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Positive Self Talk: What It Is, Where It Comes From & How to Master It

A lot of people don’t feel good about themselves, and that’s because they don’t have positive self-talk. So, here’s how you can love yourself more.

positive self talk

Consider this quote on positive self-talk:

Like food is to the body, self-talk is to the mind. Don’t let any junk thoughts repeat in your head.” -Maddy Malhotra, Author

People think in words, and the words we say to ourselves can be either empowering or limiting, depending on what approach we take.

You’ve undoubtedly heard the expression you are your own worst critic, and for many of us, it’s true! While a little bit of self-criticism can be a good thing – by urging us to become a better person – there is a massive difference between saying, “I need to eat more vegetables” and “I’m a fat slob.”

Excessive self-criticism, in the form of negative self-talk, leads us to focus on our failures and mistakes instead of the small things we could improve. 

These moments of negative self-talk, such as “I’m so stupid” or “I’m not good enough” are moments of self-destruction, which work to steal away our happiness and self-fulfillment.

[Read: Is your negative thinking ruining your life? 20 signs and tips to cope]

When you practice negative self-talk, it can be truly damaging to your self-esteem and self-worth, and over time can be associated with higher levels of stress, unhappiness, and even depression.

Positive self-talk is the opposite of self-destruction and can be both a healing and empowering process. It is a dialogue that goes on in your mind, but also greatly affects your attitude and feelings of self-worth. Positive self-talk is a space where you believe in yourself and are confident in your abilities.

Where does our self-talk come from?

When we are born, our brains are like a blank computer. There is nothing programmed on them yet. We don’t know how to walk, how to talk, or how to do anything other than cry, eat, and poop. [Read: Why am I so insecure? 29 reasons and ways to feel secure from within]

But as we get older, we get messages from everywhere in our lives, starting with our parents and our siblings. So, if you think your self-talk is only a product of your own thoughts, think again. It’s not.

Think about what your parents used to say about you when you were growing up. Did they always say nice things to you such as, “You’re so pretty/handsome!” or “Oh honey, you’re so smart!” or “I’m proud of you!” or “You can accomplish anything you want to!”

If you heard those kinds of positive statements from your parents, then you are lucky. And these messages got recorded in your conscious and subconscious mind. It became part of who you are. So, all those positive messages created not only positive self-talk in your mind but also good self-esteem. 

However, not everyone hears good things about themselves growing up. Instead, they might have heard things like, “You’re so lazy!” or “Is there anything you can right?” or “I hate you!” or “You’re fat and never going to amount to anything in life!” [Read: Why do I hate myself so much? Self-hate and what you can do about it]

As you can see, those are very different messages than the ones we discussed earlier. But, the result is the same. These negative messages also get programmed into your mind. Your parents’ voice becomes your own voice inside your head when you get older.

And it doesn’t just stop with your parents. Your siblings and peers also contribute to your positive or negative self-talk.

If your parents were negative, then your siblings will probably also give you similar bad messages about yourself. Siblings can be mean and even brutal, so this can take a toll on someone’s self-esteem.

Peers at school can also be cruel. There are a lot of bullies, and some of us have been their prime targets throughout childhood. So, if you heard negative things about yourself from mean people at school, this can also add to your negative self-talk through the years. [Read: How to be more positive – 24 steps to a happy and dramatic life shift]

The media and cultural expectations can also have a negative impact on our self-talk. Just look at all of the beautiful people in the movies, on TV, and in advertisements. No one is overweight or ugly, right?

Well, most of us consciously or subconsciously compare ourselves to those images and standards of beauty.

But let’s face it – most normal people don’t look like supermodels! That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t let it affect our self-talk. We look at all the good-looking people and think, why can’t I look like that? What’s wrong with me?

You see, if you don’t have positive self-talk, it’s not necessarily your fault. You and your self-esteem are the product of many things as you have moved through life. [Read: How to be confident – 28 life hacks to transform your future forever]

The good news is that even if your self-talk is negative, you can change it. You are in charge of your own thoughts. The first step is awareness of what you say to yourself – about yourself. You can’t change what you don’t recognize, so you have taken a tremendous first step in the right direction.

How to master the art of positive self-talk

The art of positive self-talk takes a lot of time and effort to practice effectively, and there are several things you need to know and do while you’re practicing it.

1. Write down what you say to yourself

You can’t change your negative self-talk into positive self-talk if you don’t even know exactly what you’re saying.

We have a ridiculous amount of thoughts that go through our minds every day – like around 50,000-60,000. That’s a lot! [Read: 34 life-changing steps to fall in love with yourself all over again]

So, we can’t possibly be aware of every single thought we have, including the ones about ourselves. But that’s mostly because you aren’t paying close attention. That’s why you need to start doing that.

Catch yourself when you say something negative. Write it down in a notebook and carry that with you so it’s always handy. Take a week or more to do this for a while. The purpose of doing it is to create a long list of the negative things you say about yourself. [Read: How to deal with negative people and stop them from sapping your energy]

2. You need to observe and assess the validity of what you’re saying to yourself

Over time, you will become better at seeing trends in triggers that cause your negative self-talk, and you’ll learn how to better deal with those.

