Information Centre

What is self-talk?

Confidence and self-image


You know the voice in your head that applauds you for your victories and gives out when you mess up? That’s what we mean when we mention ‘self-talk’.

Sometimes we make ourselves feel miserable even when our situation isn’t that bad, simply by thinking in a negative, self-defeating way.

It’s as though we’ve an internal voice inside our head that influences how we feel about every situation. This inner voice is our ‘self-talk’, and includes our conscious and unconscious thoughts.

Some of our self-talk is reasonable. When a voice in your head tells you to study the night before an exam, or tells you to be proud of an achievement, it can be seen as positive self-talk.

But talking to yourself in a negative or unrealistic way is never helpful; in fact it’s the opposite. It causes us to feel hurt, angry, frustrated, depressed or anxious.

It can also make us behave negatively. For example, telling yourself you’re going to fail an exam could stop you from working as hard the night before. 

Challenging negative self-talk

With practice, you can learn to notice your own negative self-talk as it happens, and consciously choose to think more positively. The automatic reactions you have to negative thoughts can cause you stress and make you less able to meet life’s challenges.

Learning to challenge negative thoughts takes time and practice, but it’s worth the effort. Once you start examining it, you’ll probably be surprised by how much of your thinking is inaccurate, exaggerated, or negative.

Whenever you find yourself feeling anxious, stop and think about how you’ve been talking to yourself. Find another way to think about your situation and you can focus positively on improving it. 

Once you get into the habit of challenging your negative self-talk you’ll find it easier to handle difficult situations, and as a result, feel less stressed and more self-confident. Writing down your negative self-talk as you learn to identify it helps you develop your skills. Initially it might feel like hard work, but the more often you do it the better you’ll feel.