. It has been linked to lower stress levels, better immune function, and better overall wellbeing,” explains Rutstein.

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Why Negative Self-Talk Is A Definite ‘No’

Unfortunately, as powerful as positive self-talk can be for improving the overall quality of our lives, negative self-talk can be just as powerful – but in a destructive way. Unchecked, it can lead to mental health issues such as chronic stress, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem, as well as exacerbate physical ailments.

“Negative self-talk can result in a defeatist attitude towards goals and aspirations, hindering personal and professional growth. If you’ve ever given up on something before you even tried because you expected the worst, that was negative self-talk in action,” says Rutstein. She adds that it can also strain relationships by projecting insecurities and negativity onto interactions with others. “When you feel bad about yourself, you may enter social interactions defensively. This may cause you to misinterpret what other people say or do as an attack because that’s what you’re expecting,” says Rutstein.

A classic example is when someone says, “You did well today,” but what you hear is, “You did well today for a change because you’re usually incompetent.” That, right there, is negative self-talk causing you to perceive a compliment as an insult.

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How To Show Up For Yourself

Per Rutstein, if you typically engage in negative self-talk, the good news is that it’s totally possible to rewire your brain with these five easy steps:

  1. Practise mindfulness: Caught yourself feeling bad that the person on the treadmill next to you is running so much faster? Instead, think about how well you did by making it to the gym in the first place – and how many excuses could have held you back, but didn’t. Become aware of negative self-talk as it occurs. Acknowledge these thoughts without judgment and gently redirect your focus to more positive or neutral thoughts.
  2. Challenge your own negative thoughts: Question the validity of negative self-assessments and replace them with positive affirmations instead. Thinking about how you’re definitely going to mess up your job interview? Focus on all the reasons why you’re actually the best candidate for the position.
  3. Gratitude journalling: Regularly write down things you are grateful for or proud of about yourself. This can help shift focus from negative to positive aspects.
  4. Surround yourself with positive influences: Engage with supportive friends, family and content that uplifts you, reducing exposure to negativity that can feed into self-criticism.
  5. Set small, achievable goals: Accomplishing even little goals (making your bed every morning; not snoozing the alarm) can boost your sense of efficacy and foster a more positive dialogue about your capabilities and achievements.

As a parting shot, we invite you to reflect on these words from author Brianna Wiest‘s book When You’re Ready, This Is How You Heal: “What if cleansing your mind with hopeful, joyful, positive thoughts is the rebalancing that’s been long overdue, after so many years of existing solely on the most negative interpretations you could come up with?”

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