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Understanding self-talk – why the way you speak to yourself matters

03 October, 2017

What is self-talk?

According to Reachout Australia, self-talk is the way you speak to yourself. It’s the voice in your mind that says things that you don’t say out loud. We all have this voice, but we don’t always realise it’s talking away in the background. Sometimes it has useful things to say and reminds us of important details, tasks or events, but other times it says things that can be harmful to our self-concept.  

Negative self-talk

While it’s hard to be positive and upbeat all the time, if your self-talk is generally negative, it’s likely that you won’t feel very good about yourself. If the voice in your head is constantly putting you down, or making you doubt your abilities, it can wear down your self-esteem over time.

Negative self-talk can include statements like:

  • “I always make mistakes”
  • “I should be doing so much better than I am”
  • “everyone must think I’m stupid”

The good news is that negative self-talk is simply a bad habit that you can unlearn.

If you break cycle of negative self-talk, you’ll reduce your risk of depression, anxiety, self-harm and even suicide.

Positive self-talk

If you generally speak to yourself in a caring, understanding and optimistic way, you’re likely to feel better about yourself. When you have a positive relationship with yourself, you’re likely to be a lot more resilient to stress and adversity in everyday life.  

Positive self-talk can include statements like:

  • “I’m doing the best that I can”
  • “I know I’m capable and that I’ll make it through this challenge”

Challenging your self-talk

If you notice you’re regularly talking yourself in a negative way, Reachout Australia list three main steps you can take:

  1. 1. Listening to your self-talk

    Even the simple act of acknowledging your inner voice and taking note of what you’re saying is a great start. Check to see if what it’s saying is generally positive or negative. It can be a good idea to note down some of the things it’s saying each day.

  2. 2. Challenging your self-talk

    If you notice your self-talk is generally negative, Reachout Australia suggest asking yourself the following questions:

    • what is the evidence for and against my thinking?
    • am I jumping to conclusions?
    • how can I find out if what I’m thinking is actually true?
    • are there any other ways I can look at this situation?
    • what else could this mean?
    • if I were being positive, how would I view this situation?
    • what’s the best possible outcome for this situation?
    • is there anything good about this situation?
    • will this matter to me in five years’ time?
    • is this way of thinking helping me to achieve my goals?
    • what can I do that will help me solve the problem?
    • is there something I can learn from this situation?
  3. 3. Changing your self-talk

    To change the way you talk to yourself, it can be helpful to start by making a list of your strengths. You can also make a list of challenges in your life that you overcame and a list of people in your life that you know value your worth. You can draw on these lists when you notice your self-talk is starting to become negative.

Where to get more help

Getting support now

If you or someone close to you needs support now, there are phonelines and websites available. These services are free.

For immediate help in a crisis:

For general mental health support:

Seeing your GP

If you have concerns about your mental wellbeing, it’s best to see your GP.

When you see your GP, they can:

  • assess your mental health
  • prescribe some medications for anxiety or depression
  • refer you to a mental health professional if necessary
  • refer you to other support services

They can also put you on a mental health plan, and this means Medicare may help subsidise up to 10 sessions with a mental health professional. You can learn more about the different types of mental health professionals at Healthdirect Australia.


All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified Health Care Professional.


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