Self-Talk: What You Say To Yourself, About You, Matters!

What you say to yourself affects your attitudes, moods and actions, and even your health. In fact, your brain processes more rapidly what you say to yourself than if you spoke it out loud. In contrast to speaking out loud, inner speech leads immediately to an inner image of what you’ve said to yourself and your response to it. You say to yourself, “I don’t like broccoli”, for example. You see yourself cringing at the thought of it. The thought (I hate broccoli) and its image and motor movement (You cringing to show your dislike) is what gets your brain and body to take this idea seriously enough to influence your feelings, thinking, behavior, and health.

As self-talk develops in the same area of the brain that executes behavior, the mind will fulfill what you say to yourself through action, even if you are unaware of it. Hence, self-talk gets examined for its meanings (pattern recognition), associated actions (motor movement), and relationship to who you are, and what you intend to fulfill (higher-level planning and interpretation). You’ve heard me talk about the brain’s frontal lobe region in more than one article, thus far. This executive area of your brain is central to giving form to what you think, positive or negative, in attitude, feeling, and action. Hence, what you tell yourself has the power to shape the features of your life. Yes, you may wish for your true love or the job of your dreams to come to you. But, if your self-talk does not support these desires, you will not think, feel, and behave in ways to bring this about.

Just thinking positively does not make all of your dreams come true. Self-talk doesn’t work like this. Unfortunately, some advocates of the alternative mind and body health movement have put forth a rather superficial approach to fulfilling your dreams by what you say to yourself. According to them, there’s a secret you have to be let in on in order to reap the wealth of the universe. Think positively, they say; the universe wants you to have everything you want in life. Actually, this is not enough.

Indeed, the universe or God may want you to have everything that you want from life. But, it takes more than a wish to make this happen. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming. We need dreams to inspire us. But, your dreams must be backed up with your whole being, to get closer to bringing them about. Thus, today, I’m going to share with you two features of positive self-talk that will get you closer to realizing the life that you want for yourself.

Walk the Walk of Your Self-Talk

First, you have to walk the walk of your self-talk. The power of self-talk comes from an alignment of your whole being with what you want. Remember, self-talk develops in the executive, frontal lobe region of the brain. Your brain needs you to align your whole being with your desires. You just can’t wish for something to happen, to make it appear. No matter how much you tell yourself that something will come about, you have to behave in ways to make this happen.

Align your self-talk with an attitude, feeling, and behavior that permits its realization. For example, recently, John’s friend Pete told him that John couldn’t find true love, because he didn’t want it enough for himself. If John really wanted to find his soul mate, he has to wish for it with all of his heart. Wishing for it deeply enough would make it come true.

John asked me what I thought of Pete’s suggestion. True to my therapist nature, I turned the question back on him, so that I could begin to guide his inner process.

Dr. D: What do you think about Pete’s suggestion, John?

J: I don’t know; I really want to find the love of my life to marry. I wish for it everyday. But, what I find are women who don’t want to settle down.

Dr. D: So you wish strongly for this, but find you are attracting the opposite of your wish?

J: Yes, right. I see her in my mind’s eye. I imagine who I want to bring into my life, strongly, like Pete told me to do. But, it isn’t working. Maybe I’m not doing it right?

Dr. D: Do you deserve to find her John?

J:  Well, yes. I think so.

Dr. D.: Sounds like you have some doubt?

J: Maybe. I’ve never had luck when it comes to dating. Some people are just lucky you know. My parents were unlucky in love.

Dr. D.: Unlucky in love. That’s a powerful statement. Did you hear them say this?

J: Oh my God, yes. My mother said repeatedly, “I was unlucky in love.” She and my father are really mismatched. Imagine growing up hearing this all of the time.

Dr. D.: I am imagining it. It’s a powerful message. Tell me more about it.

J: I felt sorry for my mom, and my dad too. I see her so clearly in my mind. It’s so sad. She was so hard on herself. She criticized herself over everything. The real difference between mom and my dad was that mom blamed herself for the problems between them.

Dr. D: Like you blame yourself, when things in your love relationship go wrong.

J: Exactly. Maybe I’m not good looking enough or smart enough to make them stay. I wish it could have been different for my mom.

Dr. D:  If only you could wish it away for her, right? Just like you want to wish into your life your true love. If only wishing was enough, right?

