Taylor Wark

Taylor Wark, RP #11063

Be Your Own Cheerleader: The Power of Self-talk

I was talking to a client recently who came to this conclusion: “So, what you’re saying, is that self-talk is at the root of everything? Anxiety, stress, self-doubt… All of it?”

Yes. Self-talk is so powerful that it can impact every part of our lives, even the ones we didn’t realize. To put this into perspective imagine your best friend, the one who is always supporting your ideas, telling you how great and competent you are. Now, imagine the other person in your life who is less than supportive, questions your decisions, makes you doubt your actions. Can you think of those two people? Which person are you more likely to want to spend time with? Why?

Now think of your inner dialogue. When you’re trying something new or making decisions, what does this dialogue sound like? Are you second guessing every decision? Dismissing yourself before even starting? What impacts do you think that has on your self-esteem long-term? In a world that is already so critical why are we determined to be unkind to ourselves as well.

Studies have shown that positive self-talk is directly related to increased self-confidence and reduces cognitive anxiety (Hatzigeorgiadis, Zourbanos, Mpoumpaki & Therodorakis, 2009). This was also found in sports performance situations, self-efficacy, and self-optimization (Walter, Nikoleizig & Alfermann, 2019). In case studies, when people were exposed to self-talk intervention before stressful performances, they scored higher in performance and decrease in somatic anxiety (Walter, et al., 2019).

Studies confirmed that long-term practice of the self-talk intervention increased competency long-term as well.

What does this mean for the rest of the population and not just athletes? In practice, it has been observed that low self-esteem is often tied to depressive symptoms and lack of social connections. When we think back to the two people in our lives, the positive friend, or the negative acquaintance, we need to think of self-talk as choosing which friend we allow to tag along with us day to day.

Furthermore, we can see significant differences in emotion regulation when individuals actively participate in positive self-talk and thinking about themselves in the third person when engaging in this positive thinking (Orvell, Vickers, Drake, Verduyn, Avduk, Moser & Kross., 2021).

Why is this? It is easier to think positively about ourselves when we think about ourselves as a distant person. We are quick to speak highly of our friends, family, coworkers, idols, and so on, but seem to lose our way when we must then think of ourselves. Maybe it’s due to our societal learning that humility is necessary to not be perceived as arrogant? We must be viewed as ‘less intimidating’ to be accepted by others? We have learned that fluffing away friends compliments instead of accepting these praises is preferred. Therefore, allowing ourselves to see, and believe, our own worth daily is unnatural.

When studies were conducted on the effects of positive and negative self-talk on brain functioning it was concluded that self-criticism produced more negative changes in the brain overall (Kyeong, Kim, Kim, Kim, Kim, Kim., 2021). This indicates that people who experience lower self-esteem and higher self-criticism are more likely to experience lower life satisfaction overall compared to individuals who practice positive self-talk (Kyeong, et al., 2020).

Simply changing the way we think about ourselves day to day can impact our view on overall life satisfaction.

Now the question: How do we begin to make this shift?

When starting to work with clients on positive self-talk I am often met with eye rolls or skepticism, understandably. How can just thinking better actually improve my mood, depression, and evaluation of life? The first step is always to start noticing. Notice when your brain automatically jumps to a negative self-evaluation instead of neutral or positive. Why is this happening? Is it justified or is this my learned thought patterns? I enjoy calling this voice in our head ‘the Gremlin’. Gremlins are defined as a mischievous spirit responsible for unexplained problems or faults. If you have ever watched the 1984 Gremlins movie, you will know that Gremlins have the tendency to mess up things that are going well: much like the negative dialogue in our minds. Once we can identify when our ‘Gremlin’ is stepping in, versus the truth of the situation, we can start to challenge our own thought processes.

Shifting this self-talk is not something that happens overnight. After, often, years of learned self-criticism is takes time and practice to learn how to treat yourself with empathy.

Start with two affirmations that are neutral and ones that your truly believe. These do not need to be ground-breaking, but they need to be true.

From there, when you notice your ‘Gremlin’ you can start replacing her with these new, neutral, self-compassion statements. After time see how your self-evaluation starts changing, as well as empathy for yourself and others.

We spend a lot of time in our minds we might as well make them a nice place to be.


Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Zourbanos, N., Mpoumpaki, S., & Theodorakis, Y. (2009). Mechanisms underlying the self-talk–performance relationship: The effects of motivational self-talk on self-confidence and anxiety. Psychology of Sport and exercise, 10(1), 186-192.

Kyeong, S., Kim, J., Kim, J., Kim, E. J., Kim, H. E., & Kim, J. J. (2020). Differences in the modulation of functional connectivity by self-talk tasks between people with low and high life satisfaction. Neuroimage, 217, 116929.

Orvell, A., Vickers, B. D., Drake, B., Verduyn, P., Ayduk, O., Moser, J., … & Kross, E. (2021). Does distanced self-talk facilitate emotion regulation across a range of emotionally intense experiences?. Clinical Psychological Science, 9(1), 68-78.

Walter, N., Nikoleizig, L., & Alfermann, D. (2019). Effects of self-talk training on competitive anxiety, self-efficacy, volitional skills, and performance: An intervention study with junior sub-elite athletes. Sports, 7(6), 148.

Taylor Wark

Taylor Wark, RP #11063

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