Renew You Challenge: Have a different conversation — with yourself

How you talk to yourself matters. Here are three ways to help improve the dialogue.

Nancy Fitzgerald
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The Renew You Challenge is the newest health and wellness experience from Renew by UnitedHealthcare® to help inspire you to take charge of your well-being every day. Every weekday in October, we’re sharing new ideas to help build up your body, mind and spirit.

 

Looking for some good conversation? Try looking in the mirror. Turns out, one of the best partners for a heart-to-heart is looking right back at you. 

Nope, you’re not going crazy. Mental health professionals say that self-talk — those conversations you have with yourself — may actually be good for your emotional well-being. It can lower anxiety, control stress and lower pain, says Miyume McKinley, LCSW, a clinical social worker and therapist. It even makes athletes more competitive and helps them improve their performance at game-time.

Not an athlete? That’s OK. Self-talk can help you remember everything from where you put your car keys to exactly how to get to your destination. And practice makes perfect: The more you develop the art of talking to yourself, the better the results. 

“Talking to yourself can be good for you,” says McKinley. “Sometimes it’s a great motivator, especially when you talk to yourself about how good you’ll feel when a big task is completed. It can be a way of imagining the future, picturing how you’ll feel when things are done. It can help you pave the way for good things to happen.” 

Ready for a helpful chat? Here are three strategies.

Self-Talk Tip #1: Talk Out Loud

Silence may be golden — that quiet inner dialogue looping around inside your head can be a good way of processing your feelings and easing your anxiety. But what about talking out loud? Does that seem like a scary step from “perfectly normal” to “probably weird”? 

Science says no. Psychologists even have a term for it: external self-talk. Talking to yourself out loud can influence your behavior and cognitive abilities, says McKinley. For one thing, it’s a great way to examine your inner thoughts and give yourself a boost of confidence. You’ll be forced to hear what you’re saying to yourself, she explains, which gives you a chance to reflect on who you are.

There are also benefits beyond self-reflection. Research shows that talking to yourself out loud can help speed up your abilities to solve problems and complete tasks. 

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A study from Bangor University in the U.K. showed that speaking out loud in an instructional way helps give you greater control over a task than speaking silently inside your head does. When participants were given written instructions, those who read them aloud achieved higher scores in concentration and task completion. That’s because auditory commands seem to control our behavior better than written ones that we just read internally.

What’s more, a 2018 study in the journal Memory showed that memory and learning skyrocket when we read aloud to ourselves. That’s because learning and recall improve when you’re actively involved.

Make it work for you: Repeat your shopping list while you’re walking to the store; briefly summarize aloud an interesting article you read online; or give yourself a motivational pep talk (I can do this) before trying a new workout. 

Self-Talk Tip #2: Go Easy on Yourself

The best conversations are sprinkled with kindness — and that goes double for the ones you have with yourself. “How you talk to yourself is important,” says Michelle Paul, Ph.D., director of the community mental health clinic at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. 

The idea here is to catch yourself when you start to put yourself down. “Don’t be too harsh with yourself,” she says. “Instead, ask: Would I actually talk to a friend that way? Can I treat myself with the same kindness that I’d treat another person?” 

Practicing the power of positive talking comes with lots of benefits. One of the biggest ones: It helps to motivate important changes in your behavior. “Positive self-talk can help you choose actions that are consistent with your values and who you want to be,” says Dr. Paul. “So try to set aside negativity, especially toward yourself.” 

Make it work for you: Having trouble revving yourself up for a workout or starting a healthy-eating program? Positive self-talk could be just the ticket. It can help you change negative messages like I never follow through with exercise plans to positive ones like This workout seems hard, but I’ve met other challenges in the past. I can do this, too.

Try writing down a positive message to yourself, suggests Dr. Paul. Then repeat it aloud until it feels natural. “Watch how that positive message leads to positive behavior,” she says.

Self-Talk Tip #3: Speak to Yourself in the Third Person

The way you talk to yourself in your head can affect your attitude and your feelings, says Dr. Paul. This conversation has the power to frazzle you — or put you more at ease, she says.

In a 2016 study led by psychologists at the University of Michigan, participants were told that they needed to make a good first impression on a new person. Before the meeting, though, they were instructed to talk to themselves about the upcoming get-together. Half were told to speak to themselves in the first person: I’m nervous about meeting new people. The other half were instructed to talk to themselves in the third person: Joe gets nervous before meeting new people. 

The results? Those who talked to themselves in the third person were less nervous and performed better than their first-person counterparts. 

Being well-prepared is always key. And a healthy dose of self-confidence is a bonus, too. But switching away from “I” language can be the icing on the cake. Doing that adds psychological distance, which can help reduce negative emotions like fear and anxiety, notes a 2017 study in Scientific Reports

Make it work for you: When you talk to yourself, avoid using the first-person pronoun “I.” Instead, switch to the second or third person. Let’s say it’s your turn to lead the discussion at your book club, and you want to boost your confidence. Try telling yourself, You’ll ace this presentation — after all, you’ve done your homework (second person) or Mary’s a good speaker — she’ll knock this out of the park (third person). 

These tiny shifts in how you think and speak to yourself can be a game changer, says Dr. Paul. It’s one more tool you can use to help improve your emotional well-being and happiness. 
 

Give Yourself a Lift

Your emotional well-being is just as important as your physical health. In fact, they’re connected. Renew’s emotional health resources are designed to inspire and empower you to live your life to the fullest. To find them, sign in to your plan website and go to Health & Wellness. Then look for Emotional Health in the Quick Links section. Not a member? Learn more here.

 

Catch up with the Renew You Challenge:

Download your Renew You Challenge calendar

Day 1: Strengthen Your Core

Day 2: Eat More Real Food Today

Day 3: Do These 6 Important Health Checks

Day 4: Help Your Hips

Day 5: Reframe a Negative Thought

Day 6: Help Improve Your Posture

Day 7: Create a Wish List

Day 8: Check Your Heart Health in 60 Seconds

Day 9: Help Prevent Falls

Day 10: Give Your Brain a Workout

Day 11: Tone Your Upper Body

Day 12: Have a 10% Less Day

Day 13: Give Yourself a Massage

Day 14: Strengthen Your Total Body