Learning to speak to yourself in a different way can be challenging — just like cultivating body positivity — but practicing positive self-talk is well worth the effort.
“It is really important to try to balance out your thinking patterns because thoughts precede all of our emotions,” says Judy Ho, Ph.D., a clinical and forensic neuropsychologist and author of Stop Self-Sabotage.
“Our interpretations of events in our lives have a crucial role in how we feel and how we act,” she adds.
That means going into every event with a negative mindset can have significant, lasting consequences.
Isn’t it time you ditched that inner critic for positive self-talk?
What Is Positive Self-Talk?
“We all have scripts running in our minds that reflect our emotions, thoughts, and overall state of mind,” says Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and the author of Joy from Fear.
“The goal of positive self-talk is to intentionally foster uplifting internal scripts that boost mental, emotional, and physical health.”
Ho adds that this stands in opposition to negative self-talk, “which is often self-critical, self-disparaging, and catastrophizing”— and all too common.
Why Should I Practice Positive Self-Talk?
“Negative self-talk tends to increase feelings of unhappiness and dissatisfaction while also eroding self-esteem,” says Manly.
Significant changes can happen when you flip your internal script.
According to Ho, “positive self-talk can lead to a more positive mood, decreased stress, greater life satisfaction, more gratifying relationships, increased self-confidence, and self-esteem.”
It also “prompts positive action in your life when things aren’t going well.”
That’s not to say you won’t face negative life events.
“Positive self-talk isn’t about ignoring life’s challenges or ‘putting on a happy face,'” says Manly. “It’s about choosing to face life with heartfelt optimism and resilience.”
She also adds that making positive self-talk a practice encourages us to “become kinder and more compassionate with ourselves and others.”
How Do I Practice Positive Self-Talk?
Manly says a great first step is simply becoming aware of when your inner critic is coming out.
“When the inner critic rises up, nonjudgmentally notice it is present,” she suggests.
From there, you can move on to balancing out the inner critic.
Manly suggests countering the inner critic with “something simple and kind.”
“This simple practice works because you are giving more attention to a positive message and almost no attention to the negative message,” she explains.
Practice Positive Self-Talk With Your Kids
Make your positive self-talk practice visible within your household, too.
“Children learn best by observation,” Ho says, “so they will soak this up if you use it openly and regularly in your life and point out to them when you are doing so and what benefits you achieve from using them.”
Manly adds you can also model it by offering healthy feedback rather than negative criticism when a child makes a mistake.
You can also “foster positive self-talk by increasing gratitude practices” as a family.
What Are Some Examples of Positive Self-Talk?
Ho uses three different techniques for balancing the inner critic:
Affirmations should be “focused more on process rather than outcomes,” says Ho.
An example would be “I am working hard on my physical health,” rather than “I will definitely run 10 miles this week.
2. The “yes…but” technique
This “helps balance out your thinking when you are experiencing negative self-talk or disappointed about something,” says Ho.
A good example is saying, “Yes, I didn’t finish my project this week, but I have been making great progress on it.
Self-encouragement aims to recognize and affirm yourself, Ho explains.
An example would be saying out loud that you’re proud of yourself when you check something off your to-do list.
Self-encouragement can also be in writing.
Try ending the day by including a “things I did well” or “things that I’m proud of” section of your journal.
Ho says even sharing these achievements with a loved one over dinner counts as self-encouragement.
This doesn’t have to be a huge endeavor.
“The positive self-talk loop in your mind strengthens when you focus on the blessings in your life,” she explains, and five minutes still strengthens this habit.
What If Positive Self-Talk Doesn’t Work for Me?
If you don’t feel like positive self-talk is working, consider the phrases you’ve been using.
Ho says “you may need to fine-tune them so that they are more balanced and realistic.”
It may even be your view of positive self-talk getting in the way. Try to “shift your thinking about positive self-talk,” Ho suggests.
Remind yourself that we’re inundated with negative self-talk constantly, so positive talk is “really more to achieve balanced thinking than walking around with your head in the clouds.”
You may be more open to the practice with that goal in mind. You might also try adding positive self-talk after a Relaxation & Meditation session.
Manly acknowledges that positive self-talk comes more naturally to some than to others.
But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with your inner critic. It may just take longer than you expected.
Talking to yourself differently takes “patience and devoted practice as the brain becomes accustomed to new neural networks,” says Manly.
If it still isn’t working, you may benefit from working with a trained psychotherapist.
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