Build Core Confidence with Positive Self-Talk

We all talk to ourselves, either out loud or mentally. When your self-talk is positive and helpful it will empower you. When it's unkind, critical, anxiety-laden, it makes you feel bad, destroys your confidence and lowers self esteem.

The kind of self-talk that builds self confidence

  • is kind and approving of yourself and your person
  • is supportive and encouraging about what you are doing or feeling
  • recognises those things you have done well and praises you for them

Whenever you are in doubt about the language you are using, imagine how your best friend would feel if you were to say the same things to him/her.

Here are some examples:

Focus Positively on your Appearance. When you get up in the morning and look in the mirror, what kind of self-talk do you use? Some people say something like "My God, you look a wreck. Your hair sticks out and there’s a boil on the end of your nose. What a sight!" Would you say that to a friend? I hope not.

Even if your hair is in disarray and a spot is visible on your nose, it would be more respectful to focus on what looks ok, like "You look rested, that's good" or "Your eyes are bright". You could even say "My hair will look fine when I've brushed it".

Actively look for what is good or ok about your person and compliment yourself on it.

Respect your Personal Qualities. Speaking kindly to yourself also applies to your personal qualities such as your intelligence and ability. When you make a mistake, and your self-talk goes like this "You stupid idiot!" or "I'm useless!", STOP and rephrase with something like "I am an intelligent/able person. I just made a mistake" or "Everyone makes mistakes. I'll get it right/do better next time".

Encourage Yourself. When you are having a difficult time, think what you might say to a friend who was struggling in the same way. Instead of "I'll never manage this" use positive self-talk to encourage yourself "You will manage. Just take one step at a time".

Praise Yourself. Do you find it easier to criticise than to praise yourself? Patting yourself on the back when you have performed or handled something well is absolutely essential to the building of your self confidence. Actively look for things to acknowledge and praise yourself for - small as well as large.

Say to yourself "I cooked a good meal. Well done" rather than pick on what could have been a tiny bit better such as "The meat was tough". If you did overcook the meat, you could say "I've made a tasty meal. I'll remember to take the joint out of the oven sooner next time".

What if you don't believe your own self-talk?

It doesn't really matter! If you cleaned the car and it looks shining and new, you might not feel you are worthy of praise. You may not believe you have done anything of merit, yet it is true that you made a positive difference to the car. I am asking you to acknowledge that fact. As you continue the practice of praising yourself, you will begin to get a feeling of general worthiness and self belief coming through.

How to change automatic negative thoughts

Now you have some grounding in the sorts of statements that comprise positive self-talk, let's move on to the 'how to' side of things.


The very first thing is to become aware of your thoughts and notice which of them are positive, helpful and respectful of you, and which are negative and need to be changed. You may be surprised, horrified even, at the abuse you give yourself. On the positive side, this represents the extent to which you will be able to reclaim your personal power and gain in confidence.

As you go about your daily round, constantly monitor your thoughts. When you notice a negative one, change the self-talk to positive along the lines of the examples above, using a firm inner 'voice'. Whenever possible do this in the moment. If you cannot respond immediately, write the negative phrase down and change it later.

You will see that 'I' and 'you' are interchangeable in self-talk. Use whichever is more natural for you.

Labour of Self Love

You will only catch a proportion of negative thoughts at first. Don't worry about this. When you forget to monitor your thoughts, just pick up again once you remember. Rather than getting annoyed with yourself, use positive self-talk to give yourself understanding and encouragement.

Of all the tasks and exercises on this site, changing your self-talk from negative to positive is perhaps the most labour intensive. It is however a labour of self love. I cannot pretend it's easy, but I can assure you that it will pay off. It does get easier after a few days of concerted effort. Continue with diligence, and you can feel radically different in three weeks.

Change how you feel about the world

As well as the positive feedback you give yourself about you, self-talk can help moderate your emotional reaction to what happens in the outer world. Avoid such words as terrible, awful, calamity, catastrophe, disaster. Frame what you tell yourself in a more realistic, empowering way and you can prevent feelings of overwhelm in a difficult situation.

For example, "The news is terrible. It's too dangerous to go out at night. I might get mugged, or worse." With more positive, helpful self-talk you might say instead "I know from the news that there are dangers in being out alone at night. What steps can I take to keep myself safe?"

Another example: "The world is in a dire state. Global warming is the beginning of the end. There's no hope for mankind." Save yourself from despondency by saying instead something like: "The state of the world is serious, but man can rise to the challenge of saving it. Is there anything I can do to help?"

It is the judgement you make about a situation which renders you either hopeful and with the power to act, or afraid and powerless. Try not to exaggerate a situation in your self-talk and if possible refrain from judging it. Find the most positive and hopeful phrases you can.

You might not feel as hopeful as you sound to begin with, but in time your positive responses will become automatic and a natural part of you. They will become real.

Every Cloud has a Silver Lining

When something happens to disrupt your world, you may feel threatened, and worried by what this might mean for you. The use of coping style self-talk can help you remain open to the positive potential of that change.

For example, losing your job could be your chance to find a better one or to change direction career-wise. A broken leg could lead to writing that book you always intended. A time of change can be empowering if you focus on how you could turn it into an opportunity.

Words to banish from your vocabulary

One of the most helpful pieces of learning I ever came across concerns the use of certain words. ERASE these words -should', 'ought', 'must', 'have to' and 'got to' - from your self-talk and experience the difference it makes for yourself!

Say to yourself in turn:

"I should tidy my room", "I ought to weed the garden", "I must write that letter", "I have to pay him a visit", "I've got to wash the car".

The imperative nature of these statements tends to create tension and arouse feelings of guilt or resentment. Perhaps there are echoes of parental control here. Try the following alternatives:

"I could tidy my room" becomes a choice or an option. "I may weed the garden" becomes a possibility, but not a certainty. "I will write that letter" sounds more like it's my decision. "I'd like to wash the car" sounds like it's my choice.

Choices mean power. When you use self-talk to show you have options, you automatically raise your confidence.

Have fun finding creative ways to change your thinking and make your internal language positive. Extend this to your conversations with others too. Gradually erase all negative patterns of thinking and you will feel happier, more secure and much more confident.

If you do only one thing suggested on this site and you choose to develop positive self-talk, it will change your life. What begins as a laborious task will become automatic. All the positives you feed back to yourself and the self respect will become part of a positive self image. As your self belief grows, so will your confidence.

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