Overcoming Negative Self Talk

Your effectiveness as a leader is won in the space between your ears.

How you talk to yourself – the internal dialogue that runs through your mind on a daily basis – is more powerful than you might realize. It has the power to boost your confidence or to tear it down. A lack of confidence feeds into the fear of the unknown, fear of stepping into who you are, or fear of not knowing what’s next. On the flip side, a confident woman doesn’t limit herself. She pursues opportunities to use her strengths when they arise and confidently says no to the things that distract her from her goals.

Learning from those before us

What do we know about self-talk scientifically? First, our thoughts run at a much faster rate than our words do. An article published by the University of Missouri Extension explains: “Most of us speak at the rate of about 125 words per minute. However, we have the mental capacity to understand someone speaking at 400 words per minute (if that were possible).” [1] This makes it easy to get lost in our thoughts as they come on backs of one another, and also reveals how easily negative thoughts can spiral.

Second, we know that this topic has been studied for decades, begun by researchers in the late 19th century. In 1986, psychologist Vygotsky proposed one of the earliest theories in which self-talk played a key role. “He suggested that inner speech develops and becomes the medium of consciousness as children internalize culture and meaning in the form of language.” (Van Raalte and Vincent) [2] Over the years, much of the existing research has evaluated how self-talk affects performance within the context of sporting events. Findings affirm that the content of this self-conversation does, in fact, make a difference. Many can personally attest that the experience is certainly not limited to sports.

How am I doing?

So, how do you know whether your self-talk is healthy? It begins as simply as taking notes. Pay attention to how you speak to yourself, particularly in challenging circumstances. Are you encouraging or critical? Journal your observations to identify patterns in your thinking. It’s quite common to discover a tendency toward negative self-talk. What do your thoughts reveal about what you believe? Ask yourself, What situation am I in when this comes up?”

How do I change?

Once you identify your circumstances and understand the power of change, ‘I can’t’ shifts to ‘I can.’ But it’s more than saying no to negativity. It means choosing a different narrative – reframing that limiting belief. This new narrative is one you can believe with support and repetition. Once when you act on it, you can rebuild your confidence.

One practical approach to improving the way you speak to yourself is to use third person. Use your own name instead of ‘I’ – “Okay, Sarah, clear your mind and take one step at a time.” Dr. Brian Robinson explains that “the language of separation allows you to process an internal event as if it happened to someone else.” [3] Using your own name allows you to perceive the challenge at hand as a challenge (thrive mind) instead of a threat (survive mind), thus broadening your perspective to consider a wider range of solutions.

The Road to Confidence

Self-talk is the story each person tell herself again and again until she believes it. Take care to take your thoughts captive, building a foundation of confidence. And a confident woman doesn’t let anything hold her back.

If you enjoyed this article, listen to my guest appearance on the HERdacity podcast.

References for further reading:

[1] Listening: Our Most Used Communication Skill
[2] Self Talk in Sport and Performance by Judy L. Van Raalte and Andrew Vincent
[3] The Five Types of Self-Talk Your Brain Likes Best by Brian Robinson