Self-Talk Is Powerful Part 2: Positive Self-Talk


You’ve been criticising yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens. Louise L. Hay

(In this post, we continue discussing the power of self-talk. If you missed part 1 on negative self-talk, you’ll find it here.)

Maya Angelou is quoted as saying, Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better. 

That concept – doing better – resonates deeply with me. It’s hardly surprising: according to my 16 Personalities profile, I’m typed as a Constant Improver.

When it comes to doing better, I learned some things along the way. Doing better is neither simple nor easy. It is not quick. The path is rarely straight and moving along that path, despite all good intentions, is not always in a forward direction. And here’s something else:

It’s completely normal to know better and yet struggle to do better. That is simply part of being human.

So, in the context of weaning ourselves off negative self-judgments and nourishing ourselves with more positive self-talk, know that this is going to take time… and effort… and practice.

This is about reversing a whole lifetime of negative thinking patterns. These deeply ingrained habits have driven our actions and at times, the lack of action, for decades. It takes time to see how new approaches fit our unique situations and to put them into practice.

Think of it like this: Learning more positive ways of thinking is in some respects like learning a new language. In the beginning, using foreign speech patterns is strange and awkward, and progress seems frustratingly slow. It is easy to get discouraged and retreat into old, familiar ways of expressing ourselves. Eventually, though, persistence pays off and we feel increasingly more comfortable with the new tongue.

So it is with learning to speak more positively to ourselves. It will feel unfamiliar, even awkward, to start with. But if we stick with it, gradually we will get better at it.  

There is another way that learning positive self-talk is similar to learning a new language. And that is connection. The ability to speak another language opens up wonderful opportunities to connect with a whole new group of people, something that was not possible before.

Similarly, when we become more fluent in using positive self-talk, we are better equipped to form rich connections, not just with others but perhaps more importantly with ourselves.

The starting point is…

Awareness. We need to see our situation – our relationship with negative self-talk – as it really is. Without that, it is very hard to do differently. Awareness precedes change. And the key to change?

Start small.

Great expectations hinder great progress.

It’s better to take small steps than to take none at all. When we put pressure on ourselves to take giant strides, we become overwhelmed and may give up.

Three helpful suggestions

1. Gratitude

Russ Harris, author of The Reality Slap, says that we “spend way too much time inside our heads, and we wander through our days in a thick cloud of psychological smog.”  

Gratitude pulls our heads out of that smog. Gratitude starts with taking notice. Take the time to observe the world around you. Engage all your senses. What do you see? Feel? Smell? Taste? Hear? Really pay attention. We are surrounded by stirring reminders of the awe-inspiring miracle of life if we will only stop to notice them.

What can you be grateful for right now? Hint: it doesn’t have to be anything extraordinary. Even just the pleasure of a great cup of tea or coffee. Slow down and really savour it.

Notice the kind things others do for you and express your gratitude. If it feels awkward, do it anyway. As Brene Brown, a leading authority on vulnerability, would say, lean into the discomfort. Try to say more than just thank you; tell the person what you appreciate. It feels wonderful to add a bright note to someone else’s day. Moreover, getting better at expressing appreciation for others can pave the way for getting better at appreciating ourselves.

It’s hard to criticize something you are grateful for.

Did you try the reparenting exercise in Part 1 of this discussion? That exercise helps us to appreciate the fact that, while we may have a difficult past, we survived it. Sure, life may not be quite what we want it to be right now, but we are breathing. We have intelligence, talents, abilities, choices, and a measure of health and physical strength to put those assets to good use. Find ways to acknowledge and express your gratitude for them.

Gratitude is a wellspring for positive self-talk. 

Try keeping a gratitude journal, or use an app on your phone, to make notes of things to be grateful for. There are heaps of resources on the internet, including gratitude prompts for when you are stuck.

2. Ditch the comparisons

Comparing ourselves to others is not necessarily bad. It can be motivating to see what someone else has accomplished, inspiring us to stretch forward to fulfil our own potential. Who doesn’t want to be better in comparison with where we are currently? I sure do! (I suspect you too, or you wouldn’t be here reading this.)

However, trouble starts when comparison brings along its nasty cousin, judgment. When judgment shows up, comparison sees to it that someone ends up falling short in our eyes… often, that someone is us. It becomes a negative feedback loop of comparing ourselves to others, failing to measure up in our own estimation, and judging ourselves adversely as a result. Negative self-talk thrives in such an environment.

Comparison is the thief of contentment.

Nothing does quite as well at stealing contentment as social media. If you haven’t already done so, limit or unfollow accounts that diminish you in your own eyes. These accounts are not reality; they are nothing more than fertile ground for the noxious weeds of negative self-judgments.

Dean Furness learned firsthand the importance of ditching comparisons. He was involved in a tractor accident while doing chores at home one evening. As a result, he lost the use of his legs permanently. Furness reinvented his life and went on to become a wheelchair athlete. In a down-to-earth manner, he offers some valuable insights here about comparing ourselves to others and to our former selves.  

3. Learning positive self-talk

Positive self-talk is not about aggrandizing ourselves. It’s not inflating who or what we are. Nor is it parroting sugary, upbeat affirmations that outwardly sound inspiring but inwardly feel phony.

Rather, positive self-talk is intentionally cultivating a self-view that is realistic but compassionate, grateful, and authentic.

Here are some examples of positive self-talk, based on this website:

  • Negative: I’ll disappoint everyone if I change my mind.
    Positive: I have the choice to change my mind. I cannot control how others will feel.
  • Negative: I am such an idiot! I screwed up that ……..(insert your own activity) and there’s no coming back from that.
    Positive: I didn’t do as well as I wanted to but that’s okay. I can grow from the experience and do better next time.
  • Negative: I’m overweight and out of shape. I might as well not bother.
    Positive: I want to get healthier for myself and I am worth the effort.
  • Negative: I let everyone on my team down when I didn’t score.
    Positive: Sports are a team event. We win and lose together.
  • Negative: I’ve never done this before and I’ll be bad at it.
    Positive: This is an opportunity to learn from others and to grow as a result.
  • Negative: There’s no way this will work.
    Positive: I will do my best to make this work.

And finally…

Back to self-compassion.

Change takes time. We will at times feel that we haven’t made much progress at all. We need to accept that, as humans, we are far from perfect. We are going to mess up again and again. That’s reality.

This can be especially difficult for those of us who are overachievers and perfectionists. Cutting ourselves slack doesn’t come easily. Remember, though, that when we pile on the pressure to achieve quickly and perfectly, we just set ourselves up for failure. And that means more negative self-talk.

Treat yourself kindly. Be patient, but don’t give up.

Ask yourself: what would my life look like if I worked with my strengths? What would happen if I stopped hamstringing my potential? What could I accomplish if I became my own cheer squad? In the words of Louise Hay, try approving of yourself and see what happens. Go on…what’s stopping you?!

This discussion is part 2 of a 2-part series on the power of self-talk. Part 1 about negative self-talk is here.

Picture by me again!



The FREE Simplification Starter Kit

Learn about 3 things you can ditch today for a lighter tomorrow (downloadable pdf).

Enjoy the Read?

Would someone you know benefit from this post? 

Do them (and me) a favour and share it with them – I deeply appreciate your help with bringing my work to a wider audience. Thank you!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send a message...