This observation of your self-talk will allow you to become aware of the thoughts you are having, and how they directly influence your emotions and actions. [Read: 6 big telltale excuses that get you nowhere]

Once you have the list from the previous step, look it over. Then, write positive statements next to them. Turn them around on yourself. Write down why they aren’t true. Then, on a regular basis, look at the list of positive statements. Then, turn that into your own positive self-talk.

3. You need to learn to reframe your thinking and give the negative thoughts a positive spin

Sometimes, this can be the most difficult part because it somehow feels fake. But, when you reframe your negative thoughts to something more positive, you don’t allow yourself the space for self-destruction.

4. You need to be aware of absolutes such as “I always” and “I never”

These phrases tend to be harmful because they create an instant limitation on you and your ability to change and grow. Avoid absolutes when you’re practicing self-talk by questioning yourself. 

Ask yourself how you got to this thought, or what would be a better way to overcome this particular challenge. This questioning technique is more proactive, as it limits negative thoughts and allows you a variety of responses to choose from.

This last practice of replacement is crucial to limiting negative thoughts and encouraging positive self-talk. You need to learn to replace your negative self-talk messages with something positive and empowering. 

Use gentle words to refer to yourself and to situations, and don’t limit yourself by using “I can’t” or “I’m not”. [Read: How to respect yourself – 16 secrets of self-love and self-belief]

The most common destructive things we tell ourselves

Below are five common self-destructive things we say to ourselves through negative self-talk, and examples of how we can work against them by replacing the negative messages with the art of positive self-talk.

1. “You are so stupid, ugly, useless, etc.”

This is the critic inside you that can often be the loudest and most damaging. It can tear your self-esteem apart in a second, and kill any dream or goal you were thinking of achieving. It tells you you’re not good enough, and that you don’t deserve happiness and success. 

This critic denies individuals their own self-worth, and value. To combat this critical self-talk you can say the following positive self-talk internally or aloud, “I am worthwhile, valuable, and more than enough! I can and will do great things.” [Read: Ugly duckling syndrome – what it is and how it can benefit you forever]

2. “I can’t do it because I’m afraid of failure, embarrassment, responsibility, etc.”

This form of negative self-talk is based on fear and shame and stops us from aspiring to try new things or take risks. We all have our fears, but in order to live life to the fullest – with excitement and happiness – we need to take action instead of remaining unproductively frozen in time.

Instead of saying I can’t, you should instead switch to a positive form of self-talk such as “I have the courage to act even though I am afraid.” [Read: Self-loathing – What it is, 25 signs and how to stop hurting yourself]

3. “Why does this always happen to me?”

This negative self-talk practice is that of the victim. While we might not have control over everything that happens in our lives, we can control how we respond to these situations and challenges.

If you choose the attitude of the victim, you are relying on someone else to provide your own happiness. You should instead change your self-talk to something along the lines of “I have the ability to make the most of every situation. This will pass.” [Read: How to focus on yourself – 27 ways to create your own sunshine]

4. “I wish I had what other people have”

This negative self-talk stems from jealousy, but we should always remember that envy is exhausting and can leave us feeling empty and alone.

It’s much better to be thankful for what you do have and say, “I am lucky! I have what I need, and I’m working towards what I want!” [Read: How to stop being so jealous of other people’s success]

5. “I will never forgive this person for doing that!”

This negative voice is the un-forgiver, which can turn your mind, body, and soul bitter from the inside out.

Forgiving others and yourself is one of the most liberating things you can do! Instead of focusing on what you cannot forgive, focus on what you can and say, “I cannot control their actions, but I can control my own and choose to forgive …”

Perfection is overrated, here’s why…

Ultimately you need to embrace the fact that you are not, and will never be, perfect. It’s extremely freeing when you stop holding yourself to unachievable standards. Perfectionism is destructive and does not always guarantee success or happiness. 

People learn the most when they mess up and try again. So, it’s important to relax your standards, and give yourself the same empathy you’d give a friend.

When you do this it will be easier to challenge the negative self-talk and focus more on positive messages. [Read: Dating a perfectionist – 12 things you must know before you date one]

We admitted that we’re often our own worst critics. Yet, now is the time to modify that rule. While we are creatures of habit, and easily fall into patterns of self-destructive thoughts and behaviors, we need to switch it up. [Read: Why do I hate myself so much? Self-hate and what you should do about it]

Instead of continuing to be our own worst critics, we need to teach ourselves to be our own personal support system. We need to respect ourselves, and never say anything that we wouldn’t want another person to say to us.

While challenging your negative inner voice, and practicing the art of positive self-talk can take time to get used to, eventually, your mind will catch on. Your efforts will pay off in the form of strong self-esteem and respect for yourself and your abilities. 

It won’t happen overnight, but the more effort you put into replacing those negative thoughts with positive self-talk, the better you will feel about yourself.

[Read: Self-concept – How we create and develop it to control our happiness]

By practicing positive self-talk constantly and continuously, you’ll find that the things you tell yourself will branch out towards your personality and the way you deal with obstacles along the way. Be more compassionate towards yourself, and you’ll see the many positive changes this will bring you.

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Carol Morgan LP
Dr. Carol Morgan
Dr. Carol Morgan has a Ph.D. in communication and is a professor at Wright State University where she loves corrupting young minds. As a relationship and succes...