Self Improvement — 01 September 2014
Alter Your Negative Self Talk

All beings engage in self-talk, the habit of vocalizing our thoughts, feelings and actions in order to understand and manage our lives well, act properly, preserve our positive self-regard and gain others’ esteem. Yet, most individuals, at least occasionally, berate themselves to their detriment. How can we better manage our self-talk to avoid defeating ourselves in life?

Self-talk, our ongoing guiding voice, is impacted by many factors from our childhood upbringing, others’ feedback and our own judgmental self-assessment that may not always be positive. Developing a habit of negative self-talk is unproductive and detrimental to our wellbeing.

In childhood, many youngsters hear parental messages that are intended to be instructive as critical and even shaming. For example, “Why don’t you listen to me?” may be a parental query about the reason for the child’s non-compliance, but may be processed by the youngster as, “There is something wrong with me.” Or, a displeased parental statement, “How many times do I have to tell you not to do this?” may be processed by the youngster as, “I am not very smart.”

In later years statements by teachers, coaches, friends, relatives or others may contribute to the child’s negative self-view. Also, life experiences in which children and adults compare themselves to others may lead them to develop an unfavorable self–image.

When youngsters or adults encounter new or unfamiliar situations that trigger doubt, fear or insecurity they may activate their minimizing self-talk. “I can’t do this, I am untrained, stupid, awkward, non-athletic, and I will not succeed.” They inadvertently set themselves up for disappointing outcomes. Conversely, those who use their positive self-talk are much more likely to succeed in their new undertaking by telling themselves, “This is new to me but I am agile, smart, athletic, adventuresome, and a quick learner.”

Positive self-talk not only helps one attempt new tasks, it also increases his/her chances of success. Drs. Scott Martin and Associates’ Sport Psychology research found that athletes gain great benefits from using imagery and recommend that they add to it their desired outcome. An example may be, “We trust our ability to win and can see ourselves scoring these goals.” The researchers added, “We believe the same is true for other positive self-talk interventions.”

In “The Effects of Self-Talk on the Level of Success of College Students”, Ann Bernard of the University of New Orleans reported: “Students with positive self-talk had higher levels of performance in all areas, with the exception of relationship satisfaction, in which the sample was too small.”

Perhaps a famous children story, “The Little Engine That Could” phrased it best: “I think I can, I think I can… I knew I could.”

All people are wise to adjust their self-talk to positive self-affirmations and visualize the desired outcome to enhance the likelihood of succeeding.

Monitor your self-talk:

  • Accept that what you tell yourself impacts the outcome of your actions.
  • Replace your negative self-messages with positive ones to achieve greater success, satisfaction and happiness.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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