A Skeptic’s Guide to Positive Self-Talk

Written by on December 9, 2020 in Emotional Mastery, Self-Awareness

The most frequent and influential voice you hear is the internal dialogue we call self-talk. It can either empower or defeat you. Change the story and you change the outcome.


Every one of us has a private world inside our head. It’s the place where we keep our greatest pain and purest joy, secret longings, and darkest shame, precious memories, and endless “someday I’ll” dreams.

This is where we craft the stories that we tell ourselves and others about who we are, where we’re from, and where we’re going.

It is a magical, outrageous, at times chaotic world that is constantly at work processing and interpreting daily experiences to align with our beliefs and attitudes and replaying it back in the endless internal chatter we call self-talk.

Depending upon our circumstances and outlook, self-talk can create a sense of overwhelm, helplessness, and confusiion, or inspire confidence and hope, raise our self-esteem, or make us feel anxious and inadequate.

The question is, how much control do we have over this narrative?

The skeptics among us say not much.

They insist the internal chatter is just part of who we are; that there really is no rhyme or reason to it or a way to control or manage it, and even if it were possible, force-feeding ourselves “positive thoughts” all day may do more harm than good.

But the science is clear; we can change our behaviors, and learn to shift negative or unrealistic thinking to a more balanced, positive perspective.

Let’s look at why it’s worth the effort, how to get started, and a couple of approaches to replacing or reframing your self-talk so that it works for rather than against you. 

The Science of Positive Self-Talk

There is no shortage of studies pointing to the enormous benefits in the relationship between positive thinking and self-talk, but it’s important to clarify what that means.  

Positive thinking isn’t about being happy 24/7, looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, denying your fears, masking your feelings, or sticking your head in the sand and hoping that your problems will just go away.

It’s about tackling life’s challenges with a positive outlook.

There is a huge difference!

It might help to consider positive self-talk as a way to focus your thoughts on learning to trust that you will be okay as long as you keep moving forward.

This doesn’t mean that you will find your way easily, or without hard work.

It simply means that you are willing to make the effort because you believe you will overcome whatever obstacles you encounter.

And the benefits of this approach to living are enormous, including:

  • Greater life satisfaction
  • Improved immune function
  • Improves concentration
  • Reduced pain
  • Better cardiovascular health
  • Improves decision-making
  • Better physical well-being
  • Reduced risk for death
  • Less stress and distress

If you tend to have a negative outlook, it will take time and practice to shift to a more positive perspective, but it’s not difficult with consistent practice. 

Instead of saying “I’m damaged, I’m broken, my life is over” say “You are healing, you are rediscovering yourself, you are making a fresh start.”


Mining Your Inner Dialogue

The first step toward change is to become more aware of your internal narrative. You probably don’t realize how often you say negative things in your head, or how much it affects your feelings and emotions.

The following strategies can help you become more conscious of your internal dialogue so you can begin to create a shift to a more positive perspective.  

Listen and Learn

Spend a few days tuning into the thoughts that run through your mind, especially when you find yourself dealing with a problem or mistake, maybe an unexpected interruption.

Are you supportive of yourself? Are you critical or negative? Would you be comfortable saying those thoughts and words to a loved one?

Try keeping a notebook handy to write down important or frequent negative thoughts so you can begin to identify patterns.

Look for Patterns

Sometimes we become authors of our own misfortune. Mindfully and without judgment examine the ways you respond to the events and experiences in your life and you may be surprised at what you discover.

Here are three examples of response patterns, see if any sound familiar.

Catastrophizing: This is our mind playing the “what if” game: What if this happens? What if that happens? It is sure to amplify anxiety and may lead to depression.

Blaming: When we hold ourselves responsible for another’s pain or hold others responsible for our pain it’s an invitation to become a hapless victim in your own life.

Rehashing: If it sometimes feels as though your thoughts are a broken record playing over and over you’re rehashing experiences and events.

Remember there’s a difference between reflecting on a problem or experience to learn from it, and replaying it over and over because you just can’t let it go.

Once you become aware of patterns in thoughts, you can then begin to work on switching them for more positive frames.

Practice Thought-Stopping

Before you can open yourself to a more positive perspective, you’ve got to recognize and begin eliminating negativity. When all of your thoughts are negative, negativity will be all you know.

When you recognize that you are thinking in a negative, rather than factual, way, stop the thought before it can cloud your perception and replace or reframe it in a more constructive way.

Replace or Reframe Negative Thoughts

The key to replacing negative, unhelpful thoughts with positive constructive ones is awareness and consistent practice.

This is where identifying patterns will really help you because you can reframe those thoughts in your journal and be ready to go when a negative thought pops into your head.

For example, if you think pessimistically that your life will never work out, tell yourself that your life can be whatever you decide to make it.

We Believe What We Tell Ourselves

There is no one right way to develop the habit of positive self-talk, so it’s worth trying a few different approaches to find the one that works best for you.

Here are three strategies to consider.  

  • I can accomplish anything I set my mind to.
  • I eat well, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep.
  • I will get the promotion because I am the best person for the job.
  • I am a money magnet and attract wealth and abundance.

Research validates the effectiveness of affirmations, particularly among athletes. But here’s the key to making this strategy work; athletes combine their affirmations with visualization and action – lots, and lots of targeted action.

Saying over and over that you are going to get that coveted promotion may help you sleep at night, but if you haven’t done anything to earn it, or there are better candidates, then chances are you’re going to end up disappointed.

Replace or Reframe

With this strategy, the idea is simply to switch a negative thought to a positive statement.  

Situation:   Learning a new skill

  • Negative:   I can’t do this. I’ve never been good at this kind of thing.
  • Positive:     I’m proud that I tried. The more I practice the better I’ll get.

Situation:   Failed to get the promotion you wanted.

  • Negative:   I should have known, nothing ever works out for me.
  • Positive:     It wasn’t the outcome I wanted, but I learned a lot about myself.

Situation:   You have to say ‘no’ to someone’s request.

  • Negative:   I hate this, I know they’re going to be mad at me.
  • Positive:     I can’t control what other people think, or do, I can only control myself.

Like any skill, the more you practice the easier and more effective this approach is, especially when used to break patterns.

Interrogative Self-Talk

I’ve found this strategy to be the most dynamic approach. Questions cause you to think about how you can achieve your desired outcome, opening you to new and better solutions.

Situation: You’ve been assigned an important project at work. 

  • Positive: This is an ambitious goal, but I’m confident I’ll be successful.
  • Interrogative: What skills and resources do I need to put myself in the best position to achieve this goal?

The Takeaway

Learning how to have productive, positive inner conversations is a skill that requires developing awareness and the willingness to practice.

Positive self-talk is not self-deception, nor is it filtering your outlook on life with rose-colored glasses or burying your head in the sand to avoid reality.

Rather, it’s about recognizing the truth, in situations, and yourself.

There really is no downside.

Related reading:
Will you be the passenger or the driver in your life journey?
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach, founder, and chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies, and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living Start Here.

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