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Positive Self-Talk Actually Works, According to Science

Young girl smiles as she holds up a heart sign with her hands in the mirror
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From a young age, mothers and fathers are persistent when it comes to having a positive mindset. While many were quick to dismiss the advice, science now has data to back up their claims, and according to their studies, positive self-talk works.

Willow McGinty, LMHC, who works as a therapist in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, spoke with POPSUGAR about self-talk. She claims positive self-talk and affirmations help promote a healthy psyche in the moment and in the long term. “Positive self-talk makes simple things more enjoyable and makes harder tasks more manageable,” she said.

The Florida therapist explains positive self-talk by saying, “Having positive, or what I refer to in therapy sessions as ‘healthy self-talk,’ means that the tone in which you speak to and about yourself is affirmative, supportive, kind, and reasonable.”

She uses a fairly general occurrence that most people can relate to: the Sunday Scaries. Anxiety about the forthcoming work week that comes on Sunday evenings is a very real experience for many 9-5 workers. 

McGinty explains, “If the self-talk sounds like, ‘Tomorrow is going to suck, and I hate Mondays,’ well, it will probably rise to meet that expectation.” According to the therapist, “That is called confirmation bias. We tend to describe our experiences in ways that confirm our beliefs rather than challenge them, making our world easier to understand.”

Scientists who have studied self-talk have begun to realize how we think affects our day. So, the answer is clear: positive self-talk results in a better experience. Now, there’s even evidence to back this up. 

According to a 2022 study, which took 258 female gymnasts, a positive mentality influenced by kind words resulted in better performances for the athletes. So, the more positive people think, the better their days will be. 

These ideas were further emphasized by another study that focused on athletes keeping an optimistic mindset. The results were clear: those who decided to try and remain positive had more fun during their competition and even after it was finished. 

McGinty explains that everyone can practice positive self-talk; it just takes time. According to the therapist, overcoming negative self-talk begins by challenging core beliefs likely instilled during childhood. 

“This is tricky work to do alone for most of us, particularly if that belief is deeply held. Counselors and therapists trained in CBT would be glad to help you overcome this pattern of negative self-talk, so please don’t be afraid to reach out for some help,” says McGinty.

A poll carried out in 2023 further confirmed that negative self-talk is a real problem. It surmised that, on average, people have around 11 negative thoughts about their self-worth or appearance daily. This further alludes to the idea that everyone could use a little help to overcome negative thoughts. 

Finally, McGinty offers advice to those who may not have the time to perform long mental exercises each day. The therapist offers small tips to help reprogram our minds to a more positive state. 

“In the beginning, it helps to simply write down thoughts about yourself throughout a few days without trying to change them. Bring awareness to the language you use to describe yourself. After a few days, underline critical, unhelpful, negative, or unhealthy language and look for kinder alternatives,” said McGinty.


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