- Mental Health
How To Develop Positive Self Talk
"There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative."~ W. Clement Stone
All habits, good and bad, begin as thoughts. For this reason, I believe that self-talk—in the final analysis—is the only thing any of us ever use to accomplish any goal, including the goal of exchanging a bad habit for a good one.
Self-talk resides in our “thought realm.” As internal dialogue, if you train it well, it will serve as a sort of “thought guide,” helping you to convince yourself of the need for change, and then with managing and focusing on the positive thoughts to help you engineer the change you want to see in your life.
What Are You Saying to You?
Learning to focus your self-talk in a way that will help you achieve your goals is what this Hub is all about. As I have stated over and over in my articles on this topic, we all engage in self-talk or inner dialogue, constantly, whether or not we learn to use it in a positive, life-changing way. Having conversations with yourself is something you can’t help but do. It is the way we all process information as humans. Still, unless you learn to bring focus and clarity to what you are saying to you, your inner dialogue could be nothing more than a hodge-podge of words and images strung together to which you don’t really give much present or afterthought. But those thoughts, when they're excessively negative, actually have a life and a mission of their own; one that can block your ability to engage in positive thoughts, and thereby impeding your personal development.
Turn Negative Thoughts into Positive Words and Actions
“Whatever.” “Yeah, right.” “Oh, I’m an idiot!” These seemingly harmless words or phrases may always be on the tip of your tongue, but they may also be at the tip of a negative iceberg that is hiding out inside your mind. Just what are you saying to you? Do you ever catch yourself being excessively cynical or calling yourself a nasty name, or saying something to yourself that you would never say to someone else? Remember, you are giving those words wings, and they’re going to fly—straight to your spirit, their destination.
If you're guilty of using negative, self-demeaning words, for humor or for any other purpose, then it’s time for you to learn how to challenge and then change what you are saying about you. For example, if you’re reading this Hub, then there is a very good chance that you are not an idiot, so you shouldn’t be calling yourself one. Not even in jest. If you do, then you should immediately replace that thought with another more reasonable and useful thought, such as, “While I may have done an idiotic thing once or twice, I am not an idiot. I am human, and as a human being, I simply made a mistake.”
Challenging negative self-talk is not only necessary; it is a productive use of your time. Negative thinking is useless. It has no value in terms of helping you to do anything in life that is worthwhile. It can even cause you to think and talk yourself out of the success that you could be enjoying, now or in the future. Gaining control over negative self-talk is not just about replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. Rather, it is more about excavating and controlling exaggerated, inaccurate, self-sabotaging and worthless thoughts that will multiply and smother useful and worthwhile ones, if it not controlled. So next time, before you say something negative to or about you, think first, then check and change, as needed.
Here's an interesting story I read (by Dr. Andrew Jacobs, Winnersunlimited.com; May 21, 2008) while doing my research for this Hub. It's about a cyclist who won a medal in the 1984 Olympics.
The article said that the cyclist had to battle negative self-talk while he was racing, and he was in the lead in the race. Still, as he peddled his way to the finish line, this great athlete had to battle negative self-talk. If you're like me, when you take some time to really think about this, you're probably not all that surprised. The cyclist was simply doing something we all do, he was doubting himself. And this story simply goes to show that no matter who you are, how skilled or talented you are, or how well you do what you do, there is a good chance that you are still not immune to the negative effects of negative self-talk.
It would seem to most of us that the cyclist surely had every reason to be positive, and every reason to be thinking that he could and most likely would win the race in which he was competing. The article said that in his event, his time ranked him among the fastest cyclists in the world, and leading up to the Olympics, he’d had exceptional training and was believed to be in the best physical shape of his career. So why was he now doubting himself and allowing negative self-talk to work against him, perhaps allowing his own inner mind to become his strongest competitor?
The article reported that the cyclist said he believed the negative self-talk could be traced to his childhood. He remembered, he said, that when he was growing up, his parents had programmed him to think negatively about himself. They had criticized him much more than they ever praised him, and they hardly ever encouraged him to believe he could be successful in anything.
He mostly remembered feeling that he was an underachiever, and that no matter what he did, it was never going to be good enough to earn his parents’ highest praise. Now here he was, all grown up and accomplished as a cyclist, competing in the Olympics. He was in the lead, with a good chance to win, and still he had to work even harder to win the battle that was going on inside his own head. He knew he first had to find and excavate the negative thoughts so that he could then turn self-defeating talk into encouraging and positive self-talk.
The cyclist had learned early in life to think negative thoughts about himself and his abilities. Now, however, as an adult, he realized he would have to find a way to “flip the script,” that was buried in his mind. He had to begin replacing negative self-talk with positive. But how did he do it? How does anyone do it?
Ending the Cycle
“If you don't like something change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it.” ~ Mary Engelbreit
What are some of the things you can you do, right now, to begin countering negative self-talk?
1. Think about what happened in the past to make you so negative. The first step in learning to end a habit of negative self-talk, is to do your best to identify the memories that are providing the fertilizer for growing and nourishing your negative self-talk. Then, after finding the Why behind your thoughts, you can then get ready to erase the negative thoughts, and to replace them with positive ones.
2. Start tuning in more to what you are saying to you. Experts agree that we all need to become more tuned in to our negative thoughts in order to monitor what triggers us to do it. Becoming more aware of when your negative self-talk kicks in will help to determine if there might be certain times of day or certain kinds of things that happen that may tend to turn on your negative thinking and negative self-talk.
3. Consider keeping a journal, at least for a while. Many experts recommend that keeping a journal is one of the best ways to tune-in to and to keep track of self-talk. Some even recommend keeping more than one journal, one for keeping track of what you’re saying to yourself in general, and another for self-talk that is related to something specific that you are working to achieve. Writing down your thoughts about your positive and negative self-talk can help you to identify possible reasons for your thoughts. Keeping track of all of it, even if you only do it for a week or a month, can help you to become more aware of what you are saying to yourself, and the possible reasons why you are saying these things to you.
While it is impossible to keep track of all your thoughts and self-talk, you can appoint a time of day when you will sit down for 20-30 minutes or an hour, and use either a pen and paper or your computer’s word processor to write down major thoughts you’ve had that day, or within that hour, that you believe are important because they are affecting how you feel or how you make major decisions, at home and/or at work.
Because much of your negative self-talk occurs without you paying much attention to it, unless you begin to pay it more attention, it is likely that you will continue in a negative direction. Keeping a journal, I’ll say once again, is an indispensable tool for helping you learn to pay more attention to what you are saying to you, and for helping to bring your deepest inner thoughts to the surface.
“Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.” ~ William James
The first step in becoming your own best friend is to stop using your internal dialogue, your self-talk, to be unkind to you. Sure, you have shortcomings and challenges, and so does everyone else. But you will become much stronger, and much more effective in getting what you want from you, and what you want from life, when you learn to listen to what you are saying to you. If you find that you are saying negative things to you, about you, then you must begin to replace the negative words in your mind, with positive ones. Then you must learn to use your positive thoughts to take positive actions.
© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD