Listen to Yourself: The Power of Healthy Self-Talk

Imagine talking yourself into jumping out of a moving vehicle? 

It sounds idiotically funny. Maybe it passes for slightly adventurous. But it was one of the many soon-to-come dumb things I had talked myself into doing, and I have two permanent bumps on my skull to prove it. 

In this article, we’ll talk about the story we tell ourselves, the conversations that gallop across our mind. In short, self-talk.

Have you ever marveled at an empty sheet of paper? Me neither. Paper is just paper. Only when you fill it with words does it become interesting. One sheet of paper after another, you’re telling a story. 

But it is not words alone that make a story. It is what the words are saying. So, I ask you, what words are you using to fill your paper? Are they kind words? Are they words that encourage you to become a better person? Or does saying them cut you and make you bleed?  

I remember my grandmother telling me about the angel and the devil that sat on both sides of my shoulder. Sometimes, I think of self-talk that way. You can talk yourself into seeing the good or the bad, losing or learning, conquering your fears, or letting them devour you. 

Our words are not merely empty carriages. What we tell ourselves is what we feed ourselves, whether it’s for anger, love, or convincing yourself that a coffee machine is an investment. How you talk to yourself when you’re stuck in a dark hole or when you feel like the world is your oyster matters way more than you give it credit for. 

When in Doubt, Check The Literature.

Between 1982 and 1992, psychologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, Ph.D., and immunologist Ronald Glaser, Ph.D., from Ohio State University College of Medicine, studied the health of medical students. After a three-day exam period, they noticed that the students’ immunity declined. The students who had taken the exam almost stopped producing immunity-boosting gamma interferon, and they had fewer natural killer cells to fight tumors and viral infections. 

In 2013, researchers at the University of Western Australia compared two types of repetitive negative thinking (RNT), worry and rumination, in participants with anxiety and/or depression. 212 of the participants did not have comorbid diagnoses, while 301 had comorbid diagnoses. The results of the study showed that comorbidity and a higher level of repetitive negative thinking were linked to each other.

How You Can Practice Healthy Self-Talk.

A friend of mine would always say, “The hardest thing in life is not about obtaining it, but rather maintaining it.” 

You might have made a habit out of the way you speak to yourself—putting doubts before possibilities, feeding your ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts), and overall being hard on yourself. At the slightest sign of stress, you’re wired to jump back into the kind of negative thinking that you’ve known all your life. 

In James Clear’s Atomic Habits, he focuses on the tiny changes you make that will accumulate to big change over time. To break the chain of negative self-talk, these are the baby steps you can take:

  • Notice the way you speak to yourself when you make little mistakes. As author Kakuzō Okakura wrote, we reveal ourselves in the small things because there is little we care to hide. Your negative self-talk could be this giant monster, but its roots could have started with the harsh little sneers you mutter to yourself on a bad day.
  • Think about what you can still do. Dwelling in what could have happened is futile, and it only fuels disappointment. Focus on actionable goals. Despite what happened, what can you still do? 
  • If you catch yourself in unhealthy self-talk, don’t beat yourself up.  It’s counterproductive. Take three deep breaths and say, “I am growing more aware of the way I talk to myself. And if that means knowing the bad side so I can make room for the good, so be it.” 
  • Stop overcomplicating the simple things. People get stressed out over things that aren’t supposed to be stressful. Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. Glorifying complicated doesn’t help.  
  • Record your thoughts. I recommend keeping a journal as a way of achieving this, but you can do plenty of other things like recording a 30-second video of yourself everyday. Journaling, though, is my favorite. It is like putting a puzzle together. You take one thought, glue it together, and things start to make more sense. I have made a free printable journal that you can use. Download here!  

I hope these tips help you cultivate an internal environment to support your personal growth. Remember, your words matter, and how you say it matters all the more. Sowubana, dear reader.