What is self-talk?
Self-talk is the way you talk to yourself, or your inner voice. You might not be aware that you're doing it, but you almost certainly are. This inner voice combines conscious thoughts with inbuilt beliefs and biases to create an internal monologue throughout the day.
Self-talk is important because it has a big impact on how you feel and what you do. It can be supportive and beneficial, motivating you, or it can be negative, undermining your confidence.
What is negative self-talk?
Negative self-talk is when your inner voice is excessively negative, sounding more like an inner critic. It is pessimistic and focusses on the bad. It erodes your confidence and stops you from reaching your potential. It can make you feel like you are going to fail before you start.
It can sound like “I’m never going to be able to do this”, “I’m no good at this”, or “I’ve tried everything — nothing works”.
Negative self-talk can be repetitive and often does not reflect reality. It can lead to rumination, which is repetitive with intrusive negative thoughts.
How can self-talk affect your mental health?
Your self-talk can affect your mental health and your relationships with others.
If you mainly think negatively about yourself, you will feel bad most of the time. This can drag you down or if you’re down, it can be hard to get back up. Negative self-talk is often experienced by people who have depression or anxiety. The constant negative chatter can be overwhelming and difficult to break out of.
Negative self-talk can lead to stress and a tendency towards perfectionism.
Tips to stop negative self-talk
Negative self-talk can become repetitive and overwhelming and often feels like it’s true. To break out of that cycle try these tips:
- Be aware of what you’re saying to yourself. Just the act of stopping and recognising negative thoughts for what they are, is the first step to working through the problem. Ask yourself, would you talk like this to someone else?
- Challenge your thoughts. Ask yourself — is it true? (often it’s not). Ask yourself if there’s another explanation or way of looking at a situation. Remember that many things you worry about don’t happen. Much negative self-talk is exaggerated.
- Put your thoughts into perspective (so what?). Try and look at things from a different perspective. Perhaps from a different person’s perspective. Try writing your thoughts down or saying them out loud. Ask yourself will this matter in a few year’s time?
- Stop the thought. You can do this ‘thought stopping’ technique visually — by imagining the thought being stopped or squashed etc — or by having a little ritual.
- Replace the thought with a neutral or positive thought. Ask yourself — what is a more helpful thought?
It can take some time to recognise your negative thoughts — remember they have been part of you for a long time and it can take up to 3 months to change old habits. Over time though you can replace the unhealthy negative thoughts with more positive ones. Practice makes it easier.
What are the benefits of positive self-talk?
If you mainly think positively about yourself, you will feel good and optimistic most of the time. Research shows that positive self-talk can:
- improve self-esteem, stress management and wellbeing
- reduce any symptoms of depression, anxiety and personality disorders
- improve your body image and can help treat people with eating disorders
- reduce your risk of self-harm and suicide
- make you feel more in control of your life
- help with chronic pain
- motivate you to overcome obstacles
- help to calm you
Tips to improve positive self-talk
Practise thinking good things about yourself. Very simply, practise seeing half a glass as being half full, rather than half empty.
Identify your strengths as part of your self-talk, and accept compliments for what you achieved. A helpful way to improve positive self-talk is to look, think and act in a positive way. Surround yourself with positive and optimistic people.
Try to turn negative talk into neutral or positive self-talk.
Resources and support
If you find negative self-talk overwhelming, talk to your doctor about it. They may also give you a referral to a mental health professional who can work with you. You may be eligible for a mental health care plan.
There are also number of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) programs that may help. For more information contact:
- ReachOut — online resources to help with self-talk and self-confidence
- SANE Australia (people living with a mental illness) — call 1800 18 7263
- Beyond Blue (anyone feeling depressed or anxious) — call 1300 22 4636 or chat online
- Black Dog Institute (people affected by mood disorders) — online help
- Lifeline (anyone having a personal crisis) — call 13 11 14 or chat online
- Suicide Call Back Service (anyone thinking about suicide) — call 1300 659 467
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Last reviewed: February 2022