“Our best friend and our worst enemy reside within us.”Maddy Malhotra, Indian coach & author
Have you ever listened to a young child talking to themselves out loud? It’s fascinating to listen to them use self-talk in order to make sense of the world around them.
Self-talk is a mechanism that we all adopt at a young age in order to understand our environment and experiences. But how does our inner dialogue change over time, and what effect does this have on our actions and relationships with others?
The Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, theorized in the early 1900s that private speech is the forerunner of inner dialogue.
Private speech is typically observed in children between two and seven years of age. Although it’s called “private speech,” it is spoken out loud as the child communicates with themselves.
Through his research, Vygotsky was the first to notice that children used private speech to guide themselves and regulate their behavior. Many of us will have heard a young child comforting themselves using language that mimics a parent or caregiver. That’s the child using private speech to regulate their emotions.
Although Jean Piaget, another pioneer researcher of private speech, thought that this type of speech eventually developed into fully mature speech, Vygotsky believed differently. He said that audible private speech goes “underground” around the age of seven; and, instead of talking aloud, a child starts using inner speech – and that continues all the way through life.
As adults, our self-talk (also called inner speech or internal dialogue) is ever-present – whether we’re aware of it or not.
Optimists tend to have more positive inner dialogue, while the opposite is true for pessimists. The tone of your self-talk can therefore discourage or motivate, distress or comfort, help or hinder.
Imagine that your mind is a radio station. In order to cut out the white noise and hear your self-talk clearly, you need to tune in to the constant stream of dialogue in your mind. What are you saying about yourself and others? Do you like what you’re hearing? Is it a pleasant “station” to listen to?
Keep Self-Talk in Check!
One of my friends, Sarah, is a business owner. She had to fire one of her favorite employees last year because they committed theft.
Shortly afterward, she appointed a new employee called Betty. Betty is very competent and a fast worker, but Sarah didn’t much like her as a person.
Over the months, I could “hear” the negative chatter going on in Sarah’s mind through what she told me. One day we were drinking coffee and I asked her what she told herself about Betty.
As our conversation unfolded, and Sarah started unpicking her inner dialogue, she realized that her self-talk was negatively influencing her thoughts and actions, without much reason.
She made a decision to change what she said to herself about Betty. As soon as Sarah adjusted her self-talk, she became more accepting of Betty, and subsequently made a bigger effort to train and coach her. And now, someone who was simply the “new” employee is fast becoming Sarah’s right hand in the business!
In this instance, the “radio station” playing in Sarah’s head was a hindrance to her working relationship.
You Hear Everything You Say
There’s one person who hears everything you say aloud and in your head: you.
If your self-talk is positive, it can help you to deal with difficult situations in a constructive and helpful manner. If your self-talk is mostly negative, even the smallest problems can feel overwhelming.
Contrary to what people often believe, you can control your self-talk. If you’re used to talking to yourself in a certain way or tone, it will become a mental reflex. But, by becoming more self-aware, you can develop more positive self-talk.
Does Self-Talk Help or Hinder?
During our #MTtalk Twitter chat last Friday, we explored how self-talk could help or hinder us. Here are the questions we asked and some of your most insightful responses:
Q1. Why do you need to be aware of your self-talk if only you can hear it?
@WyleWrites This helps to avoid body language that can disrupt others who are not part of the conversation with yourself.
@carriemaslen Your self-talk comes through loud and clear through your actions and how you treat others.
Q2. When has self-talk not served you well? What was the result?
@DhongdeSupriya Many times! When my self-talk is engulfed in beliefs, biases and it restricts me to take that required risk!
@JKatzaman Self-talk can make a perceived bad situation worse as you run through and start believing all worst-case scenarios. Then you feel relieved or foolish after you let yourself feed on yourself for nought.
Q3. What is the tone/persona of the voice that dominates your self-talk?
@Chetna1806 It’s analytical in nature. The tone depends on the concern. And the funny part is one [that] can be humorous too.
@PG_pmp It depends on the type of thoughts going on inside… the impact of the outside world.
Q4. How do you determine when you need to change your self-talk?
@shamikv I can’t, unless I elevate my consciousness level. Most of the time it acts as a counterweight to emotions.
@BRAVOMedia1 Sometimes we can be our own worst critic. It is time to change the self-talk when it is harming one’s self or others. And I know this can be challenging when life feels overwhelming. Then I remember the words of my greatest teacher: “keep moving!”
Q5. What strategies have you used to change your self-talk?
@MarkC_Avgi Fortunately, my self-talk has seldom been self-berating, which I know is often common with many. Many years ago, I was “in that place” but realized that it was doing me more harm than good so, anytime I begin to do it again, I remember those times and stop.
@NWarind Change the mode of conversation from me-only to include others as well.
Q6. How can self-talk influence your relationships?
@LeadershipBEST The quality of the relationship with the person you self-talk about will be the same as the quality of the self-talk about them. If you talk badly about them to yourself, all nice around them, it will be a phoney relationship.
@Midgie_MT If the self-talk is negative, it will influence how you interact with others and what “stories” you tell yourself about the relationship (be that a professional or personal one).
Q7. How do self-respect and self-talk feed into one another?
@Yolande_MT The less you like yourself, the more you criticize others. Respect for others starts with self-respect. How I talk to myself sets the scene for how I talk to others.
@MicheleDD_MT Self-respect creates high self-esteem. It generates positive self-talk. You are less likely to question the intention of others. It creates a force field around you. Actions of others cannot penetrate the shield.
Q8. What helps you to keep the self-talk positive?
@LeadershipBEST When we learn to filter our own self-talk through the filter of THINK – is it True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, Kind – it gives us perspective. And if it doesn’t meet those criteria, it probably isn’t positive… and we don’t have time for that!
@emotivefit It is all about momentum from my experience. If momentum is good then ST (self-talk) is positive. If momentum is a struggle, which influences motivation, then ST is negative.
Q9. When does positive self-talk become a hindrance?
@carriemaslen Positive self-talk is non-productive when it’s not based in reality. Self-esteem comes from accomplishments & results, not empty words.
@kiranvarri When it’s all positive self-talk and no action!
Q10. In what ways might you help a colleague or friend to change their negative self-talk?
@Mphete_Kwetli Help them to “recharge their battery” by reminding them of small wins.
@JKatzaman Change another person’s, as well as your own self-talk by having conversations. Give inner voices something to think about from outside their echo chambers.
To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat, here.
Your self-talk has a big influence on how you feel and think about yourself. In our next #MTtalk we’re going to discuss the habit of gratitude. In our poll this week, we’d like to know which effect of habitual gratitude you have experienced most strongly. To see the poll and cast your vote, please click here.
In the meantime, here are some resources relating to the topic we discussed this week: