Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Self-talk

5-minute read

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 make it more difficult to deal with chronic pain. It can also affect a person’s sexual confidence and body image.

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:

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

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2022


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

How to become self aware | Self-talk and self-awareness | ReachOut Australia

There are some great ways you can work on your self-awareness, but what you do then is entirely up to you.

Read more on ReachOut.com website

3 ways to talk yourself up | Confidence | ReachOut Australia

The way you talk to yourself can really impact your confidence. Find out how to change the direction of your self-talk.

Read more on ReachOut.com website

How Sarah beat her negative thoughts | Self-talk and self-awareness | ReachOut Australia

Feeling bad about yourself is a vicious cycle that can really get you down. Sarah used to struggle with thinking badly about herself every day.

Read more on ReachOut.com website

How to get over making a mistake | Self-talk and self-awareness | ReachOut Australia

Making mistakes is a normal part of life. Taking responsibility and facing up to our mistakes is a great way to learn, and to avoid doing the same thing again.

Read more on ReachOut.com website

COVID-19 & isolation: talking with kids | Raising Children Network

Help children cope with COVID-19, physical distancing and self-isolation by talking. Kids need good information, plus opportunities to talk about feelings.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Your inner voice - Musculoskeletal Australia (MSK)

Find out how paying attention to your inner voice and changing negative thoughts to be more positive can help you deal with your pain more effectively.

Read more on Musculoskeletal Australia website

What are personality disorders? | Personality disorders | ReachOut Australia

Personality disorders are mental health problems in which your personality and behaviour cause you or others distress.

Read more on ReachOut.com website

How to build self confidence | Confidence | ReachOut Australia

Confidence can be a tough thing to build up. We've put together some handy tips to help you out.

Read more on ReachOut.com website

How to call a helpline | Professional help | ReachOut Australia

Calling a helpline is an accessible way to get the support you need. Learn more about what to expect when contacting a helpline and the kinds of help they can provide.

Read more on ReachOut.com website

How to challenge a negative mindset | Habits | ReachOut Australia

Find out about mindsets, and learn how to change a fixed mindset to a growth one.

Read more on ReachOut.com website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.