Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear this pep-talk from a coach or mentor whenever you need a positive mental pick-me-up? Believe it or not, you can—if you become your coach.
Reframing mental models by changing how we speak to ourselves is the whole idea of positive self-talk and daily affirmations. By mentally addressing ourselves positively, we can improve our confidence and mood. Everyone experiences mental chatter and self-talk daily, even without realizing it, but not everyone speaks to themselves in a friendly way. Perhaps this is much easier said than done, but with time and practice, anyone can learn how to leverage the power of positive self-talk, which can have a massive impact on how you function.
What Positive Self-Talk Isn’t
It can be challenging to identify self-talk that’s positive versus negative self-talk. Usually, though, negative self-talk centers around one or more of the following themes:
- Catastrophizing, we predict the worst outcome from a situation, for example, “I know I’m going to bomb the presentation.”
- Magnifying occurs when we reflect and hyper-focus on the worst parts of a past situation. For example, “I can’t believe I said that.”
- Personalizing is when we entirely blame ourselves for something, even though it may have been outside our control. For example, “My son wouldn’t have had an accident if I didn’t allow him to go to the game.”
- Polarizing is where we see everything as extremely good or bad with no middle ground. For example, “I lost one of my clients, so now my entire business will fail.”
You may think that you already talk positively to yourself, and perhaps you do, but it’s important to know that positivity is a spectrum. We sometimes skew the positive by adding a negative thought on top of it. Often, this comes with statements that involve a “but…” in the middle.
Some examples of skewed positive self-talk are:
- Our team did great today, but I still failed them.
- I lost five pounds, but I should have worked harder.
- I finally put myself out there, but I completely embarrassed myself.
What Positive Self-Talk Is
Even though positive self-talk can land anywhere on a spectrum, there is a healthy area you should try to aim for when speaking positively to yourself. This area includes uplifting and encouraging self-talk without any of those added “but…” statements. A good rule of thumb is that if your self-talk statement makes you feel good, it is probably healthy and positive.
If you’re new to using positive self-talk, consider trying general positive affirmations first. These are usually one-size-fits-all statements that can apply to many situations. For example, you can say them to yourself, mentally or out loud, whenever you need a quick pick-me-up of mental positivity.
Some great affirmation examples include:
- I am strong, confident, and willing to try.
- I am improving day by day.
- All I need is already within me.
- I will choose to be happy today.
- I am motivated and can always persevere.
A lot of negative self-talk can be transformed into positive self-talk too. Flipping this script is difficult, so it takes practice and is possible to master. We can change a negative statement into a positive one by switching up our “but…” statements. To change these, replace any “but…” you feel coming on with an “and,” and then add something positive to replace the negative you felt coming.
For instance, drawing from our examples from earlier:
- “Our team did great today, but…” could become “Our team did great today, and I gave them my best.”
- “I lost five pounds, but…” could become “I lost five pounds, and I’m going to try hard to lose even more.”
- “I finally put myself out there, but…” could become “I finally put myself out there, and I learned from my new experience.”
Final Tips on Shining a Positive Light on Situations
Even after practicing positive self-affirmations and turning your “but…” statements around, you may have trouble looking at situations in your past and future in a truly positive light. This is normal, as many people look at things pessimistically, which can be part of their personality. Remember, just as with everything else, this takes practice.
Ask these questions to tell whether you’re looking at a situation negatively or positively:
- Do I sound like I am criticizing myself?
- Is this how I would talk to a close friend or loved one?
- Is the outcome of this situation only good or bad? Am I overlooking the middle ground?
- Do I have any proof that this thought is true?
- Am I drawing conclusions based on assumptions?
By analyzing your self-talk with these questions, you can determine whether or not you’re speaking negatively to yourself. For example, if you’re telling yourself, “Everyone thought I was acting stupid,” you should ask yourself, “Do I have any proof that this thought is true?” In this example, you’d probably find that you had no proof that your reflection on the situation was true because you could not possibly know what everyone thought; you’d have to be a mind-reader!
Tracking our mental chatter and looking for patterns allows us to identify triggers that spiral us into negative thinking; perhaps work is a trigger for you. Uncovering these patterns can allow us to better prepare for when they arise. For example, if work is a triggering environment, consider writing positive self-affirmations on sticky notes and placing them on your desk or setting a reminder on your phone to show you a self-affirmation during your break.
Remember, you don’t have to be a self-talk master to begin telling yourself positive statements. Instead, improve your self-talk skills over time and build your self-esteem. You got this!