Self-Talk

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Verily Magazine recently asked myself and other therapists across the United States about the importance of self-talk. You can read that article here! We have the tendency to become our biggest self-critics and our inner dialogue can keep us from living the life we want. Below are the questions Verily posed to me and my own outlook on how self-talk can hurt and help us.

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What are the best motivational phrases to tell yourself?

The best kind of motivational phrases don’t ignore the challenges. Acknowledging vulnerability, pain, or suffering while connecting desired actions to what’s most important to you can result in the most useful motivational phrases. “This is hard, but it’s important to me.”

What are the worst phrases (that seem harmless) to tell yourself?

Seemingly harmless phrases usually occur when we force ourselves to be positive. Our brains are very adept lie detectors, and if anything in the positive talk doesn’t ring absolutely true, the positive talk actually backfires and gives more fuel to the negative talk.

Is it better to speak to yourself in first (“I”) or second (“you”) person?

It may seem odd, but talking to yourself in the second person provides a healthy distancing from your inner dialogue. This, in the therapy world, is what some would could call cognitive defusion. When practicing this distancing from our thoughts, it allows us to really look at our thoughts for what they are, just thoughts. We don’t have to believe everything our mind tells us. For example, say these two statements to yourself and see if you can feel the difference.

“I can’t do it, it’s too scary.”

“You’re feeling like you can’t do it and it’s too scary.”

The second statement creates some distance between you and the negative self-talk which leaves room for exploring the workability of the thought. Is this going to help you get to where you want to go? If it’s not working, maybe there’s another way of looking at it that provides a willingness to keep moving forward. “You’re feeling like you can’t do it and it’s too scary. This is important to me though, so I’m going to give it a shot.”

How can you talk yourself out of failure, disappointment, or self-doubt?

Often when Failure, Disappointment, and Self-Doubt show up we try to make sense of why we find ourselves there. Our minds are great story-tellers, always categorizing events and experiences so that we can learn from the past, make sense of the present, and plan for the future. Sometimes when these difficult things come up, the story we tell ourselves (about ourselves) only looks at similar events or experiences. This leads to our very own problem-saturated biographies. “I’m a failure. I always get disappointed, I’ve never been able to accomplish these things in the past so why would this time be any different.” If we are able to practice cognitive distancing from our negative thoughts this could leave room for looking at times when we were able to overcome Failure, Disappointment, and Self-Doubt.

When is it most important to employ positive self-talk?

A really useful tool when it comes to positive self-talk is mindfulness. I would suggest taking the time to identify negative thoughts that you notice, along with the events that triggered them and the physical sensations that precipitated or followed (e.g., racing heart, quick breathing, flushed face, muscle tension, cold/hot extremities). You can do this through journaling or jotting down notes in your phone. Mindfulness allows you to slow down when negative self-talk is taking over, and let you know when to employ the meaningful self-talk that will get you back to your life.

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How does self-talk impact your life? What does your inner dialogue tell you about yourself? What has helped you when you become your own worst critic?

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