Everyone has an inner voice that talks us up or puts us down. Positive self-talk can be a supportive influence and help people make decisions and tackle problems with confidence.

Unfortunately, negative self-talk is more common, and it can be programmed into us at a young age. It is possible to change our inner voice from negative to positive, but it does take some work.

What Is Self-Talk?

People often describe self-talk as the voice inside their heads, but it is a little more nuanced than that. Self-talk is silent or vocalized cue words in a conversation with one's self.

People widely use positive self-talk to get themselves ready for an exam, or a job interview, or the big game, but it can also be used to promote a generally positive mental state in everyday life.

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Move Toward Positivity

The first step to moving toward positive self-talk is to pay attention to your current practices and identity anything negative. Before you can eliminate negative self-talk, you must identify it.

When you pick up on something, ask yourself: how is this holding me back? Are these thoughts stopping me from doing new things? What could I do if I did not have these thoughts holding me back?

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What Is Negative Self-Talk?

Some studies show that negative self-talk can help with performance if the person sees it as a challenge or uses it as motivation to avoid something negative.

But, generally, negative self-talk isn't just noting a person's actual shortcomings — rather, it doesn't reflect reality. It can convince people that they are not good enough and that they can never get better, and this makes the shift to positive self-talk even more difficult.

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How to Eliminate Negative Self Talk

After you recognize your negative self-talk, you must work to eliminate it. There are many ways to do this, including learning not to personalize every situation and believing there are many possible outcomes to every situation.

Some people find doing something actionable helps, too. Try wearing a rubber band on your wrist and snapping it when negative self-talk starts to creep in, or establishing an internal signal, like telling yourself, "stop, stop, stop," to silence negative thoughts.

person pulling rubber band wrapped around her wrist


Positive or Negative

If you are unsure if your self-talk is positive or negative, knowing common types of negative self-talk can help.

These include filtering, when you filter out the positive parts of a situation and focus on the negative; catastrophizing or automatically anticipating the worst; and "shouldering," when you think of all the things you should have done and blame yourself for not doing them.

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Replace Negative with Positive

After you know the negative thoughts you need to replace, you can begin to replace them with positive self-talk. Some things you can tell yourself instead are:

  • I can control my behavior.
  • I am not alone.
  • I have what I need to handle this.
  • I can choose my actions.

When shifting to positive self-talk, repetition is key. Negative self-talk is often ingrained in us, and repeating positive things over and over is the only way to shift your perspective and overwrite those long-standing problematic thoughts.

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Simple vs Complex Tasks

It helps to take different approaches to self-talk depending on what you are trying to achieve. When you are trying to do something simple, often just building yourself up by telling yourself you can do it is enough.

Simple positive self-talk can increase your heart rate slightly while preventing sudden spikes, which can help keep you steady. For something complex, simply telling yourself "you can do it" is not enough. When focusing on more complex tasks, it is better to talk yourself through them step-by-step.

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Talking to Yourself in the Third Person

It may sound strange, but talking to yourself in the third person activates areas in the brain linked to self-control, which may make it easier to regulate your emotions.

Plus, talking to yourself in the third person creates the illusion that you are talking to someone else, which can make it easier to regulate emotions.

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Daily Practice

Repetition is key to shifting to positive self-talk, but you cannot only do it when negative self-talk sneaks up on you. You have to do it every day, to build the habit before the negativity even kicks in.

Negative self-talk does not go away overnight, but daily positive self-talk eventually leads to more self-acceptance. When you are generally optimistic, you can better handle stress and behave more constructively.

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Tips for Focusing on Positive Self Talk

It can be easy to identify negative self-talk, but ]how to turn it into positive self-talk is not always clear. Try to identify areas where you need to change and check in with yourself throughout the day.

Laugh when you can and try to get enough sleep to keep stress under control. One big rule to follow: don't say anything to yourself that you would not say to anyone else.

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