When we think about “talking to yourself,” we might imagine a strange person rambling out loud in a public place.
That voice in your head
But we all have an inner monologue, and for some of us, we wish it weren’t quite so chatty! These voices are as normal and natural as can be. This phenomenon is called self-talk, and it can dramatically impact our feelings, thoughts, mood and behaviors in both positive and negative ways.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Improving your self-talk is such an important topic that there is an entire field of study in psychology dedicated to it: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). It was designed to help us retrain our thinking and improve our ability to speak to ourselves in a positive way. Because it seems to have a clear and quick effect, CBT has become one of the most popular kinds of talk therapy in the country.
Those whose self-talk is mostly positive (“hey, good job!”) tend to be happier, more productive and have higher self-esteem. Those who are flooded with negative ruminations tend to be more depressed and angry, less productive, and have lower self-esteem.
This quiz will help you assess whether you are skewing positive or negative; find your results at the end.
Take the quiz:
1. If a friend cancels lunch with me at the last minute, I assume that person is angry with me even if he or she never said so.
2. If a friend cancels lunch with me at the last minute, I imagine he or she is sorry because I am confident that friends enjoy my company.
1. I tend to be hard on myself. I might be self-critical or overly judgmental about my appearance, behaviors or feelings.
2. I tend to cut myself slack in difficult situations, and I try to accept my shortcomings and view them as opportunities for growth rather than flaws.
1. If a friend is angry with me about something, I might think of even more things he or she might be angry about.
2. When I have a conflict with someone, I think calming thoughts and remind myself that I am a good person and that things will be OK no matter what happens.
1. I know my weaknesses and think about them often.
2. I know my weaknesses, but try to focus on my strengths.
1. I have been known to overthink things to the point of upsetting myself unnecessarily.
2. I tend not to overthink things because I feel comfortable and/or confident in my initial decisions.
1. When I am challenged by adversity, I tend to feel hopeless and/or powerless.
2. When I am challenged by adversity, I tend to feel strong and able to tackle the challenge.
1. I don’t typically compliment myself, even privately or in my own mind.
2. I am able to compliment myself and receive compliments.
1. When I feel angry, sad or afraid, I panic because it’s hard to help myself feel better.
2. When I feel angry, sad or afraid, I am OK with it because I know the tools to manage those feelings.
1. If people could play a tape of my mind, they would be surprised that my thoughts are as negative as they are.
2. If people could play a tape of my mind, they would view me as a positive person.
1. I am kinder to others than I am to myself.
2. I am as kind or kinder to myself than I am to others.
Next, add up the numbers from your answers:
1–10: Your mind tends to be filled with an excessive amount of negative self-talk, which can be emotionally burdening. Try to work toward being nicer to yourself and making your thoughts more positive. Perhaps try to take extra time out to look for the good in yourself and in situations. Make an extra effort to listen to your self-talk so that you can identify what is causing the moments of dread or fear and attempt to shift your perspective and see things from a more objective point of view.
10-20: In general, you have good skills when it comes to positive thinking. You tend to be great at encouraging yourself and speaking to yourself in an affirmative and healthy way. When you hear yourself becoming negative, stop yourself and see if you can look at the situation (or judgment) from a different, more positive perspective.
Stacy Kaiser, the author of How to Be a Grown Up: The Ten Secret Skills Everyone Needs to Know, is a successful licensed psychotherapist, relationship expert and media personality. For more on Stacy, go to StacyKaiser.com.