The Importance of Positive Self-Talk
By: Megan Montague LMFT
We all talk to ourselves throughout the day. Sometimes we are aware of this internal dialogue or “self-talk” and sometimes we aren’t. While self-talk seems fairly innocent it actually has a big impact on how we feel about ourselves and the decisions that we make. Let’s say you make a mistake at work. You may engage in positive self-talk that sound something like “It was just a small mistake. I tried my best. Everyone makes mistakes.” If you are like many of us however you might be taking a more negative approach and saying things like “I’m so stupid! How could I have done this? I’m not capable of doing this job. I’m such a failure.“ For the person that talks to themselves positively they are most likely going to move through that mistake a little easier and be willing to try again. For the person who is negative however, they are more apt to experience low self-esteem, higher anxiety and depressive symptoms, and therefore be more resistant to trying again. Think about an example of a little child at a park who falls off the jungle gym. The child begins to cry and the child’s mom says something like “It’s OK honey these things happen. I know it hurt but you’re going to be OK.” What do you think would happen if the mom instead said, “I can’t believe you did that! Why did you think you could climb all the way up there?” Which child do you think will recover better from the fall and consequently develop more confidence and self-esteem?
The next question is then what to do about this negative self-talk. The first step is to be gentle with yourself. Most likely this critical voice is coming from a place of fear. It is important is to validate how you’re feeling rather than beating yourself up about it. For instance, if you’re saying something like “I’m so stupid! How could I have done that?” most likely the underlying feeling is a fear of being rejected. A way to validate your feelings is to say something like “I know this is coming from a place of fear and it’s OK that I feel this way.” The next step in shifting this negative self-talk is to challenge what you are saying to yourself. One helpful technique is asking yourself what you would say to a friend that’s in a similar situation. If a friend made a mistake at work would you say to the friend “You are such an idiot. How could you have done that?” Or would you say something more reassuring and supportive? We tend to be the harshest when it comes to how we talk to ourselves. Our brains believe what we tell it which means that if we tell ourselves that we are a failure or that we are stupid and worthless than that’s what we’re going to believe. If we tell ourselves that we are capable even when we make mistakes however, then we will start to believe that too. We all deserve to talk to ourselves with encouragement and non-judgment because the truth of the matter is nobody grows from criticism or condemnation. There is nobody’s voice we will hear in life as much as we hear our own and recognizing the power of the words we speak to ourselves is very important