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How Positive Self-Talk Can Make You Feel Better and Be More Productive

Research from schools of psychology points to the benefits of positivity.

You can do it. You’re strong. You’ve got this. Those are the kinds of encouraging words we extend to friends, colleagues, and family members when they’re experiencing self-doubt.

When facing our own challenges, the inner dialogue is often very different. I’m a terrible public speaker. I take too long to write these reports. Everyone in this class is so much smarter than I am. Suddenly, the compassion we so naturally and generously extend to others seems to evaporate.


But learning to be kind to yourself is work worth doing, experts say. Replacing negative psychological messages with positive ones can build self-esteem and confidence, and may bring results that surprise you in all the right ways. To get there, it all starts with self-talk.

Defining Self-Talk

“Many people are conscious of an inner voice that provides a running monologue throughout the day and even into the night. Cheerful and supportive or negative and self-defeating, this internal chatter is referred to as self-talk,” according to Psychology Today magazine. “This inner voice combines conscious thoughts with unconscious beliefs and biases. … This voice is useful when it is positive, talking down fears and bolstering confidence. Human nature is prone to negative self-talk, however, and … this negativity can be unrealistic and even harmful, paralyzing people into inaction and self-absorption to the point of being unaware of the world around them.”1

Flipping the Narrative

Once you tune in to your inner voice, you can begin to reverse any negative trends. The experts at the Mayo Clinic suggest an important ground rule: “Don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to anyone else.” 2

In its newsletter, the healthcare organization offers these examples of shifting your self-talk from negative to positive:2

  • Instead of “I’ve never done it before,” try “It’s an opportunity to learn something new.”
  • Instead of “It’s too complicated,” try “I’ll tackle it from a different angle.”
  • Instead of “No one bothers to communicate with me,” try “I’ll see if I can open the channels of communication.”
  • Instead of “It’s too radical a change,” try “Let’s take a chance.”
  • Instead of “I’m not going to get any better at this,” try “I’ll give it another try.”
  • Instead of “I don’t have the resources,” try “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

Doing the Research

Some of the first psychological research on self-talk dates to the 1880s,3 and across the years, much of the research has focused on the fields, courts, and arenas of sports.

“Early studies of self-talk in sport drew largely from the ideas of Albert Ellis’s Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy, which highlighted self-talk as an important way to gain insight into faulty or irrational beliefs that influence emotion and behavior,” write Judy L. Van Raalte and Andrew Vincent in the paper, Self-Talk in Sport and Performance. “In the research literature, both instructional and motivational self-talk have been shown to enhance performance.”3

Asked about the power of self-talk, one skilled tennis player in recreational leagues in Palm Beach County, Florida, said simply, “Oh my gosh, it’s everything.”

Track and field legend Carl Lewis once said, “My thoughts before a big race are usually pretty simple. I tell myself: Get out of the blocks, run your race, stay relaxed. If you run your race, you’ll win … Channel your energy. Focus.”4 It worked for Lewis, who won nine Olympic gold medals, and one silver.

Changing Perspective

You may not be dreaming of Olympic bling, but if you want to reap rewards in ways that are meaningful to you, consider tweaking your self-talk point of view. In Pronouns Matter When Psyching Yourself Up published in the Harvard Business Review, psychology professors and researchers Ozlem Ayduk and Ethan Kross say referring to yourself in the second or third person can make a difference, too.

“We found that cueing people to reflect on intense emotional experiences using their names and non-first-person pronouns such as ‘you’ or ‘he’ or ‘she’ consistently helped them control their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors,” they write. “For example, in one study we found that participants who silently referred to themselves in the second or third person or used their own names while preparing for a five-minute speech were calmer and more confident and performed better on the task than those who referred to themselves using ‘I’ or ‘me.’”5

And the authors say the sense of well-being continued after the speech ended: “People who had used non-first-person pronouns or their names felt more positively about their performance on the speech once it was over. They also experienced less shame about it and ruminated about it less. Those are big pluses—ruminating endlessly over past experiences can hurt not only your psychological well-being but also your physical health.”5

Seeing Results

While self-talk research is ongoing, the Mayo Clinic experts say redirecting negative thoughts toward the positive may lead to:2

  • Increased life span
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Lower levels of distress 
  • Better psychological and physical well-being
  • Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress  

So, if after reading this you’re still thinking, “I could never do that,” how about, “Here’s my chance to try something new”? You’ve got this.

Interested in Careers in Psychology?

If topics like positive self-talk interest you, consider a BS in Psychology. An online psychology degree program is a valuable option for adult learners. Look for an accredited university offering multiple psychology degree concentrations so you can customize your career interests to your studies. At Walden University, students can choose a general program or one of nine concentrations.

Walden’s School of Psychology helps prepare students for important learning outcomes that include:

  • Demonstrating familiarity with the major concepts, theoretical perspectives, empirical findings, and historical trends in psychology.
  • Understanding and applying basic research methods in psychology, including research design and data analysis and interpretation.
  • Applying cultural competencies to effective and sensitive interactions with people from diverse backgrounds and cultural perspectives.

After graduation, there are multiple career paths and roles psychology majors may pursue, including forensic treatment specialist, group home worker, researcher, court liaison, and laboratory assistant. A Bachelor of Science in Psychology can also serve as your first step toward an MS in Psychology or even a PhD in Psychology.

A bachelor’s in psychology can give you more than a job—it can deliver you to a meaningful career. If you’re passionate about wanting to know what makes people tick, and about making a difference in the lives of others, a degree in psychology may be just the right choice.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a BS in Psychology degree program online with multiple concentrations to help you meet your personal and professional goals. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a flexible, convenient format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,