What is self-talk?

Self-talk is the words, language and conversations we use and have with ourselves. It is how we represent ourselves to ourselves. From the positive to the not-so-positive, our self-talk is often the most honest, truthful and sometimes unsparing commentary on who we are, what we do and the life we lead.

Self-talk is also how we create and recreate our past, present and future realities. Like a painter adding paint to a canvas, it helps us to:

  • Picture our present
  • Reflect on and learn from our past
  • Articulate a vision for our future

Why is self-talk important?

Self-talk is important because it contains the signs and clues to our thriving and surviving. Tuning into our self-talk can therefore reveal a great deal about whether we are struggling or flourishing in life. It can be a ‘canary in the mine’ for impending difficulties and challenges and a spotlight on emerging growth and potential.

Self-talk can also play a role in our mental health and wellbeing, being both a cause and an effect of it. For example, negative self-talk can be a causal factor in conditions such as anxiety and depression or occur because of them. Conversely, positive self-talk can play a role in building traits like good levels of self-esteem and self-confidence and, again, occur because of them.

Who’s talking?

This is not a trick question. From the moment of our birth we are dependent on others for acquiring and learning language. While we are born with the ability to speak, so the words we speak are learnt from the world around us. This means our self-talk will consist of other people’s words as well as our own. So when I ask the question ‘Who’s talking?’ the answer for all of us will be ‘Lots of different people.’ If your self-talk has been generally positive or negative throughout your life, then responsibility for this will be due in part to the people you knew first. If your self-talk is negative, then a coach or therapist can support you to find your own voice and silence the negative voices belonging to others.

Attributional/explanatory style

In psychology, the concept of ‘attributional style’ – the way we attribute meaning to events and occurrences – can help us to understand our self-talk. A negative attributional style is where setbacks in life are:

  • Personal – ‘What happened, happened because of who I am.’
  • Permanent – ‘What happened will be permanent.’
  • Pervasive – ‘What happened will ruin my whole life.’

A positive attributional style is where someone responds to setbacks:

  • Impersonally – ‘What happened could have happened to anyone.’
  • Temporary – ‘What happened will pass.’
  • Specific – ‘What happened won’t ruin my whole life.’

Positive and negative self-talk are therefore closely connected to how we make sense of events and occurrences.

How do you talk to yourself?

Maybe you already know how you talk to yourself, but if you don’t you can take our Conversations With Impact Questionnaire to find out. Looking at the statements below, choose a number between 1 and 7 that indicates the degree to which you agree with the statements. Low numbers mean your self-talk is likely to be negative, high numbers the opposite.

  • I trust myself
  • I respect myself
  • I do not judge myself and accept me for who I am
  • My self-talk follows my agenda, not others’
  • I give myself the time I need
  • I respect my confidentiality and do not overshare
  • I can say what I really want to myself
  • I understand myself and what I need from me
  • I have the ideas, skills and knowledge I need
  • I can look at myself objectively
  • I believe in myself and my potential for change
  • I challenge myself in a good way
  • I genuinely listen to myself
  • I am truly interested in myself
  • I can make sense of my situation
  • I set clear, realistic goals and strategies for myself
  • I can find solutions by myself
  • My conversations and self-talk make a positive difference
  • I have the X-Factor

What did you discover? The aim of the questionnaire is to help you identify why you talk to yourself in the way that you do. If you have any low numbers, ask yourself what changes you can make to your self-talk? And if you have any higher numbers, ask yourself what you can do to maintain or improve it.

Benefits of positive self-talk

While positive self-talk does not guarantee positive outcomes in life, it does make them more likely. One thing is certain: the self-talk of successful people is full of positive affirmation, encouragement and motivation. Benefits of positive self-talk include:

  • Better mental health and emotional wellbeing
  • Positive self-esteem and identity
  • Achievement of goals and challenges
  • Better decision making
  • Effective problem-solving
  • Seeing difficulties and challenges more clearly
  • Creating positive stories for our lives
  • Increased curiosity, creativity and critical thinking
  • Changing, evolving and reframing thoughts and beliefs

Ways to develop positive self-talk

With the growth in life coaching, the greater acceptance of therapy and the enormous self-help industry, there are countless ideas, techniques and strategies to help develop positive self-talk. Here are just a few of them:

  • Develop a life of meaning and purpose by making a difference
  • Choose work, hobbies and interests that reflect your values and passions
  • Choose relationships that positively contribute to your life and cut out those that don’t
  • Inspiring stories: read, watch and write
  • Practice gratitude, kindness and compassion
  • Develop mindfulness
  • Stop comparing yourself to others
  • Develop a positive vocabulary and practice using it
  • When you use positive self-talk, reflect on what you have said and write it down
  • Nurture self-belief
  • Feel the fear and do it anyway
  • Be on the look out for negative thoughts and have positive replacements for them
  • Research positive affirmations and choose those you really connect with
  • Let go of the past, build and maintain what is working in your present, replace future fears with future dreams, goals and aspirations
  • Use your imagination to visualise success
  • As with harmful relationships, minimise any other sources of negativity such as social media
  • Practice good self-care such as eating well and being physically active

Need someone else to talk to?

We hope you have enjoyed our post on self-talk. If you are interested in exploring your self-talk further, we’d love to hear from you. We’ve been helping people to develop positive self-talk since 2005.