“What you think, you will become.”
I’ve always believed that everything in our lives is determined by two things:
- the way we treat ourselves, and
- the way we let others treat us
Yes, other people’s words have power. But what they say is not nearly as powerful as the words we tell ourselves.
Because before you can blossom on the “outside,” you first need to grow the seeds from the “inside.”
The way we manifest in the world is a direct reflection of the way we see ourselves. And this starts in our inner dialogue.
If you keep thinking you’re a failure, that’s exactly what you’ll become. If you keep telling yourself you’re going to make it, you eventually will.
That’s because our perception creates our reality.
So how do we cultivate a healthy and loving perception of ourselves?
It’s simple. You just have to change the way you talk to yourself.
In this article, we’ll go through the importance of “self-talk,” overcoming your conditioning, and what to say when you talk to yourself.
Self-talk: Why it’s important
What is self-talk?
Self-talk is our internal dialogue. It is something we do naturally throughout our conscious moments. It reveals our innermost thoughts, beliefs, fears, and ideas.
The way we talk to ourselves is important because it affects the way we feel about ourselves, about the things we can achieve in life, how we’re viewed by others, and how we interact with the world.
There’s quite a large body of research that supports the importance of our inner dialogues.
In one study published in The Sport Psychologist, researchers found that athletes use self-talk for a “cognitive and motivational” boost, while a separate study proves that motivational self-talk helps increase performance in young athletes.
So you see, how we talk and what we say to ourselves affect not only our chances of success, but it can also significantly boost how we pursue our goals.
Author and psychologist Charles Fernyhough explains:
“Inner speech has a lot of different functions. It has a role in motivation, it has a role in emotional expression, it probably has a role in understanding our selves as selves.”
Our thoughts literally become our motivation. And the way we talk to ourselves plays a huge part in how we perform in life.
How our inner dialogues are developed
Before we continue, it’s important to understand the reasons why you talk to yourself the way you do.
I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find myself confused by my inner dialogue. I am often at odds with what my first thoughts are compared to how I believe I should be thinking.
Then I found this quote by an unknown person that completely put things into perspective:
“The first thought that goes through your mind is what you have been conditioned to think; what you think next defines who you are.”
Underneath it all, we’ve all been programmed to think a certain way since we’ve been born:
First, our parents shaped our earliest perceptions of the world
I was raised in a supportive home, exchanging loving and encouraging external dialogue with my parents. I was praised when I did something right. And I was told off when I did something wrong.
But not everyone is as lucky. Some people grow up in an intensely critical household. Some grew up being silenced repeatedly. While others are encouraged never to think for themselves.
Because of my upbringing, I was able to develop kinder and loving self-talk. However, those who were raised in toxic households end up with negative self-talk.
Then, society influenced our developing perceptions
And then we “go out into” the world where our society imposes its ideals on us:
What success and beauty look like, what happiness means, how we should dress, act, and speak.
As social beings, our first instinct is to conform. We want to belong, to be validated. And if we don’t reach these strict standards, we become critical of ourselves.
This too shapes our inner dialogue. In the end, you might simply be perpetuating what you’ve seen and learned your whole life.
So it’s okay if you’re confused. It’s not your fault. You’ve just been conditioned to self-talk the way you do.
The important thing is that you’re willing to make that drastic change now.
Kindness in self-talk
People will tell you to practice “positive” self-talk and get rid of your “negative” self-talk.
But I don’t believe in categorizing our thoughts and emotions in those two distinctive categories. I think it’s unforgiving and dismissive of our complicated human tendencies.
It’s like saying one thing is right and you should keep doing it, while the other thing is wrong and dismissing it. This is not productive and will not let you grow.
So first off:
None of your thoughts are wrong.
Everything that goes through your head is valid and useful. It’s only how you process your thoughts and speak to yourself that drives the results.
What I propose instead, is to develop “kinder” self-talk.
Be encouraging, but forgiving. Be constructive, but less critical. Acknowledge your deepest fears and most shameful thoughts, but don’t let them fill every dialogue.
It doesn’t matter if you believe it or not, what matters is that you give yourself a chance.
What I’m trying to say is:
Talk to yourself like you’re someone you love.
