Well, if you do, you are not alone. Ninety-six percent of us engage in an ongoing internal dialogue (Dolcos & Albarracin, 2014). And we do this for a reason. Research indicates that internal self-talk helps us regulate our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Positive self-talk can even lead to well-documented outcomes like increased self-esteem, decreased negative emotions, decreased anxiety, improved self-awareness, and improved cognitive functions (Vasel, et al., 2016)
Remember how Mohammed Ali famously proclaimed himself “The Greatest.” And he later admitted that he said that “I am the greatest even before I knew I was.” And how about when Lebron James started referring to himself in the third person when he announced his move to Miami. So, do these statements reflect self-promotion or ego or are they an effective strategy to enhance performance. Psychologists have long known that self-talk which is defined as a silent or vocalized dialogue plays a critical role in the monitoring and controlling behavior and is important in focusing our attention and confidence (Shi, 2015).
So how can this information help us? You may have noticed that when you want to encourage yourself, you might say something like “you can do this.” There is research to support that statements like these really do influence your behavior. The reason this works is that as young children we were conditioned by our parents and teachers to respond to “you” statements such as “You can do this,” or “You are ready.” When we use the word “you,” we trigger positive attitudes and emotions that help us adopt a broader perspective, and we benefit from the social support without actually directly interacting with another person (Dolcos, 2014 et al.,). It seems it also matters whether we use “I” or “you.” Recent research shows that using either the second or third person perspective as opposed to the first person results in a more positive evaluation of an upcoming challenge (Kross et al. 2014).
Our mindfulness practice helps us to be aware of our internal dialogue and gives us the ability to monitor self-talk and make adjustments. For example, listening to our internal dialogue for self-critical statements like “I should have done better” and replacing them with statements like “I’m proud of what I’ve done” can make a big difference not only in our performance but also improve our wellbeing. When we are mindful, we are aware of the internal script running in our head and have the ability to notice how we are programming our thoughts and feelings (Ren, et al., 2015). In short, our self-talk can either enhance our goals sabotage them.
Dolcos, S., & Albarracin, D. (2014). The inner speech of behavioral regulation: Intentions and task performance strengthen when you talk to yourself as a you. European Journal of Social Psychology, 44(6), 636.
Kross, E., Bruehlman-Senecal, E., Park, J., Burson, A., Dougherty, A., Shablack, H., . . . Ayduk, O. (2014). Self-talk as a regulatory mechanism: How you do it matters. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106(2), 304-324. doi:10.1037/a0035173
Ren, X., Wang, T., & Jarrold, C. (2016). Individual differences in frequency of inner speech: Differential relations with cognitive and non-cognitive factors. Frontiers in Psychology, Vol 7. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01675/full; 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01675
Shi, Xiaowei, Brinthaupt, Thomas M., & McCree (2015). The relationship of self-talk frequency to communication apprehension and public speaking anxiety. Personal and Individual Differences, 75, 125-129.
Vasel, M. Y., Farhadi, M., Paidar, M. R. Z., & Chegini, A. A. (2016). The efficacy of hypnotherapy for ego strengthening and negative self-talk in female heads of households. Sleep & Hypnosis, 18(4), 74-81. doi: 10.5350/Sleep.Hypn.2016.18.0111
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