by Brent Hearn • 

“You can do it”

“Think positive!”

“Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.”

If you’ve ever been a bit down on yourself, you’ve probably been the recipient of some well-meaning (and perhaps annoying) advice. Most of us would likely agree that a positive mindset can’t hurt. After all, that third adage is attributed to none other than Henry Ford, and that’s a man who knew a thing or two about positive thinking.

But is there really anything to positive self-talk? Can you actually “I think I can” your way to having a better life? The simple answer, backed by numerous studies, is yes. (Who knew a classic children’s tale could presage an important concept in cognitive behavioral therapy?)

What Is Self-Talk?

Put simply, self-talk is exactly what it sounds like: talk that’s directed toward the self. It’s communication from you to you. “Talk” in this sense can refer to your inner monologue—that never-ending stream of unspoken thoughts that occupy your waking life—or to thoughts that are verbalized (talking to yourself). Because we’re human, that self-talk can be tinged with—and even driven by—emotions. And those emotions aren’t always constructive.

The Benefits of Positive Self-Talk

 The quality of your self-talk can impact your health, so it’s important to assess and regulate it. With benefits like better cardiovascular health, lower rates of depression and distress, and increased resistance to the common cold (just to name a few), positive self-talk is nothing to sneeze at.

If you’re an athlete, there’s more good news. Sport psychology tells us that positive self-talk can even increase your performance on the playing field. Motivational self-talk (“You’ve got this!”) can have a positive impact on endurance-based and strength-based tasks, while instructional self-talk (“Eyes on the ball!”) can improve technical skill.

 How You Can Apply It

You can’t modify a behavior without first recognizing it. So, first things first. Attune yourself to your internal monologue. How do you speak to yourself? How do you speak about yourself to yourself? Becoming aware of negative self-talk is the first step to making sure your inner life coach, as it were, is helpful rather than harmful. Checking in on your self-talk isn’t a one-time thing. You may need to constantly reassess—and if necessary, recalibrate—it throughout your day.

A good rule of thumb: Don’t talk to yourself in a way you wouldn’t talk to someone you care about. Flipped on its head, the more positive spin might be: Speak to yourself with the same tone of encouragement you’d speak to someone you love.

Positive self-talk isn’t about changing reality; it’s about applying a healthier approach to it. For instance, there’s a big difference in, “There’s no way I’m good enough to ever accomplish x” and, “That’s going to be a challenge, and here are some ways I can meet it.”

If you’re still feeling doubtful of the benefits of positive self-talk, why not give it a try? There’s no prescription involved and no visit to a counselor necessary. Even those of us who go out of our way to uplift others can forget to show some kindness to ourselves. Still not sure how to start? Take a cue from that little engine. We think you can.