J: Okay, how did we get here (laughing out loud – LOL).  No, wishing isn’t enough.

Dr. D: No, it is not enough to just wish or believe strongly for something to happen. There’s so much more to bringing about the things that you most desire.

Telling yourself what you want, and assuming you will get it,  is not enough,  if there’s no action to back it up. Just behind John’s wish to find the love of his life were negative self-statements about his destiny to fail in love, like his mother. He keeps choosing women who will leave him, as failing in love is stronger for him than succeeding in it.

John needs to walk the walk of his self-talk, to find the love of his life. He tells himself that he wants to find his true love. He imagines them together in his mind’s eye, but to no use, in terms of specific choices and actions. This gets us to the second feature of positive self-talk that I want to share with you today.

Self-Compassionate Self-Talk Beats Unrealistic Wishing, Every Time

Be Careful How You Talk To Yourself, Because You Are Listening!

John didn’t realize how much time he spent telling himself that he was unlucky in love, like his mother. No matter what he was doing, the random access memory (RAM) of his mind held negative ideas and images that spoke mostly to his failing in love. You have to understand what being successful in love really means to John, to understand why he sets himself up to fail, by choosing the wrong women. John heard his mother’s statement (I’m unlucky in love) as a plea to never leave her. He heard, “It’s just you and me son.”  He felt solidarity with his mother in her unhappiness. If John found his true match in life, he would leave his mother alone in her unhappiness, at least unconsciously. Not abandoning her was a far-more powerful cause of his behavior than his desire to find true love.

John needed to counter his inner program to fail in love, by compassionate self-talk. Compassion is the real secret to positive self-talk! Let’s see what I mean, here. Health psychology researcher Juliana Breines, from the University of California, at Berkeley, tested the effects of self-compassion on well-being over four different studies. She found that when people talk to themselves about negative events compassionately, they show a greater willingness to learn from, and improve on, their self-perceived weakness, mistakes, or failures. Hence, in our example, John needs to talk to himself about how he will overcome the tendency to choose the wrong women to love. John must focus his self-talk on the seeds of personal change, rather than on a baseless affirmation of what he wants to happen. “I will find my true love”, for example, becomes, “I choose to be lucky in love.” “I will make my love relationship better than the one of my parents.” “My mother wants me to find true love.” “I will take the steps needed to find an emotionally available woman.”  Wow, now, this self-talk is powerful enough to make John’s dreams come true, because, although it is still positive, it is aimed directly at the negative self-programming that’s stopping him from being happy. As researcher Breines found, John will, now, be able to minimize the effects of choosing mates who are poorly matched to him, by learning how to do better.

Compassionate self-talk speaks to deep psychological understanding of why you have been unable to realize certain dreams. It’s compassionate toward whatever it is that is stopping you. 

John will become the change that he wants to happen through compassionate self-talk that focuses on the steps he must take to get there.Let’s try your hand at it right now. Use the steps that follow to develop a compassionate self-talk script that will help you to get closer to your dreams.

Steps to Compassionate Self-Talk

  1. Bring into your awareness the powerful negative ideas and images of yourself that stop you from fulfilling your desires. There are many ways to bring your negative programs to your awareness. A good therapist can help you to do this. But, you can do this on your own as well, if you dedicate yourself enough to the process. Becoming mindful of how you think, what runs through your mind daily, will really show you the workings of your mind and the negative self-talk that may be leading you into unfulfilling, self-defeating situations. The link to this YouTube mindfulness video will show you how to do this. I am a strong advocate of mindfulness training and have done this myself for many years. Also, you may jot down the negative things you say about yourself, when things don’t go right for you. This self-talk usually contains the programming that is stopping you from fulfilling your dreams.
  2. Develop compassionate self-talk that counters negative programming. Compassionate self-talk is so much more than positive attributes that you have or wish to have. Compassionate self-talk must be linked directly to the negative ideas and images that you uncovered in Step 1. Remember, the case of John. I tied John’s compassionate self talk directly to his negative belief that he was unlucky in love. Take a few minutes to jot down some compassionate self-talk that counters your negative programming.
  3. Backup compassionate self-talk statements and images that you developed in Step 2 with thoughts, feelings, and actions that help you to walk the walk of your self talk. For example, now that John really wanted to find true love, he needed to date women who are emotionally available. First, he identified the type of woman who instinctively attracts him, but who is also emotionally unavailable. This he called his “fail in love” type. Then, he made a conscious choice to date women who did not fit this role. He would date now his “lucky in love” type of woman. John was uncomfortable, at first. But, over time, his compassionate self-talk, and behavior to back it up, won out. Today, John has true love.

