Positive Self-Talk: The Science Behind It and Why You Should Start Immediately


Positive Self-Talk: The Science Behind It and Why You Should Start Immediately

We're going to cut to the chase here. The research behind positive self talk is unequivocal: it works...

We're going to cut to the chase here. The research behind positive self talk is unequivocal: it works. 

That's not to say it can make us feel extremely awkward ‚Ķ. But the science is there to prove, no matter how far-fetched it sounds, positive self-talk really does work. 

What is self talk? 

Self-talk is the internal narrative we all have running about ourselves. It refers to our inner dialogue which you may (or may have not) have spent much time giving any attention to. 

It can be random, or have purpose. It can be internal or external. And, importantly, it can be positive or negative. 

Self-talk undeniably has a huge impact on the way we view ourselves, the world around us and the challenges we face. 

Generally, we all have a mixture of positive, negative and neutral self-talk and a little inner critic is not always a bad thing - it can be a good mechanism that motivates us and pushes us towards our goals. However, when the inner critic slips into negative self-talk, problems can arise. 

Negative self-talk is any dialogue that limits our ability to believe in our abilities, ourselves - or prevents us from reaching our full potential. It can prevent us from making changes in our lives by shrinking our confidence to do so. It's stressful, it can stunt our success and interestingly - it can have a negative impact on those around us too. 

According to PCL, the inner critic is particularly powerful for women. Research provides evidence that women consistently rate their own performance lower than men do.

According to Jantz (2016), our brains are hardwired to remember negative experiences over positive ones, so we recall the times we didn't get something quite right more than the times we do. We then replay these messages in our minds, fuelling negative feelings.

What are positive affirmations? 

Affirmations are a type of positive self-talk in the form of positive statements or loaded phrases that can help us to challenge and overcome self-sabotaging and negative thoughts. 

Let's unpack the science…

Numerous studies have found that positive self-talk most often results in good performance but negative self-talk will always equate to poor performance.

So, how does this wizardry work?

In really straightforward terms, positive self-talk and positive affirmations hijack the way we process information - to our benefit. Essentially, we're taking advantage of our brain's laziness and turning it into a benefit. 

Pretty smart, huh?

The publication Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience used MRI to confirm that self-affirmation activates the reward centres in your brain. Simply saying to ourselves I will earn that promotion‚Äù will trigger the same reward centres that respond to other things we enjoy and feel rewarding. 

They found that it fires up the neural pathways and makes changes to areas of the brain that make us happy and positive. How does it do this? we hear you ask. 

Our brains evolved to make quick, snap decisions over rigorous analytical assessments so our brains are constantly creating shortcuts and that leads to cognitive biases (beliefs we have without justification). 

This goes hand in hand with some of the most popular research in the same field: 

Wrisberg (1993) found that self-talk can help to improve learning performance, by assisting with the concept of ‘chunking' complex information, which aids recall, and carries out complex tasks with accuracy. .

Conroy and Metzler (2004) explored the ways self-talk impacts cognitive anxiety in sports performance. They looked at ways athletes spoke to themselves while failing, while succeeding, while wishing for success, and while fearing failure. They found that the athletes experienced higher anxiety when using negative self-talk.

Chopra (2012) found that providing students with effective strategies to turn negative self-talk into positive self-talk enabled them to successfully transform their negative thought processes.

Todd, Oliver, and Harvey (2011) reviewed literature and research surrounding self-talk and unanimously found that positive self-talk interventions are effective in mediating cognitive and behavioural change.

More specifically, there's also research to support positive affirmations 

Why should I start? 

The science says there's quite literally nothing to lose. Even the most sceptical of us can't argue with the stack of research in favour of positive self-talk. 

Whether you're ambitiously chasing a new goal, professionally or personally, or you want to try and stamp out the inner critic, there are only gains to be made in improving the balance of your inner dialogue. 

According to Aronson (1969) it allows us to view different aspects of ourselves as being positive and can adapt to different situations much better. 

Yes, it might feel super awkward at first. We are not going to deny that. But with all the research pointing to long term benefits, it's worth persisting with (and hopefully creating a habit - see previous Vyou article on continuous improvement and habit stacking). 


It's free.

It's private - nobody can actually hear you unless, of course, you choose to vocalise it. 

It encourages self-reflection - we are BIG fans of self-reflection here at Vyou (check out our post on four reasons to make time for self-reflection in the workplace).

How do I start? 

Be specific - the best affirmations are clear, specific and goal-oriented. 

For positive affirmations, simply pick a phrase and repeat it to yourself. Try and make it a daily habit - try habit stacking (where you attach the habit to an existing daily one)  if you struggle.

Don't expect too much, but be consistent. It's very normal to have a range of self-talk - critical, positive and neutral. In fact, we need the balance. So just aim to tweak one thought a day and work from there. 

Take time to self-reflect. Check in with yourself and see if you notice any changes to how you perceive yourself, the world around you and the challenges you face. 

Want to learn more?

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