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Self-talk can play an important role in how we approach opportunities or challenges.

Change your mindset

How we think can change not only our confidence, but also our competence.

The saying ‘you’re only as old as you think you are’ may actually be truer than we think.

For example, one study showed that people who have a more positive view of aging live up to 7.6 years longer than those who don’t. Another study showed that optimists recover better from heart surgery.

The science of positive psychology suggests that we can use targeted techniques to maximise our wellbeing and happiness. Part of this is about learning to think differently about what we do.

One of the ways we can do this is by paying attention to our self-talk.

What is self-talk?

We all have a running commentary in our heads that accompanies us throughout the day.

Sometimes it’s just there in the background. Other times it can be a loud, interfering chatter. Sometimes it’s the voice of our inner critic telling us we are stupid. Other times it’s the voice of our inner coach telling us we are awesome.

Unfortunately, for most people it’s the inner critic that does the most talking.

Positive self-talk isn’t about shutting down the inner critic and replacing it with a simple pep talk. It’s about understanding and balancing the dialogue in our head.

Listening to our self-talk can always tell us something. There’s a difference between the reactive, ‘I can’t do this’ and the more considered ‘I’m finding this difficult at the moment’. The first shuts down the conversation while the second gives us pause to consider what to do next.

So imagine you have to do a presentation to a group of managers. You are nervous. You don’t want to perform badly. Chances are there is a voice saying ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I’m not good at that kind of thing’ or ‘I know I’m going to make a mistake’.

You could replace this kind of self-talk with confidence-building affirmations like ‘I can do this’ or ‘I will feel calm and talk confidently’.

Some studies have shown these types of affirmations can have a positive effect on our self-beliefs and performance. You can also use this as an opportunity to build self-awareness.

Stopping negative self-talk

One technique proposed by psychologist Todd Kashdan to stop negative self-talk is to look at our thought processes in different ways.

If we take the example above (ie the work presentation and the voice that says ‘I can’t do this’), Kashdan suggests re-framing our thoughts in the following three ways:

  1. First, repeat the phrase ‘I can’t do this’ to yourself a few times and sit with that thought for ten seconds.

  2. Next, change the phrase to ‘I am having the thought that I can’t do this’ and repeat that to yourself a few times and rest with this for five seconds.

  3. Now change the phrase to ‘I notice that I am having the thought that I can’t do this’, repeat and sit with it for another five seconds.

If we recognise that ‘can’t’ is a thought and not a fact, it becomes less powerful and this can help us to feel less anxious and more confident.

Your task

There are a range of different self-talk strategies that can help us self-manage our confidence and ability to get things done.

Explore some of these self-talk techniques and discuss with other learners what ideas you found most helpful and why.

To extend the conversation, reply to at least one other learner’s comments.

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This article is from the free online course:

Career Credentials: Evidence Your Self-management Skills

Deakin University

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