by Trey McCalla –

“Just think positive thoughts!”

 “Think positive, be positive, and positive things will happen!”

 “Believe in yourself!”

You ever find yourself rehearsing these mantras to yourself? Most likely. Do you know the situations in which you tend to use these types of mantras? Perhaps. Do the mantras always work for you? Probably not. Does that mean you should stop using mantras to think positive? Negative.

Wellness and Self TalkMantras, like the ones above, are a form of self-talk. You may have even heard of mantras referred to as affirmations, which is another form of self-talk. Self-talk is a concept many of you are probably familiar with, and if you are not, welcome to the party! Self-talk has been defined in different ways throughout the years by many researchers, but one definition to note by Van Raalte, Vincent, & Brewer (2016) describes self-talk “as the syntactically recognizable articulation of an internal position that can be expressed internally or out loud, where the sender of the message is also the intended receiver” (p. 141). Wow, that is a complex, researcher definition of a seemingly simple concept if I have ever seen one! To simplify: self-talk is a self-statement you may voice out loud, or quietly in your head, and is intended for you alone.

You may be thinking, so what, who cares? Well, that is a great question, and the answer is you. You should care. Immensely. Self-talk is a very strong indicator of one’s confidence and how well one will perform. As Henry Ford is famously quoted, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” Whether you realize it or not, self-talk is something that everyone does, and it spans generations, from Gen X to Millennial, and even Gen Z. So, depending on if you have been at the same company for 20+ years, or the company is a résumé builder, the effect self-talk has on your accomplishments in the workplace is a commonality among everyone.

What’s more, self-talk is a skill. A skill that is one hundred percent within your control and is completely changeable. Like any skill, self-talk takes time and effort to master. So just how does it all work, you ask? Simply put, self-talk is a form of thinking. When an event happens to you, you formulate thoughts (or interpretations) of the event. So, when something happens to you, and you engage in self-talk, you are engaged in a form of thinking. What is essential to understand at this point is thoughts are one hundred percent in your control. Only you control your thoughts, no one else. I repeat, only you control your thoughts, no one else. I kid you not. Hence, self-talk being a skill because once you can identify your thoughts, you can master your self-talk. Easy, right? Not really. There are a couple of major hurdles you must overcome. The first challenge is, how you interpret an event is based on years and years of experience and specific values and beliefs you have about the world or yourself. It’s not easy to change previous experiences or values and beliefs. The second challenge is, you might not have a deep awareness of the types of thoughts you are having in your self-talk. You may only notice if it is positive or negative, and you likely might not even notice that!

Fortunately, since self-talk is a skill, it can be honed and improved. As I mentioned above, it takes time and effort, which come in the form of building a deep awareness of your self-talk and having deliberate intentions in changing your self-talk. I will say though, what seems like simple solutions can often present the most difficult challenges. Fortunately, I am going to disclose the most powerful trick to refine and build your self-talk. Now, thNegative Self Talk Can Be Effectiveis powerful trick may require that you take yourself back to your adolescent years (which may be uncomfortable), but I promise it is worth it!

“Just tell me the trick!”, you say? Okay! The top trick is to start a journal. Never use a journal before? Well, a journal is an ideal way to track your self-talk. So, bust out that pen and paper to start building a deep awareness of your self-talk. Make notations of current and past situations in which you recognize your self-talk, if the self-talk is effective or ineffective, and what is the effect it has on you. Notice I said effective or ineffective self-talk, not positive or negative self-talk. The rationale for this is that the intent of self-talk is to aid in your performance on the task-at-hand, whatever the task may be. You can have negative self-talk that actually promotes performance (lightbulb!) or even positive self-talk that hinders performance (another lightbulb!). Confused? Try on this example: after a long day at work, you decided to hit the gym. You are on your last set but are feeling exhausted. You are on rep number six of ten and can feel the fatigue setting in. Perhaps you say to yourself, “You are sooooooo weak!” Yet, you push through the set – negative self-talk (being weak), making it effective self-talk (completed the set). Or perhaps, you say to yourself, “About to be home and see the family,” and you are unable to finish the final reps – positive self-talk (being home with family), but it was ineffective (did not complete the set). Does that example help clarify? DISCLAIMER: you will have a greater chance of better performance by having positive self-talk than negative self-talk. Negative self-talk will more often have adverse effects on your performance.

A deep awareness of self-talk is important for two reasons:

  1. 1) You learn how you talk to yourself
  2. 2) You discover if the self-talk is effective or ineffective

Once you have started to identify your self-talk, the next phase is to be deliberate with your intentions to change your self-talk, if necessary. If your self-talk was effective, note that in your journal. If it was ineffective, take a moment to think of a statement you could say to yourself that would be effective, and then try it out.

Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t.

If it doesn’t, rinse and repeat. It is imperative to understand that you will likely need to go through a couple of iterations to find a statement that works for you. Be persistent and know that by being deliberate with your self-talk practice, you will discover an effective statement. And hell, it might even be positive!

By taking time and putting forth the effort, you can delve into gaining more profound insight into your self-talk. Whether based on past events, or the anticipation of upcoming events, you ultimately have the choice to prepare yourself to engage in a task with confidence rather than doubt.

Do not leave your performances up to chance. Be aware of your self-talk script and remember who controls the script – you. Tell yourself what you need to hear in order to succeed.

To find out more about NAKOAWELL’s mindfulness programs and offerings to increase your workplace performance and overall health contact The difference is the way we live.

Van Raalte, J. L., Vincent, A., & Brewer, B. W. (2016). Self-talk: Review and sport-specific model.
Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 22, 139–148.


Trey McCalla

Trey McCalla, M.A., CMPC*
High Performance Mental Skills Specialist
w: p: 858.705.2934
* formally known as CC-AASP (#630); certified through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology