Self Talk

As we go through our everyday lives, we are constantly narrating our experience. Sometimes we might notice our thoughts and other times we may not. Whether we notice them or not, our thoughts can influence how we feel in certain situations. 


For example, imagine waking up and looking out our window. We see that it is cloudy and looks like it might rain. There are different ways to interpret this. Here are some examples:

“Huh, looks little cloudy today. I wonder if it’s going to rain." 

With this thought, there may not be much of an opinion on our part and little emotional response. You may not even realize that you had this thought. 

“Oh no, I don’t think I can handle a rainy day. Too much is going on right now. All I wanted today was sunshine.” 

If we have this thought, we may start to feel down or anxious. 

“Looks like rain. I would love that. I really hope I can hear the sound of rain inside today, that would be so perfect.” 

In this case, you might feel upbeat and positive. 


We often do not realize what the exact thought was, just how we began to feel. In order to develop more positive self talk, you must first know what your thoughts actually are. You can do this by 

  • Focusing on them in the moment (ask “what am I thinking right now?’)
  • Write down your exact thoughts on paper or with technology (e.g. “Why would he say that? Does he think I’m stupid? This is so ridiculous, I just can’t handle it right now.”)
  • Notice if you are feeling a certain way, then pay attention to what you are thinking

Remember that your self talk are the exact words that you tell yourself in the moment. This can get a little confusing when you are in the moment and trying to focus on your thoughts. You may find it helpful to try to notice the difference by asking yourself: 

  • What are my exact thoughts right now?
  • What are my exact feelings right now?

For example, exact thought = “I don’t know if I am going to get all of my work done on time. It is just too much. I should have started sooner. I can’t believe I didn’t start earlier.”

Exact feelings = stress, worry, concern, anger

When you think 

“Oh no, I don’t think I can handle a rainy day. Too much is going on right now. All I wanted today was sunshine.” 

Turn it into

“I was definitely hoping for nice weather today. But I know we need rain in California and it is nice out after it rains. I would like to appreciate this.”

Self talk often comes up in social situations, whether it is with friends or strangers. Here is an example of clarifying your self-talk:

“She is so quiet right now, she must be thinking about breaking up with me. Or maybe she is just mad, but something is off right now for sure.”

All of this might be true, however this is just your interpretation of the event. There are likely thousands of explanations for why the person is quiet, which makes it helpful to check in with them. 

This is what it might look like:

“I noticed you have been quiet this afternoon. Is something on your mind?”

“I’m sorry, yes. I can’t stop thinking about the exam I took earlier and about one question in particular. This exam is a huge part of my grade and I’m worried I failed it.”

Here it turns out she was thinking about something completely different than what you were worried about. 

This is not always an option, but when it is, it can be very helpful as we often think that we are much better at knowing what other people are thinking.

It can be helpful to remind ourselves that our thoughts are just that, thoughts in our head. You may find it helpful to practice accepting that you are having the thought, then choosing to observe it. Here are examples: 

  • Imagine your thoughts are like clouds in the sky, just slowly passing by. The thoughts may emerge, but then slowly drift off over the horizon
  • Imagine your thought is one leaf in the water and it is just floating by, down a river. There are multiple leaves in the river. Your current thought is just on one of the leaves floating downstream.
  • Imagine someone is blowing bubbles and your thoughts are on the bubbles. The bubbles are slowly passing through a serene space in nature and your thought is gently blowing away. 

There are lots of skills and techniques you can use with self talk, but these spaces are great starting points.