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What Is Self Talk?

Updated on July 22, 2020

What is Self Talk?

You wake up in the morning and for a moment, maybe just a split second, there is stillness, an absence of thoughts. And then, they come pouring in: "I need to get up. But it's so warm in bed and it's cold outside. I should get up and get ready for that awful meeting today. It's going to be a nightmare. I'll never get my presentation right. I mustn't mess up like I did last time. I feel embarrassed just thinking about it. I'm so stupid, if I'd gone to bed earlier I wouldn't be so tired. Oh, my head is pounding and I feel nauseous. I'll never be able to cope. "

On and on it goes.

That's all self talk is: the (almost) endless stories we tell ourselves, from the moment we wake till the moment before we go to sleep.

Negative Self Talk

You may have noticed that most of the thoughts I listed in the previous paragraph are what would be classed as "negative." The reason for that is that for most people, around 80% of the 60,000 - 70,000 thoughts we have each day are negative. (Or more accurately they are apparently negative - if that seems strange, I will explain later.)

This Video Has Some Suggestions for What to do About Negative Self Talk

Effects of Negative Self Talk

You probably won't be surprised to know that negative self talk has a demoralizing effect on a person. It can be enough to stop people doing things they are capable of - and this of course leads to more negative self talk. Going back to the example in the opening paragraph, it's not hard to see that someone with those thoughts could easily perform badly at the meeting or maybe even call in sick to avoid it. Let's take a closer look at one of the thoughts: "I mustn't mess up like I did last time."

When someone has this thought (or a similar one) what comes to mind is exactly that they don't want: images of things going wrong the last time. This creates stress, and makes the person more likely to perform badly. This is something that top sports coaches have been aware of for some time, and many will encourage athletes to look at their self talk to see where it could be preventing them achieving their potential.

Byron Hicks talks about Self Talk.

Transforming "Negative" Self Talk

There are many ways of transforming negative self talk - and just as many gurus lining up to sell you their products that will free you of all negative self-talk forever - and free you of your cash!

Joking aside - because this is not a rant about gurus - while there are some who are just after your money, many do have practices that are well worth considering. The most important thing is simply to find a way that works for you - and don't spend a lot of money on something you haven't tried out first. Any reputable method gives some information away for free.

In my experience, all effective methods for transforming negative self talk have 4 aspects in common. These are:

  • Awareness
  • Inquiry
  • Observation
  • Acceptance or love

These aspects will not necessarily occur in this order, and it is possible to experience all 4 at the same time! I certainly have. Rather than a prescription for how to heal, this is just a way of letting you see that a process takes place. Once it starts, it does develop a momentum of its own, and although there will be ups and downs, as long as your return to these aspects you will gradually see more ups.

Without awareness, our thoughts are like clouds covering the truth of who we are.
Without awareness, our thoughts are like clouds covering the truth of who we are. | Source

Do you pay attention to your self-talk?

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All effective practices begin at the same point: develop awareness of your self-talk, both "negative" and "positive." Traditional counselling does this, as does meditation. For instance, until I notice that I am repeatedly telling myself I am stupid, I can't do much to change it and will go on believing it.


In the previous paragraph I placed quotation marks around negative and positive because the most effective methods of dealing with self-talk all encourage you to observe thoughts without judgment. It''s very easy when you begin to notice your negative thoughts to then judge yourself for having them. So as well as feelings created by the original thought you also have guilt and anger at yourself for having them!

Instead, when we simply observe the thoughts we can begin to notice the effects they have and to see how we would be without them. This is sometimes enough for a thought pattern to change. If that sounds too simple, remember that this is only part of a process. Observing without judgment is very powerful, and far more powerful when combined with the other stages.


Inquiry can take many forms. Or perhaps more accurately, you can ask many different questions in inquiry. It's not what you ask that matters, but how you ask it.

If you ask the questions with the attitude in mind that there's something wrong with you that needs to be fixed, then you are likely to find things that seem wrong with you. The result is that your self talk is unlikely to change, and you won't feel any better about yourself. The same is true if you ask the questions searching for someone else to blame for how you are.

If, on the other hand, you ask questions with curiosity to see the truth, what you find will help you understand and change. If this sounds as if trying to find something to change is unlikely to lead to change, while just looking with no plans to change yourself does lead to change - yes that is what I am saying. It's ironic, and it is possibly the most challenging aspect of this process.

Have you ever felt unhappy and told someone how you felt, only to have them give you a ton of advice about what you should do about your problem? This person might even have said things like, "Well you've brought it on yourself." And how did you feel after that? Did you feel heard and understood, and able to deal with things, or did you feel ashamed, angry and hopeless? My bet is you felt the latter way. Yet, when we inquire into our self talk with the intentions of fixing what's wrong with us, this is exactly how we treat ourselves. Similarly, if we inquire to find out who was responsible for our negative beliefs (parents, teachers and so on) we indulge our desire to suffer and feel sorry for ourselves. That doesn't help either.

Acceptance or Love

Of all parts of the process, this is possibly the most powerful. By accepting both ourselves as we are right now, and whatever thoughts our self talk brings up we instantly transform them. This can't be faked, and you can't force yourself to feel acceptance. It's far better to accept that you don't feel it, than to try! The bottom line is accept whatever you genuinely can, even if it's that you are totally fed up and wish you didn't feel the way you do. That's true acceptance and feels far more peaceful than all the trying to fake it ever could!

Laughter Helps!


An Example of Transforming Negative Self Talk

I'll end this part of the article with a little story that illustrates what I written about, and which shows that the process doesn't have to be serious, but can create a lot of laughter.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine, Andrea, needed to do some work that her computer wasn't capable of but mine was. I hadn't used the program she needed much, but my daughter had so she showed us what to do.

When my daughter had gone out, Andrea started to use the program herself, but couldn't remember all the instructions and made a mistake. She berated herself, "I'm so stupid."

Andrea has a university degree and countless other qualifications! I had recently read an article on IQ scores, so I said, "Are you really stupid? I have recently discovered that my IQ is well above average, and at a guess I'd say that yours probably is too." By the time I'd finished speaking we were both laughing at the absurdity of her comment.

But it doesn't finish there - a few minutes later I made a mistake too, and said, "Oh I am silly!" Then, noticing what I'd said, I went on, "How silly of me to say that!" I was calling myself silly for calling myself silly. By now we were both laughing again, and every time either of us used either of those words again it set us both off into more laughter.

This story also illustrates why it's useful not to get too caught up in seeing self talk as postitive or negative. Laughter is tremendously healing, and the more we find our self talk funny the less power it has over us. Ultimately it is nothing more than words floating through our minds and when we can laugh at those words we become detached from them and much freer.

Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life
Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life
I have found Byron Katie's process "The Work" to be very useful for transforming negative beliefs.

Some Techniques That Can Help

Here are a few suggestions of ways that help. Not every process is right for everyone and all of these work for some people, so it really doesn't matter what you pick.

Techniques that are "mainstream" and often used in health services:

  • Counselling
  • CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)
  • NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming)

(Generally with these processes a coach or counsellor will guide you, and these are probably a good place to start if you are severely depressed or have other mental health issues.)

Here are some techniques that are not mainstream, but that are frequently used by mainstream practitioners, and that I have personally found helpful.

You can learn any of these on your own although support from a coach or seminar can accelerate your progress.

A Quote From Thomas Edison

Finally, a quote from Thomas Edison:

"If we did all the things we are capable of doing we would literally astound ourselves."

Prepare to be astounded as your self talk changes.


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