It’s natural for people to talk to themselves. Engaging in positive self-talk increases benefits, such as emotional regulation and motivation.

Talking to yourself, often called “self-talk,” is a common and natural behavior. It’s generally considered healthy and can serve various purposes, including increasing emotional regulation and increasing performance.

In psychology, self-talk is considered part of metacognition, which is thinking about thinking. It involves metacognitive strategies like planning, monitoring, and evaluating your thoughts.

Talking to yourself only becomes problematic if it’s excessive, disruptive, or rooted in negative self-talk, which can lead to mental health issues.

In general, moderate self-talk is a useful tool for enhanced performance, motivation, and emotional management. It can be a sign of a healthy, reflective mind, but it’s important to monitor its quality and impact on your overall well-being.

Self-talk offers a range of well-researched benefits, including the following:

1. Enhanced performance

Self-talk can significantly improve your performance in various areas, such as academics, sports, and work-related tasks, by boosting confidence and motivation.

A 2019 study examined the impact of self-talk on junior sub-elite athletes, finding that self-talk training:

  • reduced anxiety
  • improved self-confidence
  • self-efficacy
  • overall performance

Longer-term self-talk training had more pronounced effects than short-term training, suggesting its potential to enhance the psychological states and performance of young athletes.

2. Emotional regulation

Self-talk can help you manage your emotions, reducing stress and anxiety while promoting a positive outlook in challenging situations.

One study from 2017 found that silently talking to oneself in the third person was an effective and relatively effortless self-control strategy. It reduced emotional reactivity without demanding extra mental effort.

For example, you can say “(Your name), don’t worry, you got this.”

3. Self-compassion

A 2022 review suggests that individuals who engaged in more positive self-talk tended to have higher levels of self-compassion. In contrast, those who engaged in negative self-talk were less likely to demonstrate mindfulness.

Talking to yourself in a compassionate and supportive way, like saying, “It’s OK, you’re doing your best,” can help you feel more self-compassion.

4. Motivation

When you use positive and motivational self-talk, it can boost your confidence, focus, and determination to achieve your goals. Your inner dialogue can remind you of your capabilities and drive, helping you stay motivated to pursue your objectives.

A small study examined how basketball players use goal-directed self-talk to self-regulate in different competitive situations. Researchers interviewed 34 basketball players and found that self-talk in these situations enhances cognitive, motivational, and emotion-regulating functions.

A study from 2020 explored the impact of self-talk on 170 shooting athletes’ motivation and performance levels. It found that self-talk was related to increased intrinsic motivation leading to higher effort, enjoyment, and a sense of competence among athletes.

Athletes who engaged in self-talk also reported more fun and interest in their sport, which contributed to their overall intrinsic motivation.

A 2023 study reviewed self-talk literature and proposed a comprehensive self-talk model categorizing it into six types. These types include the following:

  • Inner dialogue: Engaging in a conversation with oneself, whether by speaking aloud or silently (e.g., talking to yourself about your day’s schedule).
  • Mixed spontaneous and goal-directed organic self-talk: Combining unplanned, spontaneous self-talk with intentional self-talk for specific purposes (e.g., while studying (goal-directed), you might spontaneously comment on how challenging a topic is).
  • Goal-directed self-talk: Self-talk with a specific intention, often used to guide behavior, solve problems, or improve performance (e.g., telling yourself, “I need to stay focused and finish this task” to boost productivity).
  • Spontaneous self-talk: Self-talk that happens without you planning it, where you say things out loud to express your thoughts or feelings naturally (e.g., exclaiming “Wow, that’s beautiful!” when witnessing a stunning sunset).
  • Educational self-talk interventions: Self-talk that’s taught in school or during therapy to help you control your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, especially when dealing with mental health challenges (e.g., a therapist teaching a client to use self-talk techniques to cope with anxiety).
  • Strategic self-talk interventions: Purposefully using predetermined cue words or phrases to support well-being, manage problems, or improve task performance (e.g., repeating the phrase “Stay calm and focused” before giving a public speech to boost confidence).

These types of self-talk serve various functions and can impact cognition, emotions, and behavior in different ways.

Signs of negative self-talk

Recognizing negative self-talk is important because it can have a detrimental impact on your mental well-being, self-esteem, and overall outlook on life. Negative self-talk can manifest as the following:

  • self-criticism
  • self-doubt
  • pessimism
  • perfectionism
  • excessive self-blame
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When used effectively, self-talk can have a positive impact on your life, helping you manage your emotions, increase motivation, and improve performance in various domains. Try to embrace the power of your inner dialogue and use it to your advantage.

Next time you catch yourself talking out loud when you’re alone, consider taking a moment to listen to your words. Are they filled with positivity and encouragement? If not, consider changing your self-talk to be more positive for personal growth and well-being.