What is positive self-talk?
Self-talk is your internal dialogue. It’s influenced by your subconscious mind, and it reveals your thoughts, beliefs, questions, and ideas.
Self-talk can be both negative and positive. It can be encouraging, and it can be distressing. Much of your self-talk depends on your personality. If you’re an optimist, your self-talk may be more hopeful and positive. The opposite is generally true if you tend to be a pessimist.
Positive thinking and optimism can be effective stress management tools. Indeed, having a more positive outlook on life can provide you with some health benefits. For example, one 2010 study shows optimists have a better quality of life.
If you believe your self-talk is too negative, or if you want to emphasize positive self-talk, you can learn to shift that inner dialogue. It can help you be a more positive person, and it may improve your health.
Why is it good for you?
Self-talk can enhance your performance and general well-being. For example, research shows self-talk can help athletes with performance. It may help them with endurance or to power through a set of heavy weights.
Furthermore, positive self-talk and a more optimistic outlook can have other health benefits, including:
- increased vitality
- greater life satisfaction
- improved immune function
- reduced pain
- better cardiovascular health
- better physical well-being
- reduced risk for death
- less stress and distress
It’s not clear why optimists and individuals with more positive self-talk experience these benefits. However, research suggests people with positive self-talk may have mental skills that allow them to solve problems, think differently, and be more efficient at coping with hardships or challenges. This can reduce the harmful effects of stress and anxiety.
How does it work?
Before you can learn to practice more self-talk, you must first identify negative thinking. This type of thinking and self-talk generally falls into four categories:
- Personalizing. You blame yourself for everything.
- Magnifying. You focus on the negative aspects of a situation, ignoring any and all of the positive.
- Catastrophizing. You expect the worst, and you rarely let logic or reason persuade you otherwise.
- Polarizing. You see the world in black and white, or good and bad. There’s nothing in between and no middle ground for processing and categorizing life events.
When you begin to recognize your types of negative thinking, you can work to turn them into positive thinking. This task requires practice and time and doesn’t develop overnight. The good news is that is can be done. A 2012 study shows even small children can learn to correct negative self-talk.
Here are some examples:
These scenarios are examples of when and how you can turn negative self-talk into positive self-talk. Again, it takes practice. Recognizing some of your own negative self-talk in these scenarios may help you develop skills to flip the thought when it occurs.
Negative: I’ll disappoint everyone if I change my mind.
Positive: I have the power to change my mind. Others will understand.
Negative: I failed and embarrassed myself.
Positive: I’m proud of myself for even trying. That took courage.
Negative: I’m overweight and out of shape. I might as well not bother.
Positive: I am capable and strong, and I want to get healthier for me.
Negative: I let everyone on my team down when I didn’t score.
Positive: Sports are a team event. We win and lose together.
Negative: I’ve never done this before and I’ll be bad at it.
Positive: This is a wonderful opportunity for me to learn from others and grow.
Negative: There’s just no way this will work.
Positive: I can and will give it my all to make it work.
How do I use this on a daily basis?
Positive self-talk takes practice if it’s not your natural instinct. If you’re generally more pessimistic, you can learn to shift your inner dialogue to be more encouraging and uplifting.
However, forming a new habit takes time and effort. Over time, your thoughts can shift. Positive self-talk can become your norm. These tips can help:
- Identify negative self-talk traps. Certain scenarios may increase your self-doubt and lead to more negative self-talk. Work events, for example, may be particularly hard. Pinpointing when you experience the most negative self-talk can help you anticipate and prepare.
- Check in with your feelings. Stop during events or bad days and evaluate your self-talk. Is it becoming negative? How can you turn it around?
- Find the humor. Laughter can help relieve stress and tension. When you need a boost for positive self-talk, find ways to laugh, such as watching funny animal videos or a comedian.
- Surround yourself with positive people. Whether or not you notice it, you can absorb the outlook and emotions of people around you. This includes negative and positive, so choose positive people when you can.
- Give yourself positive affirmations. Sometimes, seeing positive words or inspiring images can be enough to redirect your thoughts. Post small reminders in your office, in your home, and anywhere you spend a significant amount of time.
When should I seek support?
Positive self-talk can help you improve your outlook on life. It can also have lasting positive health benefits, including improved well-being and a better quality of life. However, self-talk is a habit made over a lifetime.
If you tend to have negative self-talk and err on the side of pessimism, you can learn to change it. It takes time and practice, but you can develop uplifting positive self-talk.
If you find you’re not successful on your own, talk with a therapist. Mental health experts can help you pinpoint sources of negative self-talk and learn to flip the switch. Ask your health care provider for a referral to a therapist, or ask a friend or family member for a suggestion.
If you don’t have personal references, you can search the database of sites like PsychCentral or WhereToFindCare.com. Smartphone apps like Talkspace and LARKR provide virtual connections to trained and licensed therapists through chat or live video streams.
