How to Practice Positive Self-Talk: Skills for Life

Is your internal monologue mostly positive or negative? How does negative self-talk affect your character? And what can you do to override it with positive self-talk?

Research has shown that when we talk to ourselves, it’s mostly about ourselves, and it’s mostly negative. Negative self-talk colors our view of what’s possible and makes us unmotivated to act. Plus, our body reacts physically to the negative things we say about ourselves. Learning how to practice positive self-talk can help you in many facets of your life.

In this article, you’ll learn to recognize negative self-talk and limiting beliefs and how to counter them.

Your Thoughts Physically Affect You

Lie detector tests are a good illustration of how your thoughts affect you. If you were hooked up to a lie-detecting machine, and someone asked you whether you stole money, physical changes might start to happen in your body, regardless of whether you lied or not. For example, your heart rate might increase, and you might start sweating.

Negative and positive thoughts do different things to the body. Negative thoughts can make you feel powerless, unmotivated, and weak. Positive thoughts can make you feel more in balance and relaxed. They can also release endorphins in the brain, which are associated with pleasure. Learning to retrain yourself to practice positive self-talk helps you achieve your goals and much more. 

Learn to Identify Negative Thoughts

Dealing with negative thoughts requires understanding that not all of your thoughts are true. When you recognize a negative thought, you can challenge it and change it to one that helps you achieve your goal.

Here are the main types of negative thoughts and how to reframe them:

  • You think someone thinks something negative about you. For example, you may think someone is mad at you, but you can’t know for sure what someone else is thinking. Instead, ask them how they’re feeling. 
  • You think of the worst-case scenario. If you think of something bad happening and convince yourself that it will happen, you may feel doomed or talk yourself out of trying something. For example, you may be convinced someone will turn you down when you ask them to go on a date. But instead of not asking them out, tell yourself you can’t know for sure whether they will accept until you ask.
  • You give yourself a negative label. For example, you might say that you’re too stupid to learn calculus. Instead, say, “Even though I struggle with math, I’m a smart person, and I know I’ll get through this.”
  • You make the situation about yourself. For example, if you text your friend and don’t hear back for several days, you might think your friend didn’t like what you said or doesn’t care about you when they’re really just busy. Instead, remind yourself that you can’t know why people do certain things, and suggest other explanations for what happened.
  • You think in extremes. Thinking in extremes means using words like always, never, everyone, no one, or every time. For example, you might say, “My supervisor never listens to me.” But it’s unlikely this is always true—your supervisor must listen to you sometimes. To counteract these statements, say what’s actually true: “I get upset when my supervisor doesn’t listen to me, but she has listened to me in the past, and she will in the future.”
  • You make yourself feel guilty. If you think about things you need to do with phrases like have to, should, or ought to, you reinforce your reluctance to do them. For example, instead of saying, “I should eat more vegetables,” say, “It would support my goals to eat more vegetables” or “It’s in my best interest to…”

Activity: Deal With Negative Thoughts

Sometimes, we start second-guessing our behavior or harshly judge ourselves. For example, maybe you gave a presentation that you feel didn’t go well, and you start telling yourself that you messed up. To change the experience from a negative one to a positive one, have a conversation with yourself about how to do better. Here’s the basic formula for addressing your negative thoughts:

  1. List the things you say when you judge yourself. Examples might include thinking you don’t exercise enough or that you eat too many cookies.
  2. Tell yourself that you’re not going to listen to harsh judgments, only feedback. This will help turn criticism of yourself into suggestions for improvement.
  3. Use the following categories to express yourself and what you’d like to do differently:
  • Anger. Express why something makes you angry. For example, maybe watching so much TV makes you feel like you don’t have time for other activities you care about.
  • Fear. Describe why your current behavior makes you feel afraid. Maybe you’re afraid you’re losing an important connection with a family member or loved one.
  • Improvements. Ask yourself what you could’ve done better. Listen to your answers. Research has shown that good ideas don’t often last longer than 40 seconds. Make a habit of writing them down as you think of them. Keep asking yourself “What else?” you could’ve done better until you’re out of ideas.
  • Requests. Describe what you’d like to do differently. Be specific. In the TV example, maybe you’d limit yourself to one hour of TV per day.
  • Love. Express your love for yourself and why you feel it’s important to do the requests. For example, tell yourself that watching less television will make you happier, and you love yourself and deserve happiness.
How to Practice Positive Self-Talk: Skills for Life

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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