Five Steps Toward Using Self-Talk to Your Advantage

Woman reading a book in her car and smiling
Woman reading a book in her car and smiling

by Robert Busha, Ph.D.

There is a lot of advice to be found about self-talk, the conversations you have with yourself. We all do it. Self-talk can rule your life, but you have a choice. You can do it negatively or positively. Your use of self-talk can keep you mired in murky mental places or help propel you into a more effective orbit. What’s the difference?

It can take just five steps to get yourself onto a positive pathway toward what could be considered a better state of mind, well set for greater satisfaction and success; to be more effective in your work as well as in your relationships. What do you need to do? Well, it’s easy, but not necessarily simple. It takes a measure of awareness that change would be good for you. A dash of courage, and a little bit of determination. And, you should make a plan for positive reinforcement ,which is really an encouraging word to be self-administered as needed. This is all about what’s called self-leadership.


Limitations and barriers toward a more positive outlook and attitude can take a great many forms. Expectations, both self-imposed and imposed by others, can hold you back. Perceptions can divert or block your walkway to the future. So, do an honest review of your attitudes, biases and views. What needs to be done away with if you what to pursue a better you and the things you do? Figure it out and then make the decisions that will keep those thoughts from dominating your mind.

Be aware that some of those thoughts might be old friends who have comfortably been your partners for a long time. You decide what must be done with them, then just do it. We each have about 70,000 thoughts per day. Amazing. How many of your thoughts would be considered negative? How many positive?


Just like food for your body, the quality and quantity of the food for your mind need to be evaluated. What’s best for your mental health? Those kinds of decisions might have to be made about what you watch, what you listen to and who you hang out with.

There’s an old adage youth group leaders and counselors put to young folks that applies here. “Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.” Who are your best buds? Show yourself what you’re putting into your mind through your relationships and you’ll see what your future is likely to resemble. If you want good stuff coming out, you have to put good stuff in. It’s been estimated that 95 percent of your success is defined by the people in your “reference” group, the people you associate with on a regular basis.


What you say pretty much reflects what you will become. Exactly what sorts of words do you put into your head? A lot of what we say involves rehearsing, preparing rebuttals, blaming and making up excuses for what we’ve said and done. If you could replay your self-talk, what would most of it sound like? Should you put a guard on your thought-tongue?

It’s been said that 95 percent of your emotions are determined by the things you think and what you say to yourself. What do the conversations in your mind sound like?


Interpretations are a choice you can make about what you think and say to yourself. There’s a significant difference between “I can’t” and “I can”. Can you see the difference in the potential impact of “That was stupid” and “I can learn from that experience”?

Self-castigating and self-rebuking judgments can create barriers to initiative and growth. It can be even worse. Ruminating, replaying upsetting and negative thoughts and scenes, can lead to anxiety and depression. Find ways to give yourself positive reinforcement and self-encouragement. If you label yourself harshly, regardless of how truthful that judgment might be, you will exact a negative price. Be positive about yourself! Remember this quote from automaker Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.”


What do you want to achieve? What do you want to become? What do you want to be when you grow up (regardless of your actual age)? Imagine what your goal will be, then “see” yourself in that new image. Actors and athletes do this sort of positive imaging all the time. They see victories, not defeats.

Your thoughts are the source of your moods and emotions, so think good thoughts. Build your own self-esteem and self-confidence. Use self-affirmations to reduce and eliminate stress and improve your performance. And, with all you set out to do regarding your self-talk, practice, practice and practice some more. Say, “You’re lookin’ good,” then smile.


Regardless of how thoughts get into your head, you have the power and responsibility to regulate and change what’s being said. You’re the absolute creator and editor of your self-talk. Invest all of your words wisely and be willing to help the people in your “reference group” do it, too. Take advantage of every opportunity to model and encourage positive self-talk. You’ll love who you’ll become.