Take a minute and think about what you’ve said to yourself today. Was it critical? Or was it kind and helpful? How did you feel after you engaged in this inner discussion?
Your thoughts are the source of your emotions and mood. The conversations you have with yourself can be destructive or beneficial. They influence how you feel about yourself and how you respond to events in your life.
What is self-talk?
Self-talk is something you do naturally throughout your waking hours. People are becoming more aware that positive self-talk is a powerful tool for increasing your self-confidence and curbing negative emotions. People who can master positive self-talk are thought to be more confident, motivated, and productive.
How does self-talk work?
Although positive self-talk comes naturally to some, most people need to learn how to cultivate positive thoughts and dispel the negative ones. With practice, it can become more natural to think good thoughts rather than bad ones.
Positive self-talk is supportive and affirming. Consider the following two inner statements:
- “I’m going to speak up in the meeting today because I have something important to contribute.” This sounds like a positive plan and attitude.
- “I don’t think I want to speak up in the meeting today because I’ll look foolish if I say the wrong thing.” Contrast this negative comment with the statement above.
Rumination: Negative self-talk
Rumination is the flip side of positive self-talk. It happens when you replay upsetting or cringe-worthy thoughts or events over and over again in your head. Thinking through a problem can be useful, but if you spend a lot of time ruminating, small issues tend to snowball. Constant rumination can make you more likely to experience depression or anxiety.
This statement show negative thoughts can grow and become self-defeating:
“I look so fat in this dress. I really am fat. Look at those thighs. No wonder I can’t get a date. Why can’t I lose weight? It’s impossible.”
Researchers have found that it’s not just about what you say to yourself, it’s also the language that you use to say it. One 2014 report describes the role of language in self-talk. What’s the key? When practicing self-talk, don’t refer to yourself in the first person, such as “I” or “me.” Instead, refer to yourself in the third person, using “he” or “she,” or refer to yourself by name.
Brené Brown, professor at the University of Houston Graduate College and motivational speaker, refers to the negative voices in her head as her gremlins. By giving her negative thoughts a name, she’s both stepping away from them and poking fun at them.
The report goes on to say that using the third person in self-talk can help you step back and think more objectively about your response and emotions, whether you’re thinking about a past event or looking into the future. It can also help you reduce stress and anxiety.
How to Get Started
Listen and learn
Spend a few days listening closely to your inner dialogues. Are you supportive of yourself? Are you critical or negative? Would you be comfortable saying those thoughts and words to a loved one? Are common threads or themes repeated? Write down important or frequent negative thoughts.
Think it through
Ask yourself the following questions about each of the thoughts you’ve listed:
- Am I overreacting? Is it really that big of a deal? Is it important in the long run?
- Am I overgeneralizing? Am I coming to a conclusion based more on opinion or experience than facts?
- Am I mind reading? Am I assuming others have specific beliefs or feel a certain way? Am I guessing how they’ll react?
- Am I labeling myself harshly? Do you refer to yourself using words like “stupid,” “hopeless,” or “fat?”
- Is this an all-or-nothing thought? Am I viewing one incident as either good or bad without considering that the reality is rarely black or white? The answer usually lies in the gray area between the two.
- How truthful and accurate is this thought? Step way back and consider the accuracy of the thought as a friend might.
Now that you have a better idea of how your inner thoughts are skewed, it’s time to switch gears and learn a new approach to self-talk. Look back at the thoughts on your list and reword them in a kinder, more positive light.
- “What an idiot! I really screwed up that presentation. Well, that’s the end of my career.”
- Alternative: “I can do better than that. I’ll prepare and rehearse more next time. Maybe I’ll get some public speaking training. That would be good for my career.”
- “I can’t do that in just one week. It’s impossible.”
- Alternative: “It’s a lot to do, but I’ll take it one step at a time. I think I’ll see if my friends can help, too.”
- “How ridiculous! I can’t teach myself how to think more positively.”
- Alternative: “Learning to think more positively can help me in many ways. I’m going to give it a shot.”
You can only win
Banishing your inner critic and learning how to have productive, positive inner conversations has no downside. Some people may find it easier than others to adopt positive self-talk. Others may have to give it more time and put more effort into it. Either way, it’s a worthwhile step toward bettering yourself and improving your sense of self-worth.
What is rumination?
Has your head ever been filled with one single thought, or a string of thoughts, that just keep repeating… and repeating… and repeating themselves?
The process of continuously thinking about the same thoughts, which tend to be sad or dark, is called rumination.
A habit of rumination can be dangerous to your mental health, as it can prolong or intensify depression as well as impair your ability to think and process emotions. It may also cause you to feel isolated and can, in reality, push people away.
What causes ruminating?
