The Benefits of Positive Self-Talk: Your Own Personal Mentor

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Chatter" by Ethan Kross. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Is your internal dialogue mostly positive or negative? How can you rewire your mind for more positivity?

Our internal dialogue or self-talk is extremely important: It influences our happiness, health, and success. When your self-talk is positive, you move through life with calmness, enthusiasm, and ease. And when you encounter challenges, you don’t despair because you genuinely believe everything will turn out well.

Keep reading to learn about the benefits of positive self-talk, according to neuroscientist and psychologist Ethan Kross.

Supporting You With Your Goals

Kross explains that when your self-talk is positive, it’s an internal mentor that improves your life by supporting you with your goals. Your internal mentor does this in three ways: 

  • It motivates you by offering encouragement.
  • It prompts you to assess your progress by reflecting on your accomplishments so far and comparing them to your goals. 
  • It helps you plan for the future by directing you to engage in behaviors that increase your chances of accomplishing your goals.
Questioning the Idea That All Positive Self-Talk Is Beneficial

Here, Kross focuses on the benefits of positive self-talk. However, some research suggests that not everyone benefits equally from positive self-talk. For instance, a recent study found that people with high self-esteem benefit more from positive self-talk than people with low self-esteem. Researchers asked participants with varying levels of self-esteem to think positive thoughts such as “I will succeed.” Participants with high self-esteem felt slightly better after this exercise—but people with low self-esteem reported feeling worse. Researchers theorize that when you push someone with low self-esteem to focus too much on positive thinking, they find negative thoughts particularly discouraging.

Furthermore, this research suggests that how you phrase your self-talk matters. The study’s researchers theorize that statements such as “I will succeed” may have been too positive, explaining why participants with low self-esteem had a hard time believing these affirmations. Therefore, the internal mentor Kross describes may be most effective when it avoids overly positive statements and instead motivates you, prompts you to assess your progress, and helps you to plan for the future in believable, specific ways. 

For example, imagine you have the goal to release a musical album before the end of the year. Let’s compare believable, specific self-talk to overly positive self-talk for this situation:

Motivate yourself by thinking, “If I practice this song every day, I’ll get better at it” instead of just thinking, “You can do it!”

Assess your progress by thinking “I’ve recorded half of my album, and there are only three months left to record. I need to pick up the pace a bit” instead of merely thinking, “You’ve done great so far, keep up the good work!”

Plan for the future by thinking, “If it’s hard to find time to record, I can use some of my vacation days to record songs” instead of just thinking, “I’ll try to record more songs.”

Helping You Construct Your Identity

Second, Kross claims that your internal mentor helps you form your identity, which makes life easier. Think of your internal mentor as a silent voiceover narrating your life. This voiceover tells a somewhat oversimplified story, highlighting certain aspects of your past to construct a cohesive story about who you are. This story helps you recognize what you want and need in life, and it grounds you in your values so you can be resilient in the face of challenges. 

For example, imagine you’re on a journey toward becoming less of a perfectionist, and your effort to record a musical album is forcing you to confront your perfectionist tendencies. Any time you slip into your old ways, your internal mentor steers you towards success by connecting your past, present, and future identities into a cohesive narrative:

  • It compares the present to the past: “You’re being a perfectionist again by trying to perfect each song. In the past, this prevented you from completing songs.”
  • It imagines a better future: “On future recordings, be less of a perfectionist. Remind yourself that ‘good enough is good enough!’ It’s better to have imperfect but completed songs than no songs.”
The Benefits of Positive Self-Talk: Your Own Personal Mentor

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  • How negative self-talk interferes with your happiness, health, and success
  • Research-based strategies for managing negative self-talk
  • Four actionable tips for quieting your internal cynic

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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