The Impact of Self Talk

By: Laine Greenawalt, MS, RDN, LDN, CSSD

Reaching your optimal potential requires constant mental engagement. “Self-talk” is an essential component of cognitive control and can either enhance or inhibit performance.

Positive vs. Negative

Positive self-talk can raise your self-esteem and encourage you to remain in the present rather than focus on past negative thoughts, feelings, or performances. In comparison, negative self-talk can cause us to engage in behavior that reaffirms your negative thoughts. This creates a dangerous loop where the original negatives thoughts become reality. Developing strategies that allow us to transform negative thinking into positive thinking is beneficial for making and sticking to healthy lifestyle changes. Statements such as “I can’t”, “it’s too hard,” or “what’s the point” are common laments we hear from clients when trying to build new habits. Use the following techniques to help yourself stay motivated and track with positive self-talk.

How do we change these thoughts?

By recognizing our thought patterns and coupling them with “thought stoppage” techniques and positive mantras, we can redirect our attention and therefore our behavior. 

Remember: Negative thoughts lead to negative feelings and negative behaviors which in turn result in poor performance or failed habit change. This pattern exemplifies the importance of eliminating negative thoughts.

Negative thoughts > Negative Feelings + Negative Behaviors = Negative outcomes

Be the change.

Identify a trigger word that works for you (an easy option would be to use the word “stop”). As a negative thought enters your mind, tell yourself to “stop”, followed by a true positive statement. For example, after saying “stop”, say to yourself “Hang in there”. Chances are, you’ve done it in the past, and you can use this knowledge to push through the negative thoughts and feelings. 

Key Point: Select your individual trigger word and short positive statement in advance. Make it something you can act on immediately. Building mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness when it comes to optimal performance.  

Try this.

Mantras are a form of mindful mediation where you repeat a series of phrases over and over. Things like “I am at peace with what was, what is, and what will be”, “I am enough”, “Where I am is exactly where I should be”, “I change my thoughts, I change my world”. When getting started, it is beneficial to say the words out loud because this involves both hearing and feeling.

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