We talk about 'positive self-talk' and 'negative self-talk' and the impact that each of those can have on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (and how those things directly impact your goals, aspirations, and accomplishments...or lack thereof).
There are different roles that self-talk plays in your life, and the more aware of that you are, the more you can master self-talk and make it an asset, rather than a critic.
It's much more than just being 'positive' or 'negative.' The type of self-talk that you have at any given time is going to directly affect how you feel; how you feel is going to directly impact or affect what you do or don't do.
Let's throw the words 'positive' and 'negative' out the window for a few moments, and take a look at what self-talk is actually all about.
Since your self-talk can take on different roles at different times, the more acquainted you are with these roles, the more often you will be able to determine which is needed at any given time, and even choose how you talk to yourself.
That's right - the type of self-talk you CHOOSE is exactly that...a choice!
Your internal voice doesn't have to be something that 'just happens.' With a bit of practice, it can be something you can intentionally control.
Let's look at three ways that self-talk can show up, and how you can use each to your benefit.
1. The Cheerleader
Sometimes you're self-talk plays the role of cheerleader. There are times when you simply need a rah-rah session in your own head. We do this for other people all the time. For example, when a friend is questioning their ability or doubting themselves, we tell them, "Of course you can do that. As a matter of fact, you're really good at it!" We encourage them to move forward or take action, even when they are nervous or stressed.
But, as with many things, we love to give good advice to everyone else except ourselves. (You need to change that!)
The cheerleader is exactly that - it is there to get you pumped up a bit. Sports teams don't bring cheerleaders to games to say things like, "Don't lose the game," "Don't mess up," or "Don't drop the ball again." Cheerleaders are consistently telling you what you want to do and reminding you that the goal is to be aggressive - b-e-a-g-g-r-e-s-s-i-v-e!
There are times when all you need is to be reminded of what you want to do so that you can refocus and get back to work, no matter what just happened.
That is when to call upon, and listen to, your inner cheerleader.
2. The Librarian
Sometimes, your self-talk can be a librarian of sorts. Your self-talk might bring something up to remind you of how a situation went the last time you experienced it. That is not negative self-talk, assuming something went badly with that last experience. But it often gets mislabeled as 'negative self-talk,' and it can stop you in your tracks.
For example, if I say to myself, "The last time that happened, it didn't work," and I choose to label that as 'negative,' I may not move forward beyond that, just because I assume that it won't work again.
But if I think of that self-talk as my friendly librarian who is looking for ways to help, I can think of that voice simply as my researcher and confidant. That voice now becomes a voice that says, "That didn't work last time you did it, however, that doesn't mean it's not going to work this time. Let's think about what made it not work last time and what could make it work this time."
That is when to call upon, and listen to, your inner librarian.
3. The Bully
Let's face it, sometimes that self-talk voice is simply a jerk. It's just a big bully who wants to take down your self-esteem, your self-confidence, and your self-worth. You might think that voice is not helpful, but let's shift your thinking on this. Let's learn to use the bully.
When that voice is the voice that is loudest in your head, the number one thing to do is to begin to create a boundary for it. The best way to begin doing that is to simply question it. If I think to myself, "I am really bad at this," my question might be, "Really? This is my first time doing it. Everybody is 'bad' their first time. Cut yourself some slack!" If I think to myself, "I get really nervous when I have to talk to the group, I can't do it," my question might be, "Who doesn't get nervous talking in front of the group? That just means you're human! What do you have to share with them? Just go do that - nobody's going to be perfect, and nobody is expecting you to be." If I think, "What if I get it wrong?" then ask yourself the question, "or...what if I get it right?" And then remind yourself that, if you get it "wrong," you just learned, and now get to go do it again, this time "right."
Begin to develop the habit of standing up for yourself in your own head.
The idea here is to start to realize how ridiculous and severe that bully voice is. If you listen to it - really listen to it - you will hear that the language it uses is extreme - it used words like "always," "never," and "nobody." Those extremes are not real...they are extremes.
When you begin to hear those words, immediately question the bully and talk back to it as if you were defending a friend.
Self-talk can be a friend or a foe; it can serve as your biggest supporter or as your biggest critic. When you step into your thoughts and take control of them, based on what you need in that moment, you will discover that self-talk is a tool that can take you anywhere you want to go. Make that choice with intention, instead of just going along for the ride.