The health benefits of positive self-talk.
We go to great lengths to protect our health. We try to eat well, we exercise, and we increase mindfulness with meditation. But at the end of the day, many of us are less than kind to ourselves when it comes to that little voice in our heads.
You know that voice. On a good day, it might say, “I did a great job, I’m proud of myself.” On a bad day, it may utter, “something is wrong with me,” or “I have no friends.” “Many of us are guilty of berating ourselves and telling ourselves why we aren’t smart enough or capable enough,” says Gail Gazelle, MD, MCC, physician coach and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
These negative thought patterns can be detrimental to physical and mental health. A cycle of negative internal dialogue has been identified as a factor in depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Negative thoughts can also interrupt your sleep, leaving you tired and at greater risk for health conditions such as high blood pressure, weight gain, and lower immunity. Positive self-talk, on the other hand, is healthy. It’s not narcissistic. Rather, it’s about showing yourself compassion and support. Here are some of its most important benefits.
Promotes resilience and success. “Positive self-talk moves you forward because it improves your mental wellbeing and helps you cope better when you’re stressed,” says Brian Wind, PhD, adjunct clinical professor at Vanderbilt University and chief clinical officer at JourneyPure. Studies show that people who think positively have a better quality of life than those who engage in negative self-talk.
Makes you healthier. Just as negative self-talk can harm you physically, positive self-talk has a long list of health benefits. These include:
- Better immunity
- Less pain
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Lower levels of stress
- Reduced risk of death
- Greater overall vitality and life satisfaction
Improves your endurance. In a 2019 study published in the journal Sport, researchers assigned junior athletes to one of three groups—a group that received positive self-talk training for one week, a group that got it for eight weeks, and a control group that received no self-talk training. After eight weeks, the athletes who received the long-term self-talk training had less anxiety, higher self-confidence, and better performance than those who received no training or the training for the shorter term.
Boosts life satisfaction. “People with positive self-talk generally experience lower levels of distress and greater life satisfaction,” Dr. Wind says. When we approach the world positively, we focus more on our strengths than our weaknesses, and we are more motivated to succeed.
Makes us kinder to ourselves. Stemming from positive self-talk is the concept of self-compassion, which is kindness to yourself. “Multiple studies show that people high in self-compassion respond less strongly to negative events, cope better with difficult situations like divorce, experience less fear of failure and have greater overall quality of life,” Dr. Gazelle says. Self-compassion also has numerous health benefits, including increased vitality, less chronic pain, improved heart health, decreased alcohol consumption, more frequent exercise, and lower levels of stress.
With the long list of benefits of positive self-talk in mind, here’s how you can start to incorporate it into your life:
Take stock of your existing thoughts. An important first step toward positive self-talk is paying attention to the current way you speak to yourself. Notice phrases you say often—positive or negative—and write them down.
Watch for triggers. To shift your thinking more positively, first identify the things in your life that trigger negative thoughts, be it work events or a bad relationship, Dr. Wind says. “By doing this, you will become more self-aware and turn those thoughts around when you find yourself spiraling down,” he says.
Distract yourself. When a negative thought pops into your head, don’t reward it with attention. Instead, immediately think about or focus on something else.
Stay present. Negative self-talk tends to manifest in thoughts about the past or future. Examples include, “the comment I made was so stupid—why didn’t I think before I spoke?” or “I’ll never amount to anything.” When you keep yourself in the present moment, you focus on the here and now, which is easier to reflect upon in a positive way.
Soak positivity into your self-conscious. It may sound corny, but it works. Put little post-it notes around your house with positive expressions—“you’re worth it!” “You’re stronger than you think.” These little phrases can make a big difference in your daily mindset.
Keep it real. One of the complaints some people have about positive self-talk is that it can seem ingenuine. For example, if you tell yourself, “the sky is a beautiful shade of green,” when actually, it’s cloudy, it will backfire, because you’ll stop believing yourself. So, keep optimistic statements accurate and on point—“The sky is cloudy, but I see a bright spot.” Or, “I am already enough.” “I am loved by many people.”
Consult a therapist. “There is no known way to completely get rid of negative self-talk, but you can build a greater library of positive self-talk messages through psychotherapy,” says Marc Lener, MD, founder and CEO of the Singula Institute. A therapist can help you pinpoint the sources of negative self-talk and offer guidance, rehearsal, and practice while you relay your negative emotions associated with stressful situations. “Over time, you will adopt more positive self-talk messages that can override the negative ones,” he says.
Remember, by changing the way you speak to yourself, you can change your self-image and self-esteem. And the self-confidence and optimism you gain will lead to better success and good health.