The words we use every day have a profound impact—language shapes our relationships with people and things.
The Best Person You Can Talk To
We all struggle with self-confidence from time to time. We forget to take care of ourselves because we don’t think we are worth or it. Or maybe we (wrongly) believe that self-love is selfish. The truth is, to take care of others, you have to put on your oxygen mask first.
Talking to oneself is one of the most natural yet undervalued skills we have. Would you allow anyone else to speak to you the way you speak to yourself?
The quality of your inner speech is critical—positive words generate positive benefits. It stimulates self-reflection, increases motivation, and connect us with our emotions. Research by Canadian professor Alain Morin shows there’s a high correlation between talking to oneself more frequently and a higher self-awareness and self-evaluation.
Most importantly, self-talk can make us feel better about ourselves and instill confidence to get through tough challenges.
Self-talk is the best feedback you can get. By improving your inner-dialogue, you become the best person you can speak to.
Raise Your Words, Raise Yourself
The power of words comes from the beliefs we have in them—we believe and embody our words.
Our brain is "hard-wired" to be negative. Neuroscience shows that the majority of our self-talk is negative. This negativity bias causes the brain to overreact to "bad words." We can overcome this bias by becoming more mindful of the words we choose.
Our words affect our emotions, motivation, and potential accomplishments.
Based on my experience facilitating change leadership workshops, these are the most common (and damaging) "negative words."
- "I can’t": It’s the belief that you cannot do something, even before you try. It’s not just about low self-confidence. Sometimes, people get caught by a perfectionist mindset—they confuse not being an expert with not being capable of something. The "can’ts" reflect a lack of resilience—we need to learn to fail and try again and again.
- "I have to": This approach turns regular activities into a burden. We approach everyday chores with the wrong mentality. When you can’t do what you love, you have to learn to love what you do. The "don’t wants" address a broken relationship with simple things in life.
- "I should": This mindset addresses external pressure—other people’s expectations make us feel guilty and unhappy. It’s the result of other people trying to impose their will over ours—our parents, teachers, friends, bosses, and so on. The "shoulds" represent what others want us to do.
5 Steps to Improve Your Inner Dialogue
Pay attention to how you talk to yourself and the impact of your words. You can ask a friend to call you out every time you use negative words to describe your life or yourself.
Another approach is to reflect on the words you think when you feel down. Capture those in a notebook and review on a weekly basis. What trends do you observe? What’s the story?
2. Positive Affirmations
Affirmations are phrases that you repeatedly say to yourself. The Reticular Activating System (RAS) is a part of our brain that turns those affirmations into part of our identity.
Here are a couple of affirmations for you to practice with, meant to promote a favorable view of life, not to convince you that everything is perfect:
- “I know who I am, and I am enough.”
- “It’s OK to be broken. And it’s OK to let the broken parts mend.”
- “I choose to be present and mindful right now.”
- “I am in control of the way I respond to the behavior of others.”
- “I’m grateful for the life I have.”
3. Replace Words
The easiest way to erase certain words from your inner dialogue is to replace them with others.
Moving forward, practice replacing:
- “I can’t” with “I will.”
- “I have to” with “I want to.”
- “I should” with “I choose to” (this opens the door to say "no" to external expectations).
Try this exercise with a friend or colleague. List all the things you "have to do"—one-at-a-time—and let the person reframe it by replacing “have to” with “want to.”
For example, you say: “I have to do the laundry.” The other person replies, “You want to do the laundry.” Keep doing this with every activity on your list. Listening to other people’s voices reframing your words is a powerful experience!
4. Pause, Reflect, and Talk
As you become more aware of the words you use, practice reflection.
Pause for a couple of seconds. Evaluate your thoughts.
Is that hurtful or helpful?
Reflect on the words you were using. If they hurt you, go back and see how you can "erase-and-replace" those words.
5. Increase Positive Self-Talk
Building a habit takes times—you want to turn the process into something natural. The same happens with self-talk. You’ll see improvements early on. But, once it becomes intuitive, you’ll experience the transforming effect.
As Glen Bassett stated, “If you keep doing what you always have done, you will remain the same person who you always have been.”
Remember: Words are powerful, but don’t expect miracles. New habits form when new strategies are learned and applied. Change takes time and practice. You need to develop awareness before you can implement positive self-talk into your daily routines.
The words you tell yourself can be compassionate or cruel. Treat yourself kindly.