The Impact Of Self-Talk

The Impact Of Self-Talk

Are you aware that you have a constant dialog with yourself?  This inner chatter, known as self-talk, starts from the moment we wake up and continues until we fall asleep. It’s the internal conversation we have with ourselves throughout the day, whether we’re consciously aware of it or not. This inner dialogue can encompass a wide range of topics, from everyday tasks and problem-solving to emotional processing and self-reflection. It’s a habit molded by our experiences and environment, and it plays a significant role in our lives.  

The ability to talk to ourselves within our brains is a complex cognitive function that involves various aspects of human psychology and neuroscience: language processing, working memory, sense of self, cognitive functions, emotional regulation, social interaction, and neural mechanisms.

Our brain uses the same linguistic mechanisms to generate and process inner speech that it uses for external communication. Inner speech is thought to be closely related to working memory, as it helps us organize thoughts and plan actions. Self-talk is a way for us to express our thoughts, beliefs, desires, and emotions to ourselves. This self-communication plays a role in shaping and maintaining our identity. Inner speech is linked to various cognitive functions, including attention, decision-making, and reasoning. When we talk to ourselves, we can mentally simulate different scenarios, evaluate options, and anticipate outcomes.

Self-talk is crucial for emotional regulation. It allows us to process and make sense of our feelings, which can contribute to our overall emotional well-being. Positive self-talk can help manage stress and boost self-confidence, while negative self-talk can exacerbate negative emotions. As children, we learn language by interacting with others. Inner speech may be an internalization of the dialogues we have with caregivers and peers during early development. Neuroimaging studies have shown that inner speech involves activation in brain regions associated with language processing, such as the left inferior frontal gyrus. However, inner speech also involves a complex interplay of other brain regions related to cognitive control and self-awareness.

Therefore, when self-talk is positive, it can lead to amazing outcomes. However, when it’s negative, it can make life much more challenging than it needs to be. It’s like having a critic inside your head, constantly pointing out your flaws and failures.

Examples Of Negative Self-Talk

For instance, you might tell yourself, “He would never want to talk to me,” or “I’m not good enough for that.” These negative statements can significantly impact your sense of happiness, are often reflective of language or beliefs you were either given in early development or developed by your observations and perceptions of how people, including your primary caregivers interacted with you. In short, negative self-talk is often connected to experiences or feelings from experiences and the lens in which these things were perceived, rather than grounded in facts. 

So how does one begin the work of changing negative self-talk? With consistency, patience, and tools from the fields of Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Importance Of Monitoring Self-Talk

The first step to manage your self-talk is to monitor it. For 24 hours, record everything you say to yourself that isn’t supportive, regardless of whether or not you think it’s true. This will help you identify the negative phrases and attitudes that need to be changed. In addition to writing down the negative thoughts, ask yourself, how do these phrases and attitudes make me feel? Where in my body do I feel these things? Where did this negative self-talk come from, where did this thought or belief originate from? You can do this work in a journal or notes app on your phone using these four prompts (Negative thought, Feelings/Emotions, Body Sensations, Origination). 

Converting Negative Self-Talk Into Positive

Once you’ve identified your negative self-talk, the next step is to convert them into positive thoughts. Choose one from your list to rework. For example, “I could never do that” can be changed to, “I can do anything I choose and work towards.” Next, create an entry (journal or notes app) to monitor the emotions/feelings you feel each day that you repeat this new affirmation, every day for four to eight weeks. Even if you don’t believe the new, positive idea at first, changing it into a positive version allows you to incorporate it into an affirmation. Once you have converted the negative thought into a supportive, kind, loving statement, commit to repeating it to yourself as an affirmation, every day, for four to eight weeks.

Set a reminder in your phone or on your calendar if you need to, and if you can, repeat the affirmation while looking at yourself. While this will feel awkward at first, it is important to practice and repeat it until it no longer feels like something you are repeating to something you believe. Remember, the reason why we often feel awkward saying positive affirmations to ourselves is because it is likely that our sense of self was not developed well in childhood or that the negative self-talk we have repeated was first, language weaponized against us to destroy our sense of self. Once you have mastered changing one negative self-talk into a supportive belief about yourself, choose the next negative statement on your list and repeat the process. 

The Power Of Positive Self-Talk

Positive self-talk can be a powerful tool for improving your life. It can boost your confidence, improve your mood, and even help you achieve your goals. This is why I encourage clients to track their mood and feelings when they begin the work of changing a negative belief into a supportive, affirming belief. By tracking your emotions, you are able to observe how changing out negative self-talk improves your outlook and your overall mood and feelings. Remember though, changing your self-talk requires diligence and practice. Each time you catch yourself engaging in negative self-talk, substitute it with the new, positive self-talk expression. The goal is not perfection, it is consistency. 

How Positive Self-Talk Improves Life

Over time, the positive things you say to yourself will become a habit. In fact, a more recent study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology suggested that it takes an average of about 66 days to form a new habit. The researchers found that the time required ranged from 18 to 254 days, depending on the behavior, complexity of the new habit, and the person. This indicates that the time to habit formation can vary significantly. Tracking your mood and feelings will help you gauge when this new belief has become anchored in your brain. Converting negative self-talk can greatly improve your life. You might even find in this process that the remaining negative self-talk items on your list are no longer applicable!

Self-talk is available to us 24/7, so it’s beneficial to exercise some control over it. Anything you hear over and over again, you start to believe. That’s the way our minds work. Changing your self-talk patterns can be challenging, but doing so will significantly boost your happiness. So why not get started today? 

Melixa Carbonell, MA, LMHC, ADHD-CCSP, NCC is a clinical mental health provider with a private practice specializing in anxiety, ADHD, and life changes. Call or email for a free 15-minute consultation at 321.287.6919 or  at [email protected].