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Improving Your Self Talk

By Julie Dobrinska
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"Self-talk" refers to the dialogue that goes on inside your head – the way you communicate with yourself. This internal dialogue affects how you feel about yourself, your colleagues, your job, and your life.

The good news is that although you may not be able to control everything that happens, you can control the way you think about and react to those situations. Positive self-talk can encourage you, relieve stress, and improve your self-image. Negative self-talk, on the other hand, increases stress, chips away at self-esteem, and can cause you to overreact.

Think of your positive and negative self-talk as the voices of two different people. One is supportive, caring and encouraging. The other complains frequently, puts you down, and is quick to find the worst in everything. Who would you rather listen to?Here are a few tips for making self-talk work for you, not against you:

1. Don't over-generalize.
Avoid extreme terms like “never” and “always”. Use more accurate descriptors, such as “seldom” and “sometimes”. Saying "a few people may not like me" is much more accurate than saying "everyone hates me".

2. Focus on the behavior not the person.
Be sure that your inner critic objectively focuses on actions (“I ate too much” or “Bob missed the project deadline”), not personality traits (“I’m a pig” or “Bob’s a jerk.”).

3. Keep things in perspective.
Avoid extreme reactions. They will only exacerbate the problem. Instead of telling yourself “This is a disaster” or “I hate my coworkers”, try to be more realistic. For example, “This is a problem that needs to be addressed quickly” or “I might not choose these colleagues, but I can work with them”.

4. Don’t jump to conclusions or assume the worst.
Don’t automatically assume that you are the focus of everyone's attention. Your boss's crabby mood may be completely unrelated to anything that you said or did. Ask yourself if there is evidence to support your assumptions or if there could be another reason for the person's behavior.

5. Look forward, not backwards.
When something really does go wrong, switch your focus to damage control. Look for possible solutions. Examine your alternatives. And avoid the blame game, which rarely helps anyone.

6. Keep it positive and encouraging!
Give yourself a pep talk before any potentially stressful situation. Tell yourself you can handle it – “I’m prepared for this meeting”, “I can do it”, “I’m a good problem solver”. A few short positive statements can go a long way toward turning your mindset from negative to positive.

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