Do You Want to Change Your Negative Self-Talk into Positive?

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The Importance of Self-Talk

How do you talk to yourself? Like a lover, a best friend, an intuitive guide, a coach or a negotiator, a critic, a bully?

When you listen to what you say to yourself and how you say it - the words and the tone you use – and the type of questions you ask yourself day to day, you’ll get a sense of the who you’re being to yourself in the moment and which attitudes and beliefs you’ve got going on about yourself. Our self-talk is a major factor in how we choose to feel at any given moment because it’s a very important part of how we make meaning of what’s going on in our life, the stories we tell ourselves.

One of the podcasts that I'm a big fan of, is the Mind Your Business podcast hosted by James Wedmore and Phoebe Mroczek. They cover super relevant entrepreneurship topics and go into good rabbit holes like: mindset, spirituality, emotions, fear, confidence, philosophy and manifesting – in a really interesting way.

Listen to Your Self-Talk to Uncover Blindspots

So in their recent episode Language Leaves Clues they talk about when we feel stuck or uncertain why we’re not manifesting what we truly want in life. One reason that stuck feeling shows up is because we’re in a blindspot of our awareness as to what’s going on and what we can do about it. I like this great quote, derived from the works of Marshall McLuhan, that James uses to illustrate this point:

I don’t know who discovered water, but it sure wasn’t a fish.

When we want to raise our inner game, we need ways to expand our awareness of ourselves and our possibilities. We need to be open to ideas and possibilities about:

  • things we know we don’t know and
  • things outside of our current awareness

I absolutely agree with James and Phoebe that a very important way we can breakthrough those blindspots and get out of our own way is to listen to our self-talk. They discuss four ways to help you increase your awareness to improve your self-listening skills. You can click the Podcast link in the Sources section at the end of this post to get their show notes and listen to the podcast.

Four Self-Talk Exercises    

Learning how to really listen to our self-talk is an important key to discovering awareness blindspots and elevating our inner game. When you get a handle on noticing what you say to yourself, the next step is to say more of what you like and less of what you don’t. I’m going to explain four ways you can change negative self-talk into positive self-talk, and they all fall under the concept of:

Using Associative and Dissociative Language to Your Advantage

Associative (close) language refers to what’s close to you in time and space, so use it to talk about things you like and want more of. Dissociative (distant/detached) language is the opposite and it’s good to use when talking about negative things because it keeps the negative thought, belief or experience, separate from you at your identity level of speech. Ok, here’s the four ways:


1. Put negative self-talk into the past with ‘used to’.  

Phoebe gives a great example, at 15 minutes into the podcast, of how she diffused a negative self statement by changing it from a present tense statement into the past tense by using ‘used to’. She changed: “I always trip up and look stupid on video” to “I used to trip up and look stupid on video.” What differences do you notice in how you feel when you read these two statements?

‘Used to’ is especially useful here because linguistically it talks about a previously reoccuring action/event that doesn’t happen anymore, it’s already stopped. 'Used to' has a built in time-space component that facilitates shifts in awareness.

When I change a negatively charged self-talk statement with ‘used to’ I immediately feel separate from that old judgment. I can notice that it’s not true anymore, I’m running an old script about myself, and now I’m in a free space to notice how much better I’m actually doing – what’s true now.  I immediately feel an uplifting vibrational shift by being able to focus on what’s positive and possible.


2. Flag and investigate any frequency adverbs you use and get them to help you.             

Notice in Phoebe’s example, she didn’t just say to herself ‘I trip up...” which is stated like a fact to herself because it’s in present tense. She said “I always trip up..." Using ‘always’ reinforces the statement because it’s an ultimate frequency adverb (speaks to 100% of the time) and since it’s used in a negative statement, ‘always’ amplifies the statement the wrong way, so that statement was really disempowering.

Common frequency adverbs in order of frequency are:

always, usually, often, sometimes, occasionally, hardly ever, never.

'Always’ and ‘Never’ are signals that we’re using reactive language, not proactive. We often lie to ourselves (and others) with these two frequency adverbs, they’re used in reactive and dysfunctional communication patterns. Here’s two common ones: “Why do you always bring that up?” and “You never tell me what you’re feeling.”

When we decide to improve ourselves in some way – learning something, changing how we do something, or stopping a behaviour pattern that doesn’t serve us – frequency adverbs are useful to gauge how we’re thinking about ourselves in the process. They tell you how honest and kind, or how critical you’re being with yourself about where you’re at. Notice as you move from 'always' to ‘sometimes’ to ‘never’. Maybe along the way you might say with truth that “Once in a while I get stuck here.”