What you say to you, about yourself, does matter. Make no mistake about this. You are what you think, as well as what you eat. Try your hand at this powerful compassionate self-talk exercise. I assure you that when you talk to yourself about the seeds of how you are going to change, your self-talk will begin to work for you.

I hope you can use what I have shared with you today to better your life. If you liked my post, please let me know by selecting the LIKE icon immediately below. And, if you’d like to let others know about today’s topic, just select the Google +1 link below as well.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments. Enjoy your compassionate self-talk! Warmly, Deborah.

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13 Responses to “Self-Talk: What You Say To Yourself, About You, Matters!”

  1. avatar Jessica says:

    Hi Dr. Koshaba! I am so thankful that you posted this lesson. It came at a perfect time for me. About four or five years ago I was a student in your Existential psych class at UCI (actually I took three of your classes because I couldn’t get enough). There is one particular class I will never forget because it has changed the way I look at life. You described an existentialist as being one who is able to look at their present existence from a greater perspective so as to fully be able to understand all the contributing factors. The image I have is of me in the sky looking down on myself and all the people, places, things, etc around me so that I can see the bigger picture. I have always tried to do this, and many times in my life this has truly helped. But, recently I graduated with my Master’s degree and became a Physician Assistant. I was just hired to work in the ED of a fantastic hospital. I can’t help but worry that I will fail, or disappoint myself or my colleagues, or be so stressed about these worries that I will become ill (which has happened before). I will use this exercise to hopefully gain an understanding of these worries so that I can not only think positively, but compassionately so that I can gear my thoughts towards counteracting my fears. I start work in 5 days… I have some serious inner work to get started on! Thank you so very much.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Jessica. I’m so glad that you found me here. Jessica, that Existential psych class was the class that I most loved to teach. I’m so glad that we experienced the class together and that it positively influenced your life. That is what it is all about.

      What a good image Jessica. You are seeing yourself as the being of the world that you create. Loving it! Jessica, yes, see yourself doing well. Just the wisdom and intelligence that you express in your comment to me today shows me how capable you are. And, remember, people don’t always see this in me, but I did a tremendous about of inner work in my life. Please keep me posted and I look forward to seeing you here again. Warmly Deborah. Oh, you can find me at:
      Psychology in Everyday Life!

  2. avatar Deana says:

    I did the exercise, and will keep you posted. Loved this article. Incidentally, often, self-talk is delayed in young children with speech and language impairment. Behavior problems develop sometimes, because the child is unable to use self-talk to cope with his or her feelings. Unfortunately, school staff may fail to recognize the role of self-talk in mediating coping behaviors in speech and language impaired children, leading to off-target interventions and continuation of behavior problems.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Wow, wonderful that you already did the exercise. Thank you Deana. I’m glad you loved the article. That’s very interesting about self-talk being delayed in language impaired children. I love your input. The more we know about what happens when a developmental capability is delayed, the better we understand the capability. Thank you always Dr. Deana for your input. Love it!! Warmly, Deborah.

  3. avatar Manju says:

    Hi Dr. Khoshaba,

    I liked the link to the mindfulness video. I have read many books about meditation and have tried various techniques. The video actually depicts a version similar to the one I use that my aunt taught me. I think the key is to find the method that works best for you. I can get into my zen now doing yoga, going stand up paddle boarding, and even running. It is all about concentrating on the breath!

    Be well, and I hope you have a happy holiday season:)


  4. avatar Mozi ali says:


    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Thank you. Im so glad you enjoyed this post and found it helpful to you. Look forward to you visiting again. Warmly Deborah.