15 things to say when you talk to yourself
Some people call it inner dialogue, self-talk, or affirmations. What they are, are kind reminders that you’re doing your best. Here are 15 things to say when you’re talking to yourself.
1. “I believe in you”
You won’t always succeed. In fact, you will fail a lot. But that doesn’t mean you’ll always keep failing. Tell yourself you believe in you. You have great personal power within you. It’s enough to tell yourself it’s there.
2. “I’m responsible for my life”
Instead of complaining and whining to yourself, say one simple thing: “I take responsibility for my life.” This phrase will immediately make a strong impression—it says you still have control. You might not be able to control everything, but you’re still in control of your reactions.
3. “I am loved”
How many times have you felt rejected? How many times have you told yourself you’re not good enough? You’re wrong. You are loved. Don’t count how many people you have in your life. Count the quality of the company you keep. You are more loved than you think.
4. “I did it for love”
Life is too short to spend regretting the decisions you made, especially the ones you made out of love. You followed your heart. There are worse decisions to make than doing the things you were passionate about.
5. “I’m going after what I want”
Never apologize for living your life your way. Remind yourself this is exactly what you want. Then go for it. And if you end up regretting it, remember that it felt right at one point.
6. “My instincts are right”
Learning to trust your instincts is the biggest gift you can give to yourself. Every fiber of your being is doing its best to tell you something. Listen to your body. Perhaps not everyone will agree with you, but remind yourself it’s your life. You’re free to follow what your gut tells you.
7. “It doesn’t hurt if I try”
There are times you will tell yourself it’s not a good idea. You will be so good at convincing yourself, that you end up not doing it. But remind yourself this: It doesn’t hurt if you try. There’s a certain kind of peace in knowing that you gave it your best.
8. “I deserve better”
You will say, “This is the best I can get.” When you hear this, remind yourself you deserve better. You decide how high your standards should be. Tell yourself you shouldn’t settle for less than you deserve.
9. “I am strong enough”
Life will hurt. There are challenges that may seem too hard for you to get through. But remind yourself you’re strong enough anyway. You may feel strong just then, but this reminder is enough to get you moving one step at a time.
10. “I’m allowed to speak up”
You’re the only one stopping yourself from saying things out loud. If it truly matters to you, you will speak up for it. You will live a sad life if you keep living it in silence.
11. “I am grateful”
When you feel like you have nothing, tell yourself to be grateful. Look around. Some people have less than you and they are happy. You have more than enough. If you’re angry at the world for not giving you what you want, find other things to be grateful for.
12. “I deserve to let go of what’s hurting me”
When you’re in doubt, remind yourself you’re allowed to let things go when they’re no longer contributing positive things to your life. Yes, change is scary, but better things are ahead. Don’t waste your time keeping things and people who are hurting you deliberately. They’re only dragging you down.
13. “I am important”
No matter what others say, no matter how they make you feel, don’t ever forget you’re important. You’re relevant. And no one else can tell you you’re inferior but you. So in times that you’re feeling invisible, remind yourself you matter, too.
14. “I am capable”
When you’re feeling not up to the task, remember, you’re capable. You might not know exactly what to do, but that’s because you haven’t learned it yet. But once you give yourself a chance to learn, you are capable of any task put in front of you.
15. “I am making a difference”
You don’t need to change the world. You don’t even need to change your whole life. But you can create small, actionable changes for the better. Praise yourself, even if it’s a small thing. Celebrate your wins. Every day, you are evolving. Every day, you are growing.
What productive self-talk is not
Self-talk is empowering, yes. It can make your life better.
But self-talk is not lying. It’s not exaggerating.
Self-talk isn’t creating a reality that doesn’t have a basis.
Depression specialist and bestselling author Gregory Jantz explains it best when he says:
“Positive self-talk is not self-deception. It is not mentally looking at circumstances with eyes that see only what you want to see. Rather, positive self-talk is about recognizing the truth, in situations and in yourself. One of the fundamental truths is that you will make mistakes. To expect perfection in yourself or anyone else is unrealistic. To expect no difficulties in life, whether through your own actions or sheer circumstances, is also unrealistic.
When I say “positive” self-talk, it doesn’t mean you have to only focus on the good of the situation while ignoring the negative aspects.
Yes, you can find optimism in any situation—and you should. But you should also look at things at face value.
