Controlling Emotions Through Self-Talk

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  • 0:02 Talking to Yourself
  • 0:52 Positive & Negative Self-Talk
  • 2:14 Listen
  • 3:12 Monitor, Assess & Engage
  • 4:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Sometimes we feel up, and sometimes we feel down. Is there anything we can do about this? Yes. Explore the use of self-talk to control emotions, and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Talking to Yourself

Do you ever talk to yourself? I do. Heck, I'm an educator, so sometimes it feels like I'll spend an entire day just talking to myself. The truth is, we all talk to ourselves, whether we're aware of it or not. Some of us do it out loud, but all of us have that running commentary in the back of our minds that reveals our true opinions in every situation. Turns out, this little voice is a pretty powerful thing. So much so, in fact, that behavioral psychologists even have a clinical term for it. Self-talk is an individual's internal monologue. That's the clinical description. Really it's just that little voice in your head. But don't forget, that's your voice. And like anything else you say, you can control it.

Positive and Negative Self-Talk

Now, you may have noticed this throughout your life, but that little voice in your head seems to go through mood swings from time to time. Sometimes that voice is overwhelmingly optimistic, confident and bright. We call this positive self-talk. Sometimes, however, the voice gets melancholy, depressed or angry about everything. That's negative self-talk. Our minds do both of these, and which one you've got going on reveals a lot about your emotional state and what sort of issues your subconscious is dealing with.

Your self-talk reveals your subconscious emotional state, but it can also have a major impact on your conscious emotions. Read this aloud to yourself:

I am pathetic. I'm not good at this, I can't do this; this is all too much for me. This sucks, and the weather sucks, and I don't want to see people, and everyone is probably just going to be selfish and greedy anyway.

Feel better? Of course not! That was a prime example of negative self-talk. Notice how it makes you feel physically heavier, weighed down? Now, read this out loud:

I am awesome. I am really freaking awesome. I can do this. I can do anything, because I'm very capable. Things are definitely not as bad as they could be. Mistakes will happen, and that's okay, because I am able to overcome them. Also, the weather is gorgeous, and even if it's not, it will change soon. And my life is full of great people.

See the difference? Can you feel that weight lift off your body?


Nice job talking to yourself there. Self-talk dramatically impacts our conscious emotions, but the problem is that this is generally such an automatic process that we usually aren't aware that it's even happening. So, controlling your self-talk can be difficult, but if you can do it, you can actually control your emotional state much more efficiently. The key to controlling your self-talk is actually the same as the key to dating: listen.

Learning to be aware of that little voice, learning to be aware of what it's saying takes time, practice and conscious effort. Try to catch yourself self-talking and pay attention to what your mind is saying. Many people find that looking in a mirror can help you become aware of self-talking, since mirrors naturally encourage us to think about ourselves. With enough practice, listening to your self-talk can become almost as much a reflex as self-talk itself.

Monitor, Assess and Engage

So what do you do from there? The next step is to really monitor and assess what your mind is saying. Is it negative, is it positive? Why? What external factors could be influencing your self-talk?

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