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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?

How aware are you of 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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    • Breanne Ginsburg profile image

      Breanne Ginsburg 

      6 years ago

      I agree with you that positive self-talk is important and that we also have to show ourselves that we can get through things that we struggle with so that we can prove to ourselves that we can overcome our obstacles.

    • Melovy profile imageAUTHOR

      Yvonne Spence 

      6 years ago from UK

      Thanks for your comment Audrey, and sorry for taking so long to get back to you - I'm not on HubPages much these days. It sounds as if you are getting to grips with transforming negative self-talk, which is great. What I'd suggest in addition to what you already do is to welcome the negative thoughts and give them some love - bizarre as this sounds it is very effective, partly because the moment you welcome any thought it transforms how you feel and takes the "negative" charge away from the thought. Trying to "get rid of" thoughts creates tension in itself and a feeling that what we are doing isn't good enough, whereas when the mind is not at war with itself, it's far easier to allow for inspiration.

      This (for me anyway) is something that is on-going. The more I let go, the more I become aware of really deeply held beliefs that have been triggers for me, and as they come more obvious, it's easier to then let them go too. (I've written a lot more about this on my blog Inquiring Parent, in case you are interested.)

    • brakel2 profile image

      Audrey Selig 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

      You must see me in the morning, as I do get up grumpy with a few negative feelings. Then I gradually do good self talk and concentrate on being positively focused. Your ideas instill feelings in me to make me get rid of bad talk. I used to wake up thinking of my writing. I hope to do that again. Thanks for sharing your ideas. Pinning hub. Blessings, Audrey I just realized I read this before quite a while ago. I am back!

    • Melovy profile imageAUTHOR

      Yvonne Spence 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi brakel2, your idea of putting the thoughts in a closed can sounds like a interesting one. Actually anything that works is good!

      Thanks for your comment.

    • brakel2 profile image

      Audrey Selig 

      8 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

      Hi Melovy - Excellent article about what can go on every day in our minds. Your suggestions for improvement can help everyone be more positive. Laughing or getting mad at yourself takes the edge off the negative side. Substituting a good thought can immediately put one's mind at ease. I do self talk all the time. Even in a bad situation where someone has hurt me, I change my thought and pretend I have put them in my yard in a closed can , and my thoughts stop. Keep up the good work.

    • Melovy profile imageAUTHOR

      Yvonne Spence 

      8 years ago from UK

      Ian, that's exactly it, our minds get conditioned from birth. And then we forget that we are not our minds and assume those thoughts are who we are. So the only thing I'd say different to your observation is that what we come to know of people is not so much who they are as what their conditioning is. Most people don't question that, but anyone can and when we do, the results are amazing and freeing.

    • Ian Dabasori Hetr profile image

      Ian D Hetri 

      8 years ago from Papua New Guinea

      From birth till now, we our mind gets conditioned by ourselves or by others. To know a person, just watch the words he uses everyday. That's as simple as I have come to understand man. Its simple. A mind filled with filth is bound to produce filth all day long. A mind filled with positivity and abundance gives out exactly that.

    • Melovy profile imageAUTHOR

      Yvonne Spence 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi CrisSp, I agree that what we feed our mind impacts us. And I'm not sure if I've been 100% clear, but when self-talk isn't just what we say out loud about ourselves, it's all the silent comments that run in our heads. It's very useful to start noticing those!v

      Thanks for your comment.

    • CrisSp profile image


      8 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Interesting! I'm not much of a self-talker but I knew some people who does. Mind you, they could be annoying at times. *smile* I couldn't agree more on you...negative or positive, whatever we feed our minds directly impact us and on and on, it goes. There's no argument on that.

      What a well thought hub. Very insightful with great practical advice. Up+++ and sharing the positivity.

    • Melovy profile imageAUTHOR

      Yvonne Spence 

      8 years ago from UK

      You could be right that we use the word fight differently, I hadn't thought of that. Refocusing or transforming are words that feel more accurate to me.

      I guess you are also right that I was saying it's helpful to not take yourself too seriously, though I hadn't really thought of it that way. Humour can be very freeing.

      I think the main area where we may differ is that, for me, making friends with what is behind the negative thoughts is more effective than doing battle with them. For instance, if I repeatedly tell myself I can't do something it could be because I'm trying to save myself feeling the pain of failure. So I am trying to keep myself safe. Of course it doesn't work, but I can love myself for wanting to keep myself safe, and then find a better way to do that.

      There's not one method that works for everyone all the time, but for me getting to the root of the negative thoughts means I'm more likely to then change that pattern whereas just saying no to them may work in that moment, but the thoughts come back again. Hope this makes sense.

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 

      8 years ago from Parts Unknown

      In this case it may not be that your hub was not clear, as that I may of chose to use the wrong word.

      For example with myself I am not really affected by negative thoughts, because when they do pop in my head I immediately say no to those thoughts and I focus my thoughts in a more positive direction. Quite often I do use humor as tool. I think it helps that I don't take myself too seriously. I think that is kind of the gist (even though maybe a simplification) of what you were getting at.

      I did use the term fought, because in a sense I fight off negative thoughts by refocusing those thoughts in another direction. But I guess that refocusing or transforming are more accurate expressions to use. But that being said I don't see a major issue in saying that the tips that you suggest (such as humor) are weapons we can use in winning the battle over negativity. But once again it can depend on how you define fight and our views might be a bit different.

    • Melovy profile imageAUTHOR

      Yvonne Spence 

      8 years ago from UK

      spartucusjones, while I agree that negative thoughts can have a detrimental impact I wasn't meaning to give the impression that we should fight them. It's not easy to convey this and I will try to make the hub clearer because I do think it's so important: when we fight "negative" thoughts, or emotions, what we get is a fight! That's stressful, and keeps us stuck in a loop.

      When instead we accept these thoughts and feelings, they instantly transform. It's utterly impossible for them not to, because we can't experience acceptance and any negative emotion at the same time.

      It's not what we think that so important as how we react to that. For instance, imagine you are singing a song that goes, "I'm so miserable because my baby left me," (a fairly common theme.) If you don't believe the words of the song you aren't affected by them one bit. But if you do believe them, then you will feel miserable.

      Observing thoughts and questioning them is the beginning of detaching from beliefs.

      I'm very grateful for your comment because it lets me see that I haven't conveyed what I'd aimed to, so will have another think about how to do that. Thanks!

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 

      8 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Very insightful! I am definitely a self-talker. It is not always negative with me, it is just that I am always processing my thoughts in my brain. I also have a tendency to verbalize them out loud. So I have to tell people that I am not talking to myself, I am just thinking out loud.

      Your suggestions are definitely practical, and I agree that negative thoughts can have a real detrimental impact and need to be fought.


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