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The Secret to Self-Talk: How to Motivate and Root for Yourself First

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There are few things more important than to surround yourself with people who have your back when times are tough or cheer for you in your successes. These motivators pick you up when you’ve been knocked down, point out all the great things you’ve accomplished when you didn’t think you could, and help you keep your sights on achieving your goals. But, no matter how many outside motivators you have in your life, at some point, you’re going to be alone—just you and your thoughts. What happens then?

Every failure, disappointment, or setback in life has the power to tear you down. However, they also have the power to build you back up stronger, wiser, and smarter than ever. It’s not the event that matters; it’s how you handle it internally. Specifically, it’s how you talk to yourself when there’s no one else around.

Here are 5 steps to ramping up your self-talk game and giving yourself the motivation and perseverance that you need, anytime you need it.

1. Eavesdrop on your thoughts

Before you can improve your self-talk, first, you have to find out what’s currently being said in your mind. We are all in constant conversation with ourselves, but much of it takes place unconsciously—recycled or habitual content we’ve told ourselves year after year. Eavesdrop on your own thoughts for a while. Don’t try to change the conversation quite yet; let it play out as if you were simply sitting down on a park bench and watching the pigeons. Awareness is key to any desired change.

2. Clear out the old tapes

Now, as you listen closer and discern the different voices, phrases, and beliefs, trace them back to their origin. You’ll probably realize that many of the words or sentiments are not yours but belong instead to your parents, friends, old teachers, mentors, or past adversaries. These voices and people have taken up residence in your mind without your permission (and often without your knowledge). Now is the time to start showing some of these voices the door. You don’t need to keep replaying Uncle John’s cutting remarks about your potential. Nor do you need your family’s fears superimposing on you and holding you back.

Now is your time. You are not the person of your past; you are not a Russian doll in a stack of Russian dolls obligated to carry the family fears and doubts with you. You are your own person, with your individual potentials, goals, and dreams. Stake your claim to your individual journey.

3. Get friendly with your emotions

As you listen, the constant white noise of chatter might soon differentiate, and you’ll detect the various voices of fear, anger, jealousy, uncertainty, or other underlying emotions. It’s not always easy to accept that all these emotions belong to us, but emotions are what define us as human beings. If channeled properly, they can perform their true role as messengers, helping us grow stronger, savvier, and even showing us the way forward.

Here are some examples of how you might start dialoguing with your emotions:

“I hear your concerns, Fear, but this is good for our growth. Buckle up.”

“Envy, thank you for showing me what I want most. Now, I’m going after it.”

“I know that last speech didn’t land like you hoped, Guilt, but we’re better prepared this time.”

“Every rejection is a reminder that you’re in the game, Shame!”

“Be mindful of your self talk. It’s a conversation with the universe.” – David James

4. Talk to yourself as you would talk to others

What’s your initial response when you send an email but quickly realize you forgot the attachment? Do you beat yourself up for it, or do you laugh it off, addressing the error and moving on? Additionally, how long do you replay or rehash mistakes or missteps in your mind?

Chances are, you’re harder on yourself than you would be on anyone else. Notice the difference between how you talk to yourself when you make a mistake and how you talk to others for making similar mistakes. Next, consider what you would say to someone else in the same situation. How would you boost them up? What might you say to encourage them to refocus? Then, work to offer your same wise advice—wrapped in kindness, patience, and understanding—to yourself.

5. Try talking to yourself in the third person

Now that you’ve cleaned out your mind and committed to practicing more kindness toward yourself, it’s time to get talking. But—how?

Most of us tend to talk to ourselves in an “I” language. However, a study on self-talk shows that it works best to use the third person instead. According to this study, when we use “I” language, it tends to slant negative, despite our best efforts. For example, we might say, “I don’t know if I can do this.” When, instead, we speak in the third person, it naturally sounds more positive, such as, “Mary, you’ve done this a thousand times before, you’ve got it!”

We all need to surround ourselves with people who can build us back up when we’re down. But the most important person to do this work is you. To ramp up your self-talk game, start listening in, clear out any old tapes, make friends with your emotions, talk to yourself as you would anyone else—and try using the third person! These small shifts might be all you need to put successful self-talk at the top of your motivational toolbox.

Happy conversing!

Keri Mangis is an author and freelance writer/speaker. Her work has appeared in Elephant Journal, Addicted2Success, The Good Men Project, Mindful Word, Thought Catalog, The Edge Magazine, Essential Wellness, and others. She writes about culture/society, spirituality, personal growth, transformation, and empowerment. She is the award-winning author of Embodying Soul: A Return to Wholeness. Learn more about Keri’s journey here.

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