Sometimes people imprint themselves at the start of a learning curve with self-talk that sounds like: "I always get stuck here.” or “I keep getting stuck here.” Well at the very the beginning, if you felt some frustration, this could be true, but you’ve got to update your self-reporting ability so you can:

  • keep pace with, and be honest with yourself about, your actual progress
  • avoid it becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy

This way you can use frequency adverbs to coach yourself. See what happens when you turn the original observation into “I almost never get stuck here” or “This is almost always easy now” or “I’m stuck-free!” “This is a no stuck zone!”  Make up words and have fun with your own empowerment language as you pace yourself through learning curves or over obstacles.


3. More words that make a big difference

i) Use the distant one of these pairs of demonstrative pronouns – this/that & these/those.

ii) Use the distant one of these two place adverbs: here/there.

iii) Use articles “a’ or ‘the’  in place of these possessive adjectives: my, your, her, his, our, their.

iv) Replace present tense forms of ‘be’ (am, is, are) with ‘could’ to invite other possibilities into your awareness.


Notice the difference in how you feel when we change close negative to distant negative in these examples of each of the four points above. Does the 'problem' get further away or smaller in the second format? Notice the additional change to past tense with ‘get’ to ‘got’ in the first two, and ‘used to’ in the third one:

i)  This is where I get stuck.        to: That’s where I got stuck.                  

ii)  I get stuck here.                      to:  I used to get stuck there.   

iii) My situation is challenging.  to:  The situation I'm facing is challenging.                     

iv) My situation is challenging.  to:  That situation could be challenging.


Here’s an example of using past tense, frequency adverbs, and the little words we’ve looked at so far, to pace yourself from describing a negative experience up close - to a distant negative experience - into a positive possibility - and then to a positive self-talk statement. See which one(s) between the first and last one, make the distance between these two. the shortest for you. Or play around with the wording more. Then you'll know which language pattern works best to take you from a negative self-talk statement to a positive one.

  • These emails take me too long to write. (Original negative thought, present tense)    
  • Those emails used to take me too long to write. (Demonstrative pronouns + ‘used to’)
  • Those emails could be faster to write. (D- pronouns + possibility)       
  • I usually write these emails faster than I used to. (D- pronouns + frequency adverb + used to)
  • These emails are a lot faster to write now.  (Positive, associated, present tense)


4. Use Positive Language - give yourself positive calls to action

Say what to do, not what not to do give yourself positive directives.  Avoid saying don’t to yourself. The cognitive effort involved in telling yourself what not to do, makes your brain work overtime for nothing. Thinking about what you’re not going to do, causes you to think about it, and then cancel it out. Then you're back at square one, needing a clear directive - a clear call to action.

Don’t is useful for several functions in communication - self-talk isn’t one of them. The classic example is: ‘Don’t think of a pink elephant.’  Did you even for a second imagine a pink elephant?

So if you tell yourself: “Don’t forget to call Jaime (client) back this afternoon” – you can be actually be setting yourself up to forget. Remind yourself with a clear directive: “Remember to call Jaime this afternoon.”  or “Call Jaime this aft.”

Here's another common ‘don’t ‘forget’ example: “Don’t forget to add this to your calendar.”  It’s more clear, effective and empowering to say: “Remember to add this to your calendar." or "Make sure you ..."

Yesterday I heard a parent say to their child at the beach: “Don’t step on other people’s towels.” A positive directive would be "Remember to walk around other people's towels.' Personally I'd say: "Let's walk around other people's towels OK?” – because it's positive, inclusive (parent and child doing the behaviour) and intended to help the child feel respected and respectful.


Before I wrap this post on improving your self-talk game, I've got a couple of thoughts about this eloquent quote that you are most likely familiar with:

Speak only if it improves upon the silence. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Most people when they hear this quote will think of what they say out loud. I invite you go inside with it.  Being extra mindful by listening to our self-talk and then refining it to support and encourage ourselves, is fundamental to raising our inner game. Use your self-talk to speak to the best you and your best possible outcome in every moment.

If you’ve enjoyed this post and find these ideas useful in any way, please feel free to share it. There are other parts of language that we can use to positively improve our self-talk and raise our inner game, so if you have comments or suggestions, please share in comments below.


Wedmore, James & Mrocek, Phoebe. (2016, July 11). Language Leaves Clues. Podcast.

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