Is Positive Self-Talk Hocus Pocus?


“Think positively, and good things will happen.” It sounds a bit like snake oil.

The practice of self-talk comes in many forms: intentionality, The Secret, hypnosis, cognitive behavioral therapy, and neuro-linguistic programming, to name a few. In one way or another, what all these have in common are thought patterns. And thought patterns are not snake oil.

The way we speak to ourselves can trigger our thoughts and feelings. How we process our thoughts and emotions impacts our behavior, and in turn, our behavior influences the world around us. We can’t control everything, but we often underestimate all the things we can control.

Family history and experiences contribute to how thought patterns develop over the years, often causing them to be ingrained. Thought patterns are a bit like a small shallow stream at first, flowing one way. In a few years, the stream carves out a set path into the ground. Changing the path of the stream can be difficult, but not impossible.

Negative Thought Patterns

Our negative thought patterns may not seem harmful to us, and we may not even notice them at all. Ordinarily, we see them as our “personality” or “just how I am.” Even when these negative thought patterns start to disrupt our lives, we blame external factors rather than our own negative thought processes.

For instance, if someone fails to acknowledge our greeting at work, our negative thought process might take us to a dark place: we notice the person’s silence and spend the next half hour in negative self-talk, wondering why our greeting fell flat. Our negative self-talk tells us that this person probably hates us, and we become angry with them from then on. If we follow that negative thought pattern, we might destroy our friendships at work, rather than create a better outcome.

Negative self-talk can result in toxic thought patterns, affecting our lives in significant ways. Can its opposite — positive self-talk and thought patterns — impact our lives too? The answer is yes.

Positive Thought Patterns

Positive self-talk is more than an affirmation, and positive thought patterns are more than just being optimistic. Positive self-talk is a conscious decision to follow thought patterns that bring about good results.

Going back to the example of the one-sided greeting – we can choose to think differently in this situation. Instead of feeling disregarded, we can tell ourselves that the person didn’t hear our greeting or that they may be having a bad day. We can commend ourselves for taking the time to greet them, and our courtesy possibly brightened their day.

Positive Self-Talk

Learning positive self-talk, after years of negative self-talk, takes practice and diligence. It’s about carving out a new path for that stream. Here are a few small actions with large impact that can lead you to more positive ways of thinking.

Write Your Negative Self-Talk Down

Document your harmful negative self-talk on paper. Then, revise your self-talk to healthier, more positive statements. See what direction your thought patterns go when you use positive self-talk.

Replace “Have” with “Get”

If you typically find yourself griping about something, chances are you use the “have” word. As in, “I have to go to work today.” or “We have to eat dinner at home.” Instead, turn the sentences into “I get to go to work today.” and “We get to have dinner at home.”

Once you switch your thoughts to a more positive direction, your mind will want to follow the same current of that thinking. It’s an easy way to redirect your flow of thoughts into a more positive light.

Positive Self-Talk: Is It Self-Deception?

Some people confuse talking positively to yourself with self-deception.

When you use positive self-talk, you can still recognize reality, be aware of your circumstances and understand what the truth is. You realize that life will never be perfect, and challenges will arise. However, rather than approaching difficult situations from a negative light, you choose to tackle them from a positive one. Sometimes, that’s the best we can do — and that’s enough.

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