Taming stress with a shift in self-talk is easier than you think. By taking some time to consider your self-talk and how you can make a shift from more negative forms to more positive forms you will be able to better move toward your goals. This perspective shift is key to laying the foundation for change and thus taming your stress.
What is Self-Talk?
Self-talk is talking to the self (often about the self). Self-talk can take many forms and not all self-talk is bad for you. In fact as we will see in this post there are some kinds of self talk that you may want to cultivate to help you better manage your stress levels. Taming your stress could be as easy and shifting your self-talk perspective.
Types of Self-Talk
We all have self-talk. In fact most of our thinking revolves around the self (even when we think it does not). Self talk is inevitable, but you can have an impact on the kind of self-talk you choose to engage with.
Negative self-talk is talk (thoughts) about the self which are negative in nature. This type of self talk can be toxic especially if we don’t do something to reframe our thinking. Because we often simply believe this kind of talk as “true” without investigating it more it can lead to poor choices. Negative self-talk is often the focus of therapy. Once we become aware of it we can use skills to reframe the thoughts into more accurate ones which can then bring our stress levels down.
Positive self-talk like the name suggests is talk (thoughts) about the self which are positive. There several types of positive self-talk as detailed below. Positive self talk is easy to overlook as we tend to take the positive for granted especially if it does not match the idea we already have about ourselves.
When we are working on self improvement it is easy to forget about the positive aspects about ourselves and the positive things we are already doing. Your positive self-talk is a benefit and a resource you can call on to help you during difficult times.
Review more about negative self-talk in the post Stress, Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors for specific types of negative self-talk.
Motivational self-talk is often pursued as a means to improving self-esteem and creating a positive climate for pursuing goals. We can use motivational self-talk to encourage ourselves to set specific goals. We can use this type of self-talk to get ourselves engaged and ready to make an plan of action.
A 2008 article in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise detailed a study in which tennis players were able to decrease their competitive anxiety and improve self confidence. Check the article out here.
Instructional self-talk is used to learn a new skill or take on a challenge in our lives. This is a great tool to use when we want to move toward a specific goal. Once we have an action plan and are ready to get moving in the direction of our goal, instructional self-talk can help us to move through the steps required to meet our goals.
So what’s the point of all this Self-Talk talk?
To decrease our stress levels it’s important to recalibrate your thinking between the negative and positive forms of self-talk.
Becoming more aware of our self-talk and determining the types we are most likely to engage in is key. While we will likely never completely eradicate negative self-talk we can make some changes to better address things we would like to change.
First we must become more aware of our self-talk. Review the post on the inner critic here.
Some ways to uncover your self-talk are:
- Free association journaling
- Self reflection several times a day
- Ask a loved one what they think your self talk says
Free Association Journaling
Free association journal writing is a good tool to elicit self-talk. Simply put, this is a type of writing in which you start writing and write whatever comes into your mind for 15 minutes. Often I ask people to start with something neutral and my typical suggestion is “start writing about an orange.” It doesn’t take long before we will start writing about ourselves. Take a look and you will likely find some information about what you think about yourself.
Self-Reflection several times a day
This can be done by setting a reminder and asking yourself “what am I thinking about myself right now?” Jot down what you are thinking without judgement. Do this three to four times a day for three days.
Ask a loved one for their perspective
This is likely the easiest avenue, but could lead to some inaccuracies if there are issues between you and your chosen loved one. Another way would be to ask several loved ones and look for patterns of response. For example if each person you ask gives as one of their responses “you are too hard on yourself,” this is likely at the core of your thinking in some way.
Taming stress by shifting your self-talk style
Once you have started to tune into your self-talk and placing it in one of the above categories you may find that more of your self-talk tends toward the negative. You are not alone. This is a tendency we have as humans. Work at not judging your self-talk but taking some time to look at it and determine what part you want to change.
Often people get bogged down with emotionally laden words to describe the self. In my practice I encourage people to look at these and then start to shift them to descriptors with less baggage
I have a list that I call “The ‘F’ word list.” While not all of the words begin with ‘F’ they all come with varying amounts of emotional baggage. Once you’ve identified some of the ‘F’ words you use most often I encourage you to be on the look out for these words and then to shift your language to become more descriptive and less judgmental.
For example consider exchanging these words
- Did not meet my goal
- Not where I’d like to be
- Not as active as I’d like to be
- Move to a different beat than most
When we are more aware of our self talk we can more easily shift our thinking into one of the more positive forms. This exercise is not about turning everything on its head and making it pie in the sky wonderful. It’s about accurately identifying our thinking without judgement and laying a plan to do something different.
Self judgement often leads to more negative thinking and a brick wall that may encouraged you to give up on making change which of course does not lead to any improvements in how you feel or your stress levels.
Once you have identified your negative self-talk you can work at inserting more positive forms of self-talk into your thinking.
For example if I am “not as active as I would like to be” what can I do to become more active? This may require some insertion of motivational or instructional self-talk into my day. This allows me to think more clearly about how to become more active rather than beating my head against the brick wall of “I’m just lazy.”
Use more positive self-talk to your advantage. Not to create inaccurate thinking, but to make some changes and decrease self-judgement. Shift o self-assessment and consider when you’ve been successful in the past. Often skills that have been helpful in other areas of life are transferrable. Using skills you already have to build new ones will help decrease your stress as well.