Positive Self-Talk vs. Passively Listening to Negativity 

It might seem strange that a therapist would recommend talking to yourself but what I’m suggesting is taking a more proactive and positive approach to something you already do. Positive self-talk means using affirming, gentle, and compassionate words in your internal monologue.

You already engage in self-talk but chances are it’s negative, harsh, and critical. For example, do any of the following sound familiar? “Ugh, I’m such a (insert negative adjective).” “Why did I say that? I’m such an idiot.” “Well, no wonder no one likes you.” “You always screw things up.” “Why did I eat all that? I’m never going to lose that weight.” Do these thoughts, and others like them, ever run through your mind?

For many people, it’s hard to come up with positive things to say about themselves and that’s where the listening comes in. Simply listening takes minimal effort. It’s easier to list weaknesses, find flaws, and criticize. Positive self-talk takes effort. It looks like going from being a passive listener to all the negativity to being an active champion of yourself.

Examples

The kind of self-talk you use matters because your thoughts directly impact your feelings and behaviors. For example:

If you’re frequently telling yourself that you’re a failure and you never do things right, then you’re likely to have low self-esteem and experience sadness, fear, and apathy.

If you believe you’re a failure then you’ll avoid taking on new challenges at work or give up when you experience a setback.

If your negative self-talk says that nobody likes you then you’re likely to feel sad, lonely, and experience shame. These thoughts and feelings will lead you to isolate yourself and turn down invitations from friends.

On the other hand, if your thoughts and self-talk are positive, your behaviors and feelings will be positively impacted. For example, if you believe you are likeable and a good friend, then you’ll feel confident and initiate spending time with friends.

Strategies to Increase Positive Self-Talk 

So how do you begin to increase your positive self-talk? First recognize what kind of self-talk you use. For the next couple of days, pay close attention to the internal monologue. What do you say to yourself about yourself? Also pay attention to what you say about yourself to others. I recommend recording these internal and external comments physically on paper or in an electronic device.

Next, take a critical approach to your thoughts. Where do these messages come from? It might be messages you received in your family while growing up. It might be conclusions you drew from painful experiences in your past. It might be messages from what popular culture values. This step can take a while and will likely be an ongoing process- but it is crucial. You simply do not have to accept the messages you have heard and believed about yourself.

Finally, start building positive messages. This step will also take time and might feel uncomfortable because you’re not used to doing it. Stick with it. Start a list of positive messages to repeat to yourself. List things you like about yourself and affirming statements you want to remember. You can record them on a single list or write them on individual sticky notes or index cards. You might also ask a friend, family member, or significant other to help you add to the list. You can also increase positive self-talk by coming up with 5 positive thoughts for every critical thought. Increase positive self-talk by shifting perspective and talking to yourself as you would a friend. Most people talk with their friends in very encouraging and kind ways. Why not be a good friend to yourself as well?

If you’d like help recognizing, evaluating, or improving your self-talk, I’d love to talk with you. We can make a plan together, getting you to a place where your self-talk is powerfully positive. Call me today!

Written by therapist Ndunge Marquardt

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