Most of us have an inner voice — the one that usually shames us when we mess up at work or forces us to replay arguments from 7 years ago while in the shower. Even though it’s super common for us to critique ourselves (far more than others critique us), we can also use this inner voice to build ourselves up.
Enter positive self-talk. Granted, it can be weird to compliment yourself in your head — it’s like writing a cover letter (which I hate). But I swear it really works. My therapist and my eating disorder specialist both co-sign that our inner voice can be a powerful tool to help us feel better about ourselves.
P.S. I promise it’s normal to talk to yourself. You never question whether it’s weird when your inner voice says mean things about you. So why question it when the voice is nice?
Let’s talk about some ways to give yourself a little extra grace and compassion.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are many types of negative self-talk. Here are four examples and some particular ways you can use positive self-talk to combat those intrusive negative thoughts.
|Personalizing thought: “My partner must be mad at me because they didn’t answer my text.”
|Positive self-talk: “My partner is probably too busy to talk right now. It’s great that they know their boundaries. They’ll respond when they can!”
|Filtering thought: “Ugh, I didn’t finish this assignment on time. I’m such a failure.”
|Positive self-talk: “I got a lot of things done and was able to rest. Work isn’t everything!”
|Catastrophizing thought: “If I don’t get this job, I’ll never be employed.”
|Positive self-talk: “It’s OK if I’m not a fit for this role. I want to work somewhere that values me and what I can bring to the table.”
|Polarizing thought: “I slept in 2 days in a row. I’m so lazy.”
|Positive self-talk: “Wow, I must have been tired! I’m glad I could prioritize resting.”
It’s OK if you have things to work on (Lord knows I do), but it’s hard to make positive changes in your life if you give in to the negativity. Reframing every negative thought that comes into your head may seem like a lot of work, but it becomes much easier with practice.
- Guided meditations: These can teach you how to use positive self-talk in the beginning stages, when it might feel a bit awkward or unnatural. When you have another person guiding you through the process, it can feel affirming.
- Sticky notes: Every day for 30 days, write a positive thing about yourself, your life, etc., on a sticky note and put it somewhere you look often. Mirrors and the refrigerator are popular sticky note locations.
- Journaling: Writing things down can be a more engaging way to practice positive self-talk. What’s great about journaling is that it’s a tangible way to get negative feelings out onto the page and then work out new, positive framings on the same page.
- Daily mantra: This works through the power of repetition. Pick a new mantra biweekly or monthly and repeat it every morning or evening or in times of stress or sadness.
- Questioning: Use this tactic to interrogate the negative thoughts that pop into your head. Are they true? (No.) Why aren’t they? The answer is usually a positive affirmation.
As much as we might wish it would, positive self-talk doesn’t work overnight. Think of practicing positive self-talk like training for a marathon. You’re teaching your brain and its neural pathways to handle negative thoughts better and for the long haul. The point is that repetition and reinforcement are keys to becoming proficient at anything.
If you play an instrument or practice yoga, you likely remember the very first time you tried. It felt totally unnatural! But as time went on and you practiced, you were able to get into the habit of doing yoga or playing an instrument until it felt natural. Same goes for lifting weights, rehearsing for a play, or engaging in positive self-talk!
Ideally, positive self-talk becomes second nature once you make it a habit. You’ll be able to nip harmful thoughts in the bud by naturally engaging in positive self-talk.
Positive self-talk is important, but it may be only part of the solution for dealing with some deeper issues. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, talking to a therapist could be a next step to consider. Seeking professional support doesn’t mean you’re incapable of getting a handle on things yourself. It just may help you identify some underlying conditions that need additional attention.
If you need a bit more structure but can’t necessarily afford professional help, there are other resources to explore.
If you want more personal accountability, try leaning on friends or family. Being transparent with people you trust can be helpful, particularly in the positive self-talk reinforcement stage.
Bottom line: You’re not in this alone. But during the times when you’re by yourself, you can still be your own best source of support through consistent positive self-talk.
Reina Sultan (she/her) is a Lebanese-American Muslim woman working on gender and conflict issues at her nine to five. Her work can also be found in Huffington Post, Rewire.News, Wear Your Voice Mag, and Rantt. Following @SultanReina on Twitter for endless hot takes and photos of her extremely cute cats.