You are worthy. You did a great job. You deserve this opportunity. That inner dialogue you have with yourself is self-talk and the more positively you speak of yourself, the more confident you’ll feel.
Harbouring positive thoughts, though, is a skill.
Nobody wants to be negative, but maybe you made a mistake, saw yourself in the mirror, or compared yourself to a coworker and immediately thought something negative about yourself. It’s okay; it happens to all of us. How you handle that thought is what matters most.
Do you accept that thought as truth? Do you let that thought impact the rest of your day? Or do you cognitively recognize the thought as harmful and work on changing that dialogue?
Self-talk in the workplace
Many of us work in challenging environments that create a sense of inferiority, fear, or imposter syndrome, says Jessica January Behr, PsyD, NYS licensed clinical psychologist and director of Behr Psychology.
Developing positive self-talk offers countless benefits to counteracting these issues, Behr explains:
It can help build an inner sense of security.
It can help bolster your fortitude in a stressful environment.
It can lead to more positive interactions with coworkers and an overall more positive work environment.
“Negative self-talk is punitive,” says Behr. “If we punish ourselves, we may also judge others harshly for their mistakes. Fostering a sense of unconditional-positive regard towards the self can benefit those in your immediate environment as well.”
How to change your self-talk
“It’s easier said than done. We all have inner critics; that’s just part of being human,” says Anne Forbush, leadership coach with Co-Active Training Institute.
It’s far too easy to get caught up in the negative self-talk, feeling as though you’re not good enough or there’s something wrong with you for having these negative thoughts, but we are our own worst critics. We need to be kinder to ourselves.
Here are some ways to diminish the negativity and develop a better inner dialogue:
Identify the negative self-talk
“Understand that you will experience negative self-talk at some point,” explains Forbush. “Nothing’s wrong with you; you are human.”
Notice the thought, accept it, and then let it go, says Behr. “Once you start getting comfortable noticing your negative self-talk then you can use a catch-and-replace method.” You may notice a typo in a work email and say to yourself, "You are such an idiot!" Behr explains, but you can learn to acknowledge this thought and then replace it with something more positive like, "Everyone makes mistakes. I am learning and growing.”
“When a negative thought arises,” Forbush says, “Try asking yourself, ‘What would I say to a friend or loved one who was talking to themself in this way?’”
Keep a journal
To better understand your inner thoughts, Forbush suggests tracking both negative and positive self-talk. Pay attention to when those thoughts arise. “What was the event or scenario that triggered it?” Forbush asks. “How did your body respond to that?”
With a journal, you can practice debunking your beliefs and changing them, says Adriana Keefe, life strategist and empowerment coach. “Begin by writing down what the negative belief is,” Keefe says. Then ask yourself if the belief is true. What, instead, would you prefer to believe? Write that down and cross out the negative statement.
Read more: Why You Should Keep A Work Journal
Focus on your growth
Positive self-talk is more than just telling yourself ‘you're pretty’ and ‘you're enough;’ it's understanding that intelligence and growth can be developed in all areas,” says Keefe. “Your thoughts have the power to leave you in the victim mentality or allow for growth and abundance.”
Instead of saying, “I can’t master that,” try telling yourself, "I haven't mastered that yet.” Instead of saying, “I don’t have time for that,” tell yourself, "I will make the time for that.” This slight change in phrasing will change your perspective, and ultimately, your mindset.
Surround yourself with positivity
Have you ever kept a sticky note on your desk, reminding yourself of an errand? Try writing down a positive phrase instead, like, “You can do hard things,” “you’re capable,” “you deserve this job.” You can also put messages around your home, Forbush suggests, or put a photo on your desk, reminding you of a phrase that a loved one used to reiterate to you.
Practice builds resiliency
Resiliency in the workplace is crucial. One study found that workers with high resilience have better outcomes in difficult work environments. Improving your resiliency, with the support of positive self-talk, can help improve your sleep habits, lower your risk of burnout, and contribute to higher productivity.
If you’re mentally prepared to handle mistakes, stressful situations, and negative feedback, you’ll bounce back from them quicker. No one’s perfect. Understanding that, and reminding yourself that you’re meant to grow and learn will help in dealing with any negativity that comes your way.
“Positive self-talk not only sets the tone for the moment you're in, but paves a path to much more positive outcomes and experiences in life,” says Keefe. “[But] it takes time for your brain to automatically think in a more positive state than a negative, so stick with it.”
As you begin to identify and challenge your thoughts, give yourself grace. Turning a negative mindset into a positive one isn’t a change that can happen overnight, no matter how determined you are. With practice, though, it’s more than possible to make the change.
Use self-talk to shape your work outcomes
Even if you feel like you can’t learn something, or that you’re not worthy of the position you’re in, it’s time to change that perspective. The reality is: You are in that position you’re in, and you can learn anything. Changing the way you see yourself will change the way you present yourself to the world, and you owe it to yourself to be the best you that you can be.
Every morning, Forbush tells herself, “Today’s going to be a great day.” It doesn’t matter what she has planned or where she’s going. Every day, she wakes up and repeats this phrase to herself. My personal favorite is, “I can do hard things.” Whenever I’m faced with an anxiety-inducing situation or an overwhelming number of projects, I repeat this phrase to myself. And the more I say it, the more I believe it (because it’s true).
What works for one person doesn’t work for someone else, Forbush explains, but what we speak into the world becomes our world. And changing the way you talk about yourself is the first step in becoming a more positive, resilient person.
About our sources
Jessica January Behr, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and the director and founder of Behr Psychology. She is psychodynamically trained and influenced, with a patient-centered and eclectic therapeutic approach, and provides treatment for mood, adjustment, personality and addictive disorders, as well as for serious mental illness.
Anne Forbush is a leadership coach with the Co-Active Training Institute. She primarily works with women leaders in their 30’s and 40’s who are passionate, hard-working, successful, committed to being the best possible version of themselves, and open to the idea of exploring how vulnerability and authenticity can serve them and their teams in a powerful way.
Adriana Keefe is a life strategist and empowerment coach. Formerly an award-winning realtor, she couldn’t overcome the feeling of being stuck and lost in her life a few years ago. After a long journey of finding herself, she now helps overwhelmed and overworked women who are in the same rut recapture their identity and find fulfillment in a life they love.