The Power of Self-Talk

At any given moment, you are your biggest critic or your loudest hype man. 

Most of us wake up and have a thousand things on our minds. We’ve got tasks pending at work, at home, bills to pay, a body to take care of, and never-ending to-do lists. We are constantly being flooded with thoughts, and a lot of those may be unconscious beliefs or storylines that aren’t even true. 

When we take a moment to observe our thoughts, we may identify that the voice we hear is actually that of our parents, peers, or some societal expectation. 

Like, how my mom would check my chores to see if I did it to her standards. She often made me vacuum twice if she thought I’d done it too quickly. She’d say, “If you didn’t rush, you’d do it right the first time.” I couldn’t stand it then, but this was something I’d tell myself throughout pre-clinic when I was tired, hungry, and my eyes hurt from staring at preps. My mom wasn’t there in front of me, but I heard her voice and took it on as my own.

This worked in my favor at the time, but eventually, it became a hindrance to me in ways I didn’t expect. And although we can’t silence this inner critic, we can choose what we listen to and what we believe. 

For me, observing thought started with meditation. Sitting in silence and keeping my mind in the present moment allowed me to hear my self-talk more clearly. I heard my thoughts, acknowledged them, and let them pass. Eventually, I started to question where they came from, and if they were true.

Then, I honestly just started talking to myself—out loud. 

This may feel strange at first, but speaking these thoughts out loud can help filter out those that don’t belong to us. Hearing the words through your voice validates your feelings and beliefs, and strengthens it. It’s real, it’s tangible, and can be interpreted by your senses.

It’s like reading my writing out loud when I’m editing. When I read to myself, my mind fills in the mistakes on the page, but when I read my writing out loud, I can hear what doesn’t flow, or where words should be switched around. Cadence, even in reciting a private monologue, can invoke feelings you weren’t identifying when you rehearsed in your head. The purpose of hearing my thoughts out loud is to provide a clear, honest picture of what is present in me without other thoughts or stories clouding that reality. 

I started a self-talk practice a few years ago and did it each day before work. I’d sit in my car and remind myself why I was going to work, and what my role was while I was there. This is what that looked like for me:

“I am here to help people improve their health and quality of life.”

“I work to get people out of pain and regain function.” 

“People are coming to see me with a problem, and I am providing them with the best solution I have.”

“Dentist is my role. It is not who I am.” 

Every morning I reminded myself that I choose the work that I do, and I shifted my mindset away from the feeling that being a dentist was an obligation. I also reassured myself that my purpose is rooted in doing good, despite the fact that some clients feared and disliked being in my chair. I had previously gotten wrapped up in the narrative of, “I am a dentist, I cause people pain.” Pivoting that self-talk from negative to positive allowed me to clarify what was true about my job. It prevented me from becoming entangled in the fears projected by my patients, and taught me how to practice self-compassion.

If you try this exercise and realize that your self-talk is amplifying your anxiety or stress, then consider how you are talking to yourself. You are likely engaging in negative self-talk during this exercise, but also beyond it. Negative self-talk can look like self-criticism, spiraling, or thinking of events in worst-case scenarios, placing blame on yourself or others around you for negative experiences, judgments on being “bad”, and filtering out any positive experiences to focus on the negative.

As you observe yourself, take note of which direction your self-talk is going. The goal is to be honest with yourself, not just consistently positive. Can you be honest, take accountability for yourself, and then also give yourself grace?

If you can’t decide whether you’re engaging in positive or negative self-talk, pause and think about someone you love, or a child. Would you say these same things to them? If you wouldn’t, then why would you say them to yourself?

It can be easier to give someone else grace, just like it’s easier to give advice than it is to take it.

It may help to remember that you and that person you envisioned are the same. You are someone’s loved one, and you were also once a small child. Try talking to those versions of you if you can’t find any positive words at the moment. If your thinking pattern can not stray away from negativity, fear, or worry, then consider seeking guidance from someone who can help you rewire them. A therapist, particularly someone who practices cognitive-behavioral therapy, can assist you with that.

Just remember that you have a choice in how you show up for yourself. Be your own hype man. Talk yourself up, literally. You deserve it.