How Self-Talk Leads to Self-Confidence–or Not

“How will I ever make this happen!”

“I can’t handle one more thing.”

“That was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done.”

“How could I be so stupid?”

“What’s wrong with me?”

Do any of these statements sound familiar?

They are often stated while throwing your arms in the air — or maybe throwing something across the room.

You’re not alone. It happens to everyone.

You find yourself under a pile of stuff you need to do. Stress mounts. The solution to a problem eludes you. You give into self-defeating self-talk, and you spiral downward into negativity and doubt — usually when you need positivity and confidence the most.

How you speak to yourself affects how you feel about a situation, a person, and yourself. The more negative your self-talk, the more you undermine your coping ability and self-confidence.

There is a solution.

You can learn how to turn off the negativity and turn on the positivity.

The Right Way to Talk to Yourself

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Look at the statements at the start of this article. They all use the first person pronoun, I, me

Research by psychologist Ethan Kross, University of Michigan, shows that changing from I to your name changes the impact of the statement. But there’s more. The nature of the self-talk becomes more supportive. It’s as if you are addressing someone else and trying to uplift them rather than tear yourself down.

“In sum, our analysis suggests that the language people use to refer to the self during introspection may influence self-distancing, and thus have consequential implications for their ability to regulate their thoughts, feelings, and behavior under stress.¹” Ethan Kross, Ph.D.

It’s easier to mitigate — or even eliminate — the effects of negative self-talk when you talk to yourself as if you were addressing another person.

Instead of my saying, “I’m so stupid,” I say, “Patricia is so stupid.” Immediately, I want to respond. “No, I’m not. I made a mistake.” I stop identifying with stupidity and uplift my self-esteem.

Use it the next time you get down on yourself. Just use your first name instead of I, and you will distance yourself from the negative effect of the self-talk.

Watch Your Language

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“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” William Shakespeare

Yes, it would. But would you be eager to shove your nose into it if it were called, “Stink Blossom”?

The words you use in self-talk have power. They influence how you feel and respond. Put a watch over your words and make sure they express confidence and assuredness. Here are five words to avoid:

  1. Can’t: It sets you up for failure before you begin by undermining your belief in your abilities. You may not know how to do something, but you can learn how to do it.
  2. Should: It creates a sense of guilt that you aren’t doing something you should be doing. Either do it or don’t do it, but don’t judge yourself.
  3. Try: As Yoda said, “Do or do not, there is no try.” Try is a weak word that not only makes you believe that you are weak, it communicates weakness to others. “Try” is an excuse for failing.
  4. Think: Not sure, are you? This conveys a lack of confidence in what you are saying. Try, “I believe” or “In my opinion.”
  5. Have to: Is someone standing over your shoulder, making you do things you don’t want to do? Speak with accountability and responsibility by using, “I will” or “I want to.”

Affirm the Positive

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Just as a steady diet of negative self-talk can undermine your self-confidence, positive self-talk can boost it. Affirmations are forms of positive self-talk that help you overcome negative beliefs and move you into more of a growth mindset.

Affirmations are positive statements about yourself and your abilities. They must be believable and written in present tense. For example, “I am a skilled and confident speaker.” “I feel confident and strong when I present my ideas.”

Energize your affirmations by putting positive emotions behind them and repeat them often throughout the day.

Words Have the Power to Change Your Life

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Research done by John Cacioppo, Ph.D, shows that the brain reacts more strongly to negative stimuli than positive ones. This is known as “negativity bias,” and it comes from our evolutionary need to quickly recognize and respond to danger. Today, we rarely have to run from predators, but negative self-talk can trigger the negative bias response.

When you feed your mind a steady stream of negative self-talk, you are setting yourself up for failure, depression, stress, and more. The antidote is to become aware of what you are saying — to become mindful.

Cultivate a growth mindset and don’t let mistakes lead to a downward spiral of negativity. Instead, reframe the mistake into a learning opportunity and discover how you can use it to improve.

You have the power to shape your life with your self-talk. You can create a positive and optimistic view of your life and abilities.

It won’t happen overnight. Remember, your brain is wired for negativity, but you are much more than your brain.

Stop living your life in the negative and start looking for opportunities to be more positive and feel more confident.Words matter! The more powerful your self-talk, the more powerful and confident you feel.

Additional Reading

Here’s How Elite Performers Silence Negative Self-Talk by Benjamin Hardy, PhD

The Scientific Reason Affirmations Work by Megan Holstein

Sitting at the Intersection of Neuroscience and Mindfulness by @Kate Bäumli

¹ Self-Talk as a Regulatory Mechanism: How You Do It Matters. Ethan Kross, Emma Bruehlman-Senecal, et al. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.2014, Vol. 106, №2, 304–324 © 2014 American Psychological Association

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