Yes, you shouldn’t focus on your failures, but don’t ignore the lessons they taught you.
Yes, you shouldn’t self-criticize, but that doesn’t mean you can’t self-analyze.
In short, one-sided self-talk won’t help. In fact, it can be even destructive and could prevent you from learning and growing.
So be careful not to overdo it. Like a lot of things in life, do it with balance.
Don’t forget to look at your external-talk, too
Naturally, our internal dialogue can manifest in the way we speak to others as well.
Ask yourself, how do you come off to people when you speak? Are you sarcastic, critical, cynical, pessimistic, or downright hostile?
Do you call yourself names out loud? Names like stupid, idiot, or worse?
Notice the way you talk to others. Do you speak to them kindly or do you put them down as much as you put yourself down?
To you, it may seem like you’re just showing a sarcastic sense of humor. But others may think differently. It’s easy to think that our internal dialogues will be kept just that—internally, that it won’t be seen by others.
But you’re wrong.
Even when you only berate yourself out loud, people will still view you negatively.
Remember, what you put in, you get out. If you work on yourself from the inside-out, your interactions will change positively, too.
5 extra habits to develop to create healthy self-talk
1. Stop overthinking
Overthinking is the root of all evil. If you want to create a kinder and healthier self-dialogue, you need to stop overthinking.
When you ruminate, you keep replaying negative situations in your head. True, it’s good to think through situations and problems to find lessons and solutions.
But overthinking tends to magnify small issues until they become bigger than they actually are.
So let it go. There’s no use nitpicking every single thing you said or did.
2. Language counts
According to research, it’s not just about what you say to yourself, it’s also about the language you’re using.
A 2014 study suggests that you should refer to yourself in third-person when you’re talking to yourself. This will allow you to take a step back and look at your thoughts and emotions objectively. It also helps reduce anxiety and stress.
Professor and public speaker Brené Brown, for example, says that she calls her negative thoughts as “gremlins.” She explains that by giving her negative voices a name, she gets to step away and poke fun at them.
3. Don’t speak badly of others
If you don’t have anything nice or useful to say, don’t say it.
First, apply this to yourself. Then, apply it to how you speak of others.
Generally, we are harsher to ourselves than we are to other people. If we speak so critically of others, we’re so much more critical to ourselves.
So try this: before you criticize others, think of 3 genuine compliments you can give them instead. You’ll start feeling great about yourself.
Try to listen to your internal dialogue constructively. How do you sound to yourself?
What common phrases or words do you repeatedly tell yourself? Look at those patterns. Examine why they keep reoccurring.
Figure out the reasons why you talk like that, and you can work on fixing whatever it is.
Next, ask yourself, would you find it okay if you talk to your family or friends that way?
You’ll be surprised by the answer.
5. Take a minute to think it through
The mind loves to analyze.
And that’s a good thing. That’s how we solve problems and make sense of everything around us.
But that could also be a double-edged sword. The mind can also make up things that aren’t there.
In these cases, you need to make sure that you’re looking at things objectively.
So ask yourself these questions:
- Am I simply overreacting? Will this even be important a week, a month, or a year from now?
- Am I jumping to conclusions? Do I have all the information to think this way? Or am I reacting based on my opinions or past experiences?
- Am I assuming? Is this the real situation or is this person really thinking this way?
- Am I viewing this one-sidedly? Have I looked at all the angles?
- How real is this? Is this accurate? Am I only making it up?
Allow yourself a minute to really look at situations for what they are instead of jumping the gun. Develop a habit of self-reflection. Try to quiet your mind and get rid of your biases first.
There’s no downside to this. If you cultivate honest and loving conversations with yourself, you can never lose.
Dragging yourself down, meanwhile, will only lead you to more sorrow.
It’s so easy to automate our internal dialogue. If we’re used to talking to ourselves negatively, every situation will become negative.
It’s a dangerous habit that you should immediately get rid of. It’s difficult to overcome years of conditioning, but take one simple step first: try to talk to yourself like someone you love.
If you work on having healthy self-talk, your encounters in life will be more meaningful and you’ll create a beautiful life built from a foundation of grace and acceptance.
And one last piece of advice:
You may not be able to control everything that happens, but you can control how you react!