Self-talk is the name given to the inner monologues which most people have. This inner narration comments on our thoughts and feelings and what happens in our lives throughout most of our waking hours. Self-talk is a combination of our conscious and unconscious thoughts, feelings and beliefs. It can be positive or negative and it can shape our existences, actions and behaviors to some extent.

Summary by The World of Work Project


Do you have an inner voice narrating your life to you? Does it give voice to your positive and negative thoughts? Does it comment on events as they happen, and speculate about what the future holds, what you should do or what others think? If so, you’re not alone.

Many people have these inner monologues which are shaped by their conscious and unconscious thoughts, feelings and beliefs. These monologues are known as self-talk. The tone of our self-talk can vary. It can be positive, optimistic and helpful. Or it can be negative, distressing, defeatist and inhibiting.

A neon sign saying "it's all in your head" - which is where self-talk is
Self talk is in your head.

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Positive and Negative Self-talk

When our self-talk is positive and helpful, we tend to feel more able to have positive lives. We may feel more confident and assured, and able to do more. As a result, we often take more positive actions in our lives. However, when our self-talk is negative, it can hold us back. When we’re in a negative frame of mind things seem difficult, failure might seem likely and it might not even seem worth trying things. When this is the case, we’re less likely to take positive actions in our life.

The tone of our self-talk changes for many different reasons. However, it’s also something that we can learn to control to some extent. The people who learn to have control over their self-talk are thought to be more able to positively control their lives. This may appear as confidence, a sense of control, motivation, productivity or simply positivity.

Benefits of Positive Self-Talk

Positive self-talk, and having a positive thinking generally, have many benefits. Some of them are surprising. As well as helping to improve performance at work at overall happiness, adopting a positive outlook can actually improve many physical outcomes. For example, it can lead to: improve cardiovascular health, better physical wellbeing, longer life-spans, reduced pain and increase life satisfaction. Clearly these are huge benefits.

Examples of Self Talk

Self-talk happens all the time. Our views and interpretations of the world, and ultimately our actions, are shaped by the type of self-talk that we bring into a situation.

Consider the following situation in the world of work: You’re fairly busy working on one project, and your boss says they’d like to speak to you about contributing to another project. The self-talk that you have in that situation can affect how you feel, how you act, and the outcomes that ultimately occur.

With negative mind-talk, you might not even try…

Negative Self-talk Example

If you’re experiencing negative self-talk at that moment you might “hear” negative statements like:

  • “I’m too busy for any more work”
  • “Oh no, if I have to do more work, I’ll fail at this project”
  • “My boss clearly doesn’t know how hard I’m working already, otherwise they’d never speak to me about a new project”
  • “Maybe I’m going to be taken off this project because I’m not doing well enough”

As a result of this negative perspective, you might go into the conversation with your boss in a negative frame of mind. Your might have closed body language and a worried facial expression, or may speak about how busy you are before you listen to them. This might leave you feeling stressed, and make your boss think you’re not coping, which they hadn’t before. Obviously, any number of outcomes could occur, but the point is that negativity like this can be somewhat self-fulfilling.

Positive Self-talk Example

If on the other hand, you’re experiencing positive self talk, then you might be “hearing” your monologue saying things like:

  • “My boss must think I’m doing well if they want to speak to me about more”
  • “I’ve learned a lot on this project, I wonder how much more I could learn on a new project”
  • “I bet the skills I’ve learned on this project would really help me deliver another project”
  • “A new project would be a great way to meet more people in the organization and build my network”

You can see what’s going to happen here. In this example, your positive mindset means you go into the conversation with your boss in a positive way. You’re open, enthusiastic, expressive and confident. You feeling assured, and your boss senses that and is pleased and supportive. They perhaps ask what additional resources you need to work on both projects, and what they can do to help. You leave as best friends and everything is perfect. Of course, that’s an exaggeration, but you get the point.

Learning More

We think that self-awareness is a great starting point for so much personal development, including positive thinking. Similarly we think understanding our emotions through metamood and our thinking through metacognition is also hugely helpful. That said, we know many people fall into mind-traps as well. To overcome these, and other forms of negative self-talk in the world of work, we recommend using the ETC self-coaching model.

Of course, this whole field relates to our our emotional intelligence, which we think is important to learn about. You can hear more about this in our podcast on the subject:

The World of Work Project View

We think that self-talk is a helpful concept for people to be aware of. It’s something that most people experience (though not everyone), and it’s something that people don’t often talk about it. In our experience, bringing it into the open in the workplace can be very helpful.

As with most things like this, the process of developing awareness, then challenging negatives and replacing them with positives is easier said than done. That said, it’s possible and totally worth working on.

We’re particular believers in the power of naming things. Once you name something you can take away some of the power that it holds over you. This is particularly the case with negative thinking patterns. Learning about these is a very helpful step for people to take in changing their thinking.

Our Podcast

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This post is based on general reading, podcast conversations and our experience in the world of work. There are no specific references for it.

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