Self-Talk in Psychology: Examples & Definition

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  • 0:02 What Is Self-Talk?
  • 1:17 Cognition & Behavior
  • 2:24 Positive & Negative Self-Talk
  • 4:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Chris Clause
In this lesson you will learn what self-talk is, how to recognize it, and why it is an important part of the human experience. You will have an opportunity to test your knowledge with a short quiz after reading the lesson.

What Is Self-Talk?

Have you ever thought that talking to yourself is something only other people do? Or, maybe something that strange guy on the street corner does? 'Normal' people don't talk to themselves, do they?

The truth is that while most people don't talk out loud to themselves, we all have some sort of self-generated dialogue taking place privately in our minds. Most people take these thoughts for granted and believe that they are beyond our control, sort of like random bits of information that spontaneously pop in and out of their brains.

The good news is that we actually do have a lot of control over this self-talk, and it all starts with being aware of what we are telling ourselves. The next time you are getting ready to give a speech in your public speaking class, take a minute to stop and pay attention to the conversation happening in your mind. What kind of things are being said? Are they helping you feel better and adapt to the stressful situation you're dealing with? Or, is your internal dialogue having the opposite effect, making things worse?

No one really knows for sure how these conversations in our head develop, but we do know is that how we internally talk to ourselves has a significant impact (both positive and negative) in our lives.

The Link Between Cognition & Behavior

The cognitive revolution of the mid-1900's showed the significance of cognition, or thinking, in the human experience. Prior to this, behaviorism ruled the psychological landscape, and little attention was paid to the impact of how we think affects our behavior. Thanks to the work of psychologists like Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck, the world has come to realize the role that cognition plays in our lives. And even though the cognitive revolution followed the behaviorism movement, cognition and behavior are not independent of one another.

So how do we get from point A (self-talk) to point B (behavior)? Essentially, the messages that we receive, whether from the outside or self-generated, impact how we view ourselves. Our self-image has everything do with the decisions we make, and subsequently, the behaviors we choose to engage in.

Today, cognitive therapy, which is one of the most widely used forms of talk therapy, focuses heavily on the role of self-talk in correcting maladaptive behavior. In other words, changing how you talk to yourself can change your life.

Positive & Negative Self-Talk

Self-talk is powerful and can have both a positive and negative impact on our lives. The good news is that we have a choice in how we talk to ourselves, which also means we choose how we feel and behave as a result.

Remember that speech that you were preparing for in your public speaking class? Which type of self-talk do you think will result in you feeling more relaxed and putting forth your best effort?

A) I have prepared all week, practiced in front of my friends, and I am going to ace this, or

B) Everyone will probably think I'm dumb and laugh at my speech. I can't do this.

Hopefully you said A, but everyone reading this can probably also relate to statement B. Statement B doesn't make you feel that great, does it? Let's dissect that train of thought a little bit further. The first thing you should notice is that the message is very negative. Remember that self-image plays a big role in the process of linking self-talk to behavior. So, in this scenario, negative self-talk is having a negative impact on how you view yourself.

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