How our “self talk” affects the results we get

Everyone has self talk.

It doesn’t matter what field we work in, how we talk inside our heads is going to have an impact on the results we get.

In running a workshop recently, the conversation amongst participants reminded me of how we all need to maintain awareness of our “self talk”.

Most people are familiar with self talk. It’s that voice that chatters away in the background of our mind most often negatively saying unhelpful things like, “You botched it last time”, “You’ll never get it right”, “Who will believe you!”.

The good thing about self talk is that we can use it constructively, or negatively. To use self talk constructively we must first become more conscious of our internal chatter. For many people, their self talk is likely to be negative though it will depend on how we learnt to use it as a toddler.

As a child attempts a task they will most often accompany it with a steady stream of chatter that provides a guide to accomplishing the task. When children have the support of a patient adult who supports the child’s attempts with useful, unemotional, step by step language (“Go on try again, put the wheel there, that’s right, well done”) then the child is more likely to continue to use this type of language when on their own. As the level of mastery improves on the task the child begins to internalize the self talk. By the time they reach adulthood most of the chatter is now done inside their head.  For more about the importance of this click here 

How we talk to ourselves is important. A series of recent studies by Ethan Kross from the Self Control and Emotion Laboratory at the University of Michigan have shown that we can make a big difference to the impact of self talk by using third person descriptions. That means we need to use our name rather than the first person form of “I”.  For example, let’s imagine someone called Helen locks her keys in the car. If she says, “I’m an absolute idiot” it’s likely to be more destructive than, “Helen what were you thinking?” or “Helen, what an idiot!” Using the third person in our self talk helps provide distance. It acts like we are receiving comment from a good friend or advisor instead of it being so personal. Using the pronoun “I” seems to arouse the older limbic system in our brain whereas using the third person helps us to access the more sophisticated cerebral system with its capacity for reasoning and insight.

As well as using the third person, it’s important to check negative self talk rather than allowing it to be rampant. If we hear ourselves talking negatively to ourselves then the best thing to do is to correct it, reminding ourselves what we’ve accomplished and how well we’ve done getting to where we are now.

Using positive self encouragement helps to keep us in a more resourceful state so we can meet our everyday challenges with confidence.

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Maryanne Martin