One of the main issues that affect our self-esteem is the voice of others reflecting negatively towards us or our behavior.
From early childhood, the way parents and peers address us shapes a great deal of our self-perception. Generally speaking, someone brought up being put down and criticized will get into a habit of negative. And the contrary is true.
The good news is that any unhelpful thought pattern can be changed with self-talk. So, what happens in the brain to make it happen, what can we do to affect it, and how do we apply it day-to-day?
1. What happens in the brain when you self-talk
What is shaping our sense of self-worth isn’t actually what we experience or what others say or do, but the way it reflects within, basically how we perceive it through our own self-talk. This is what creates our reality. The great news is that you can change the narrative thanks to neuroplasticity; this is the ability to change and adapt through reorganizing neural networks in the brain.
Here’s what happens when you have a thought: a connection is made between neurons creating a neural pathway. Once that pathway is created, it becomes stronger and stronger with each same subsequent thought. If the thought pattern is usually negative, the pathway becomes so strong that negativity becomes your ‘go-to,’ potentially leading to depression. However, if it is positive, you are building a highway to confidence, self-belief, and emotional resilience.
2. The benefits of positive self-talk
Extensive research has shown the effect of positive self-talk on confidence and performance. For example, a study published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise (2009) divided 72 tennis players into two groups, both going through the same training but one practicing positive self-talk. The self-talkers demonstrated greater self-confidence, performance, game improvement, and reduced anxiety.
The Coué Method
In the late 1800s, psychologist Emile Coué introduced a method based around the routine repetition of a mantra-like auto-suggestion: “Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better” . The Coué Method replied on the premise that through the power of auto-suggestion, any idea constantly occupying the mind can become a reality (as long as it is possible). It has since become one of the pillars of modern self-improvement.
3. How to self-talk
Remember this: the most important words you will ever hear are the words you tell yourself. What would you love to hear every day? What will motivate you, give you strength, encouragement? What would you say to a friend to inspire them? Positive affirmations are a simple yet effective way to shape your reality. Here are a few examples:
I am safe. I am worthy. I am going to be ok. I accept myself. I can do this. I am good. I am strong. I can do anything I want. I am strong and confident. I will succeed.
Make them specific to you, to your needs and goals. If you feel like a failure as a parent, you could tell yourself, “I am a good parent. I do a good job. I have patience.” Pick one or a few that will encourage you, drive you, help you believe in yourself.
The more you repeat positive affirmations, the stronger the neural pathway and positive habit loop in your mind. You can say these out loud or on the inside; it doesn’t matter. But don’t just say them, really say them! Hear them with conviction, feel them, believe them, see them happening in your mind… And don’t worry if it doesn’t come naturally at first; it will get easier as the pathway strengthens.
Positive self-talk vs. acceptance of negative feelings
To be clear, positive self-talk isn’t about denying negative feelings, such as sadness, anger, or frustration; it is about acknowledging them, dealing with them, and then making a decision on how to move forward in a helpful way. You must precisely listen to how you feel to address it. If you feel like a failure because you behaved badly, feel it, take responsibility, forgive yourself and then be in control of the course of action you want to take. ‘I forgive myself. I am a good person. I will fix this.’ It’s really ok to make a mistake; everyone does! It is how you react to it that shapes you and your future.
4. Positive mindset
Along with affirmations, here are a few things you can practice to enhance your positive self-talk:
– Accept a compliment
If you are used to a negative internal dialogue, my guess would be that when someone pays you a compliment, you dismiss it straight away. You might say, ‘oh no, I look like a mess!’, or ‘I’m not smart, I always had terrible grades at school.’ Well, don’t! From now on, just say ‘thank you’ and take it, absorb it, integrate it into your self-talk.
– Reframe your perspective
The power of this is immense. When you look at a bad situation from a negative point of view, it stays negative. Use it as a stepping stone to a positive one. You can always get feedback from failure; what can you learn from it, what will you do differently next time? Even events completely out of your control can be seen as opportunities to become stronger, tougher, ready for anything.
– Notice your wins
Every day, notice and acknowledge your achievements, big and little. If you start from scratch in your journey of growth and can’t think of anything, then your first achievement can be getting out of bed in the morning.
Positive self-talk leads to a positive mindset, which in turn is the gateway to growth and success. If you become used to acknowledging your self-worth, you will naturally stop taking things personally and be held back by fear. You will become more confident, put yourself out there, try new things and achieve your goals. Believing is seeing!
So, be kind to yourself, focus your mind on all the good things about you and look for opportunities rather than dwelling on the failures. In the words of Philosopher Confucius, “the more man meditates upon good thoughts, the better will be his world and the world at large.”