Self-Talk: Watch Your Language

The New Year is a time when many of us make resolutions to improve aspects of our lives including our health. All too often, however, we only focus on our physical health and don’t commit to the changes we need to make to improve our mental health. While dieting, exercise, quitting smoking, and more are all wonderful New Year’s resolutions – why not make a commitment this year to do something to care for your mental well-being as well?

Wondering where to start? How about starting with the way you talk to yourself? Either internally or perhaps even out loud – this is ‘self-talk’. Out of all the messages we receive throughout our days, we hear from ourselves the most. How we speak to ourselves can be incredibly helpful and positive, but too often it is critical and negative. In fact, we speak to ourselves in ways that we wouldn’t stand for from others. 

So how can thinking positively improve your mental well-being this year? Here is what you need to know. 

What is positive self-talk?

We all have an internal dialogue that we use to tell ourselves things that can either make us feel good or bad about ourselves. It is a normal cognitive function. Positive self-talk is a dialogue that makes us feel motivated and optimistic. It can help us look on the bright side of a situation, encourage us to keep going and help us put things into perspective. 

When our self-talk becomes more positive, so does our thinking. 

What are the benefits of positive self-talk?

Positive self-talk isn’t just some internal pep rally or wishful thinking. There are many studies which reveal how thinking positively can benefit your mental health. An Iranian study done in 2020 showed how self-talk affected people dealing with anxiety and OCD during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study found that those who engaged in positive self-talk were better able to manage stress and cope with their emotions. 

Another study conducted in 2019 found that positive self-talk before public speaking could reduce performance anxiety in students. 

Professional and amateur athletes alike also use positive self-talk as a way of motivating themselves and even improving performance. Research conducted in 2020 showed that athletes were more engaged and had more fun when they used positive self-talk. 

What is the impact of negative self-talk?

There are many benefits of speaking to ourselves in a positive way. If those benefits aren’t motivation enough to start being nicer to yourself, consider the consequences. Speaking to yourself negatively can seriously affect your mental health!

When people engage in negative self-talk, they may feel more anxious, particularly in situations where they may not have a lot of confidence. According to the College of Cognitive Behavioural Therapies (CCBT), negative self-talk can be harmful to a person’s self-esteem and cause them to doubt their abilities. It can lead to a vicious cycle of negative thinking and underperformance. 

By way of example, a person may tell themselves they are unable to do something and end up not trying. Then, when it does not go well, they tell themselves that they knew they couldn’t do it. 

The good news is that even if you have been caught in a cycle of repetitive negative thinking (RNT), it is possible to use positive self-talk to counteract it. A 2018 study suggests that RNT can predict anxiety and depression. 

How can you speak to yourself in a more positive way?

The first step to turning your negative thinking around is noticing when it is negative. Some people find it helpful to write down examples of their negative self-talk and then find a way to replace it with positive self-talk. Here are a few examples of how you can turn a negative statement into a positive one: 

It’s too hard.It will be a challenge.
I am going to fail. If I fail, I will learn from it. 
No one likes me. I like myself.

Pro Tips

Now that you have a strategy for turning your negative self-talk into positive self-talk, here is a strategy you can use to make it even more powerful. Research indicates that the way in which people address themselves matters. 

According to a 2014 study, positive self-talk has a greater effect when you use the second-person pronoun “you” or your own name rather than the first-person pronoun “I”. When you are under social stress, addressing yourself in the second person can help to regulate your feelings and thoughts. 

Another study done in 2019 backs up this theory and suggests that athletes who use second-person pronouns in their affirmations have improved performance in endurance sports. 

When to seek help

Occasional negativity isn’t usually something to worry about but if you find that negative self-talk is having a bigger impact on your mental health than you are reasonably able to deal with, it is time to speak to a doctor as it may be a symptom of an underlying condition such as OCD, anxiety, or depression. 

Your doctor may be able to refer you to health professionals or support groups that can help you with improving how you speak to yourself. 

Eli’s Place will be a rural, residential treatment program for young adults with serious mental illness. To learn more about our mission and our proven-effective model click here.

Share this article

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

This March, CanadaHelps will make an additional one-time donation of $20 for every new monthly gift of $20 or more in support of Eli’s Place!*