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Positive Self-Talk Can Boost Performance By Getting Yourself Out of the Way

Self-talk can be the tool of failure or the key to success. Positive self-talk can have a transformative effect on your skill as a speaker, presenter, writer or advocate.

The running dialogue in our heads is not the voice of imps or angels battling for our soul. Psychologists say the dialogue is a mix of our conscious and unconscious levels of thought, which is influenced by beliefs, biases and events. A simpler way of viewing self-talk is thinking inside your own head with words.

Self-talk can be negative or positive. In extremes, people can convince themselves they are abject failures or beyond reproach. Research shows self-talk can be a powerful tool to boost confidence to combat depression, lose weight, reduce stress, work more efficiently and step up sports performance. Relationships are likely to improve, too.

Success is hard to achieve in any realm
when you are standing in your own way.

Positive Self-Talk
Positive self-talk is like reading – it takes practice and determination. Many times it involves unlearning negative self-talk, which research has associated with low self-esteem, anxiety and aggression. Think of it like unlearning hunt-and-peck typing and learning touch typing. It may not be a smooth transition, but afterward you will be a much better and faster typist.

The Positive Psychology website offers 10 self-taught statements to improve your self-talk:

  1. I have the power to change my mind.
  2. Attempting to do this took courage and I am proud of myself for trying.
  3. Even though it wasn’t the outcome I hoped for, I learned a lot about myself.
  4. I might still have a way to go, but I am proud of how far I have already come.
  5. I am capable and strong, I can get through this.
  6. Tomorrow is a chance to try again, with the lessons learned from today.
  7. I will give it my all to make this work.
  8. I can’t control what other people think, say or do. I can only control me.
  9. This is an opportunity for me to try something new.
  10. I can learn from this situation and grow as a person.

Defeating Negative Self-Talk
Self-talk doesn’t always have to assume the character of self-cheerleading. Positive self-talk can counter negative self-talk, sometimes by just shutting it down. Positive self-talk also can be a spontaneous pep talk to counter negative thoughts, a disparaging comment or finding fault.

Psychologists who offer advice on positive self-talk suggest avoiding self-talk traps such as conversations that critique other people or gossip. You don’t have to aspire to sainthood to practice seeing and pointing out positives rather than negatives.

Part of the learning process of promoting positive self-talk is what psychologists call switch-gear exercises. Here’s an example:

Negative Self-Talk:I am such an idiot! I screwed up that project and there’s no coming back from that.’

Positive Self-Talk:I didn’t do as well as I know I can but that’s okay. Now I know what I can do next time to be better, and that will help my personal and professional growth.’

Another tip is to stop and think when negative self-talk occurs. Where did the negative thought come from? Is the negative thought your belief or somebody’s opinion? What are the consequences of holding on to the negative thought?

A cue about negative self-talk: The doubt and criticism is often expressed in the second person. It’s not “I’m an idiot”, but “You’re an idiot”. Don’t be fooled, it’s still you talking about yourself, maybe as an echo of a past criticism or an inference you drew from a friend or a boss.

Positive Self-Talk and Public Speaking
Negative self-talk can sabotage external speaking challenges. Negative self-talk can flow from a lack of self-confidence to pre-speech jitters. For some people, negative self-talk translates into enduring self-doubt.

The Institute for Public Speaking encourages “self-talk that empowers rather than dis-empowers us. Most often than not, our habitual self-talk is negative and it hinders our success. Thankfully, like most habits we can change this.”

Joseph Guarino, a professional public speaker and speech trainer, advises people plagued by negative self-talk to identify goals to master and then practice the desired skills, buoyed by intentional positive self-talk. Intermediate self-recognition, such as “I’m improving”, are important steps to success, he says.

“Your self-talk can have a distinct influence in your success,” Guarino assures. “So practice positive self-talk alongside your effort to master any skill and you’ll enjoy its payback. Speak to yourself with respect, compassion and kindness.”

Erin Smith, an experienced actor, reinforces the value of positive self-talk in outward expression. “I can attest to how important inner self-talk is,” Smith says. “So often we fall into that inferiority mindset, which is psychologically damaging and has negative effects on health and performance.”

Positive Self-Talk Benefits
The benefits of positive self-talk aren’t limited to speaking. They equally apply to leadership, sports and any kind of skill development. Psychologists refer to this as self-instruction with yourself as a positive coach.

Studies show positive self-talk is real and can reduce anxiety, increase self-confidence and improve performance across a wide range of activity.

Skeptics may pooh-pooh the notion you can self-talk your way to success. Positive self-talk isn’t advertised as a sure-fire path to success. What its advocates claim, with substantial evidence, is that positive self-talk is the best way to talk yourself out of predetermined failure. Success is hard to achieve in any realm when you are standing in your own way.