People ruminate for a variety of reasons. According to the American Psychological Association, some common reasons for rumination include:
- belief that by ruminating, you’ll gain insight into your life or a problem
- having a history of emotional or physical trauma
- facing ongoing stressors that can’t be controlled
Ruminating is also common in people who possess certain personality characteristics, which include perfectionism, neuroticism, and an excessive focus on one’s relationships with others.
You might have a tendency to overvalue your relationships with others so much that you’ll make large personal sacrifices to maintain your relationships, even if they’re not working for you.
Tips for addressing ruminating thoughts
Once you get stuck in a ruminating thought cycle, it can be hard to get out of it. If you do enter a cycle of such thoughts, it’s important to stop them as quickly as possible to prevent them from becoming more intense.
As when a ball is rolling downhill, it’s easier to stop the ruminating thoughts when they first start rolling and have less speed than when they’ve gathered speed over time.
So, what can you do to stop these obsessive thoughts from running through your mind?
Here are 10 tips to try when you begin to experience the same thought, or set of thoughts, swirling around your head:
1. Distract yourself
When you realize you’re starting to ruminate, finding a distraction can break your thought cycle. Look around you, quickly choose something else to do, and don’t give it a second thought. Consider:
- calling a friend or family member
- doing chores around your house
- watching a movie
- drawing a picture
- reading a book
- walking around your neighborhood
2. Plan to take action
Instead of repeating the same negative thought over and over again, take that thought and make a plan to take action to address it.
In your head, outline each step you need to take to address the problem, or write it down on a piece of paper. Be as specific as possible and also realistic with your expectations.
Doing this will disrupt your rumination. It will also help you move forward in the attempt to get a negative thought out of your head once and for all.
3. Take action
Once you’ve outlined a plan of action to address your ruminating thoughts, take one small step to address the issue. Refer to the plan you made to solve the problem you’ve been obsessing over.
Move forward with each step slowly and incrementally until your mind is put at ease.
4. Question your thoughts
We often ruminate when we think we’ve made a major mistake or when something traumatic has happened to us that we feel responsible for.
If you start ruminating on a troubling thought, try putting your repetitive thought in perspective.
Thinking more about how your troubling thought might not be accurate may help you stop ruminating because you realize the thought makes little sense.
5. Readjust your life’s goals
Perfectionism and unrealistic goal setting can lead to rumination. If you set goals that are unrealistic, you may start to focus on why and how you haven’t reached a goal, or what you should have done to reach it.
Setting more realistic goals that you’re capable of achieving can reduce the risks of overthinking your own actions.
6. Work on enhancing your self-esteem
Many people who ruminate report difficulties with self-esteem. In fact, lack of self-esteem can be associated with increased rumination. It’s also been linked with increased risk of depression.
Enhancement of self-esteem can be accomplished in many ways. For instance, building on existing strengths can add to a sense of mastery, which can enhance self-esteem.
Some people may choose to work on the enhancement of self-esteem in psychotherapy. As you enhance your self-esteem, self-efficacy may also be enhanced. You may find that you’re better able to control rumination.
7. Try meditation
Meditating can reduce rumination because it involves clearing your mind to arrive at an emotionally calm state.
When you find yourself with a repeating loop of thoughts in your mind, seek out a quiet space. Sit down, breathe deeply, and focus on nothing but breathing.
8. Understand your triggers
Each time you find yourself ruminating, make a mental note of the situation you’re in. This includes where you are, what time of day it is, who’s around you (if anyone), and what you’ve been doing that day.
Developing ways to avoid or manage these triggers can reduce your rumination.
9. Talk to a friend
Ruminating thoughts can make you feel isolated. Talking about your thoughts with a friend who can offer an outside perspective may help break the cycle.
Be sure to speak with a friend who can give you that perspective rather than ruminate with you.
10. Try therapy
If your ruminating thoughts are taking over your life, you may want to consider therapy. A therapist can help you identify why you’re ruminating and how to address the problems at their core.
If you’re a long-time ruminator who wants to bring an end to your repetitive negative thoughts, here are some simple changes you can make to your life that can help do just that:
- Be proactive in trying to solve your problems. First identify problems in your life and then start taking actions to solve your problems, one step at a time
- Set your own expectations. Negative ruminating thoughts can creep in when we question our self-worth. Praise yourself for your successes and forgive yourself for your mistakes. Constantly work on building your self-esteem by taking care of yourself and doing things you enjoy and excel at.
- Create a support system. Having friends and family members, and maybe even a therapist, any of whom you can call on for help when something goes wrong or when you’re having a bad day, is so important. These special people may distract you from your ruminating thoughts and are also likely to boost your self-esteem.
If you’re a ruminator, it’s important to know some tips that may help you to stop your thought cycle in its tracks before it spirals out of control.
It’s also important to be proactive and take steps to prevent yourself from ruminating in the first place.
With awareness and some lifestyle changes, it’s possible to free yourself from ruminating thoughts. If you find that you’re unable to use these tips to help your rumination, you should consider contacting a mental health professional for assistance.