Self-talk is a health behavior that has potentially far-reaching
effects. Although it will most likely be used by those who have
a high internal locus of control and place a high value on health,
it can also help relatively healthy people in health "maintenance"
programs. Self-talk is categorized as being positive or negative.
As its label implies, positive self-talk has good implications for
people's mental and physical well-being. However, the negative is
not all bad. The key to using self-talk is to strive for an appropriate
balance (which is a tenet of holistic medicine itself) between the
The use of positive self-talk has been linked to the reduction
of stress. Less stress, in turn, can effect other positive health
changes. Self-talk, like thoughts, is not neutral because it triggers
behavior in either a positive or negative direction. Both thoughts
and self-talk are based on beliefs--which "can exist with or without
evidence that they are accurate" (Grainger, 1989)--which are formed
early in life. Beliefs shape our self-talk, which in turn affects
However, negative thinking as the "thinking of choice," may not
be so bad, because it heightens people's sensitivity to the situation
they are facing. They are likely to think more clearly. Grainger
says, "Negative thinking, then, is the most productive, the most
useful, and the healthiest thinking to adopt "when risk is high."
Instead of categorizing negative self-talk as "negative," it might
be better to call it "logical and accurate" self-talk. Braiker (1989)
emphasizes the "responsible" use of self-talk. She warns against
confusing positive inner dialogue with positive thinking, happy
affirmations, or self-delusions. Logical, accurate self-talk recognizes
personal short-comings, but also modifies them to help people define
a plan of correction.
DEVELOPING A POSITIVE MENTAL ATTITUDE
A positive mental attitude as a basis for self-talk does not require
self-delusion. The development of optimistic thought patterns requires
essentially three things: recognizing self-talk for what it is,
dealing with negative messages, and harnessing the positive for
the greater good of individual persons. By using inner speech, people
can influence their health states, but the benefits potentially
reach beyond that. To make self-talk positive, people must change
what goes into their subconscious. All this hinges on recognition
of inner messages.
Levine (1991) expands on the idea of noticing thought patterns.
Regardless of the thought type (positive or negative), she suggests
people reflect upon the antecedents to and the feelings about the
particular thought. When people determine which thoughts improve
their sense of well-being, they can make those thoughts occur more
Again, this does not imply that people who practice positive self-talk
will be a group of "happy campers." Negative inner speech can and
does play a constructive role in helping people create better realities
for themselves. As was previously stated, negative thoughts can
trigger warning signals in high-risk situations. The object is to
deal with the underlying message, and then move to correct the situation.
Negative self-talk, like its label implies, has a downside as well.
McGonicle (1988) categorizes "harmful" negativity as being "awfulistic"
(everything is catastrophic), "absolutistic" (using "must," "always,"
"never"), or should-have self-talk ("I 'should have' done this").
These also are found on what Braiker lists as "cognitive traps."
Other elements include: all-or-nothing thinking; discounting the
positive; emotional reasoning; and personalization and blame. Levine
suggests examining "seedthoughts," sometimes mindlessly-used cliches,
for negative elements--either emotion or health related. For example,
thinking "I'm a nervous wreck," "I'm eaten up with anger," "That
disease runs in my family," and "Only the good die young" can undermine
any positive thinking people try to achieve. Therefore, individuals
must replace these thoughts with something more constructive.
In a society where people (especially females) are taught to downplay
their good points, developing positive self-talk might be difficult
at first. It necessitates a "reality-check." Most of the time, people
are a lot "better" (performance/ health-wise) than they previously
concluded. The development of positive personal speech requires
that people take active roles in shaping events in their lives,
not to let life just "happen" to them. Keeping a journal, using
your name as you talk to yourself, and releasing pent-up feelings
are some of the ways Levine recommends becoming aware of and constructively
Relaxation is also conducive to positive thinking. The flipside
of that is to reduce stress. Stress cannot be eliminated, but it
can be managed. This can be done by sharing feelings with another
and confronting any conflict early on, before the situation gets
out of hand. Relaxation and less stress clarify and change inner
dialogues for the better which can effect like changes in health
Self-talk has been shown, in research by medical and communication
professionals, to have psychophysiological underpinnings. Thought
patterns generated by self-talk affect health-states. What studies
have shown has been supported by doctors and patients alike. People
can begin to harness the power in their minds by taking an active
role in deciding what to think, enhancing the positive messages
they send themselves. It also involves being realistic, identifying
the causes for any negativity, realizing it is a signal to act.
By doing so, people can face challenges--health related or otherwise--with
the knowledge they can succeed if they literally "put their minds
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