  5. avatar Shah says:

    any advice on how to stop being lazy all the time especially when it comes to studies. other things like watch tv etc i can keep doing for hrs on end. Also i keep putting things off until the last minute.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Shah, when it comes to studies, you are resisting studying, as you know well and distracting yourself with television and other things that you like doing better. Yes, there’s something you can do to make yourself study. You have to tie the undesirable behavior (studying) to the desirable behavior (television), so that you cannot do one without having to do the other. It’s called the Premack Principle in psychology. For example, to watch two hours of television, you have to study for two hours. This technique really works. But, you have to decide that you are going to do this and put this into action. I’d recommend that you create an activity list, where you can check off, the hours you studied and the hours that you got to spend doing something else. Charting behavior is very effective. It seems simple, I know, but there’s something about seeing your behavior on a chart that actually motivates people to succeed in their goals. I hope this helps Shah. Warmly Deborah. **Oh, and then, SELF TALK helps.

  6. avatar Radhika says:

    Hi Doctor,
    Well, I wanted to get into a college really bad and somewhere down I still do, but I didnt really get in because of the entrance exam, it practically broke my heart. I have another chance by I am just wasting time, I think I have lost the spirit and I am not doing even 25% of what i used to do earlier. I have tried talking to myself but it doesnt really help. I would really appreciate it if you could guide me. Big fan of your stuff.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Radhika, thank you for being a big fan of my stuff. I love it- and the way you say it! 🙂

      Radhika, oh, I know how important entrance exams are to us and the meaning it holds with regard to our hopes and dreams. Remember, so many very good people who are doing great things didn’t get into the school they want or failed some exams in their pasts. I know that when it happens to us we think we are the only ones. But, it’s not true.

      I don’t know when you took the exam but sometimes we have to let a little time go by to help to heal our hurt. How I can best guide you is to tell you never give up. Remember, you are not a failure, you just didn’t perform as well as you would have liked to. The most important thing in life Radhika is to know that we tried, to see ourselves picking ourselves up and trying once again. I know you don’t want to fail again. But, not trying again is worse than not passing because you will never know.

      Also, I know personally that the things that I thought I wanted when I was younger and felt heart broken when I didn’t get them always ended up not being the right way for me. Of course, I didn’t know that back then. It takes being able to look back on our life to see that there’s a wisdom in life that knows our way sometimes a little better than we do at the time. So stay strong dear Radhika and know I too did not pass certain exams in my youth. Your way will become increasingly clear to you. No one or thing can deprive you of the life that is meant just for you. This is the wisdom of life. Warmly Deborah.

  7. avatar Naureen says:

    love the article….when a person is badly broken emotionally because he/she was flirted,,now adjusts to hate love and all…and never wants any other person to be there for love…relaxes by thinking that one day i will die…when a true love or sincerity is being flirted…person gets crazy …use to laugh and cry at the same time…cant give that place to anyother person except for some compromise or when presurrized by family for reasons that u just have to pull on with time…and at the same time pretends to be happy but is never actually…laugh like crazy..acts to show i m so busy and happy etc but inside the fire just roames alaround ur body….this is a difficult situation u hv to act like what is not at all true…but actually this world is full of liars and cheaters…if u were sincere it was ur mistake…so should now learn to be like them….how a person should manage onself when gets traumatized like that??? some turn out to do poetry some paintings etc etc….but nothing can heal that heart which is broken…i think,,,its just time which pass on and on…with tears in heart and false smile on face…i never wanted to be like this…what should i do?

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Naureen, thank you for your comment today. It is hard to mend a broken heart and time definitely is needed to heal. But, in the meantime, we have to try to do what we can to not cause ourselves more hurt and suffering than we already feel. This is why it’s important to counter negative thinking that only worsens our sadness and depression. Yes, some paint and write poetry to get out their pain. Expressing our feelings is very important. We have to move pain outside of ourselves in constructive ways, even though there are “tears in our heart and a false smile on our face”.

      It’s true that there are people out there who lie and cheat Naureen. But, if we say everyone is a liar and cheater — this is the kind of thinking that only makes us hopeless. I understand what you are saying, I do. But, you must try to tell yourself what is more true that yes, “I have come across some liars and cheaters but there are better people out there. I have to find a way to learn who is honest and true from the cheaters and liars. You see, in these kinds of statements, you give yourself room for hope and for learning new ways to protect yourself and yet stay open to life.

      Thank you again. Talk with you soon. Warmly Deborah **and, you take good care of yourself.


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