Use self-talk to learn, grow, and motivate yourself.
Have you ever looked in the mirror to give yourself a pep talk? Or maybe instead you told yourself that you really screwed up. It turns out that we talk to ourselves all the time even if we don’t notice it. Not only that, our self-talk can have a big impact on our self-confidence and the choices we make.
Some of your self-talk and choices may be financial in nature, so improving the way you talk to yourself about money could have a positive impact on your accounts, your credit, your investments, and your life. Let’s dig in and explore how to improve your self-talk game!
What is self-talk?
Self-talk is an internal monologue that explains our daily lives. Our brains constantly work to make sense of the world and our experiences by combining our conscious thoughts and knowledge with our unconscious assumptions. Self-talk reflects those thought processes.
Self-talk isn’t good or bad by itself; it’s just a means of understanding how we fit into the world. At the same time, we can distinguish between self-talk that is helpful versus self-talk that isn’t. What each kind will sound like depends on the individual, the circumstances, and its effects. (Yep, self-talk is as individual as you are!)
Why is self-talk important?
Self-talk helps us make sense of our experiences, so the language and tone we use can affect how we see ourselves and the world at large.
Think about how you might talk to a friend. If you shout at that friend and remind them of their worst mistakes every time you’re together, they’ll probably feel unhappy and stressed when they see you. If instead you help that friend learn from their mistakes and support their efforts to improve, they’re more likely to enjoy spending time with you.
Our own self-talk can have similar effects on us. If we view our lives as a series of failures, our self-talk will reinforce our shortcomings and undermine our self-confidence , sometimes causing us to feel helpless or useless. On the other hand, if we view ourselves as normal people who sometimes make mistakes, our self-talk can encourage us to overcome challenges and try new things. (Feel the power!)
Is all self-talk the same?
Nope. Broadly speaking, self-talk can be divided into two categories: helpful or constructive versus unhelpful or destructive.
Helpful or constructive self-talk can motivate us, increase our focus, and facilitate learning. We use this kind of self-talk when we remind ourselves not to go over budget for something frivolous or when we reassure ourselves that we can save for a down payment even though it’ll take time. (You can do it!)
Unhelpful or destructive self-talk can reinforce negativity and self-doubt, and increase stress. This self-talk tells us that we always fail so we shouldn’t even try to pay off our credit cards. It can be particularly destructive when it encourages us to dwell on our past mistakes rather than learning from them and letting them go.
Within those two broad categories, there are also different types of self-talk:
- Instructional self-talk reminds us how to do things. It says, “To stay within budget, I can only go out for drinks once a week, and I need to buy some frozen dinners to eat at home.”
- Motivational self-talk reminds us that we’re capable of success, even in the face of challenges. It says, “Yes, I can save money. I just need to start small and be consistent.”
- Evaluative self-talk helps us review our mistakes and learn from them. It says, “If I knew then what I know now, this is what I’d do differently.”
How can I recognize my own self-talk?
If you haven’t yet noticed how you talk to yourself, you can start by pausing throughout the day to observe what’s on your mind. Set up reminders on your calendar (or other scheduling tool) to periodically jot down what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling. You might even be able to catch your self-talk in mid-stream and write down the exact words running through your head.
Store these notes together somewhere so you can review them later and look for patterns. With some practice, you’ll start noticing your inner voice without having to schedule reminders. From there, you can learn to tune in whenever you want.
Can I change my self-talk?
Absolutely! Changing self-talk takes time and practice, but it can reduce stress and help us view our experiences in a different light. But remember, any sort of change takes repetition and persistence, so remind yourself to stick with it. In addition, consider seeking professional help from a counselor, life coach, or psychologist who can support you through this process. Here are the basics:
- Recognize your self-talk. (We covered one way to do that above.)
- Categorize your self-talk. Is it helpful to you in that moment? In general, helpful self-talk encourages us to learn and heal from our experiences and motivates us to improve. What that sounds like will vary by individual and situation.
- Decide the way(s) you would like to change your self-talk. These include:
- Softening – Say “dislike” or “don’t prefer” instead of “hate.” Say “human” or “normal” instead of “loser.” Say “sometimes” or “today” instead of “always” or “never.” Find a way to talk to yourself with gentler language.
- Reframing – Instead of “I always mess up!” or “I can’t do anything right,” say “Everyone makes mistakes. What can I learn so I don’t make this mistake again?”
- Friending – Think about what you would say to a close friend you want to support, comfort, and encourage. Use that kind of language for yourself.
- Challenging – Test how realistic your self-talk is by asking yourself questions: How important is this situation in the long run? Am I overgeneralizing? Is there another explanation for what happened?
- Redirecting – Identify something helpful to focus your attention on. Then every time you catch yourself thinking unwanted self-talk, turn your attention to the helpful thing.
- Externalizing – Give your self-talk persona a funny name (Lady Jane Hathaway Parkbench, anyone?) or just address it by your own name so you can have a conversation with it. Externalizing self-talk can make it feel less personal and easier to challenge.
Helpful self-talk for the win
Once you have practice with recognizing your self-talk, you can use these techniques to help you spend less time focusing on past mistakes and bad experiences. Instead, you’ll be able to turn your mental energy to making decisions that will help you learn, grow, and reach your goals.