The Power of Self Talk: The Way You Talk to Yourself Matters

woman sitting on rocks staring at ocean; the power of self talk

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.


There’s a Native American Story called the Two Wolves that best captures the power of self talk.

The short version goes like this:

A grandfather explained to his young grandson that within every person, there are two wolves in a constant battle.

“It is a terrible fight . One wolf is bad. He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

“The other is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This fight is going on inside you right now , and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The grandfather simple replied, “The one you feed.”

What this story teaches us about self-talk

We may not always be aware of it, but the words and phrases we speak and think have a profound impact on our sense of self, on our mental health, and on our lives.

Individual words seem small. Negative and positive thoughts not only both exist, they’re both perfectly natural.

But the lesson we learn from the story of the Two Wolves is that it’s not the feelings or the emotions themselves.

Feeding is what determines which side wins.

What we feed our thoughts matters.

The words we choose are the fuel that defines the power of self talk.

It all determines whether we let negativity overpower us or if we support the triumph of positivity.

This is the part that is overlooked.

For some reason, this is harder to pinpoint within ourselves than it is to spot in our interactions with others.

When we think of the way we speak to others (in general, I recognize not everyone speaks kindly to others), we would never want to bully them or put them down to the point where their sense of worth is so low that they would consider self harm.

But when we speak to ourselves, we can be so tough on ourselves it’s counterproductive.

Why awareness about the way you talk to yourself matters

Behavior habits are nothing more than repetition.

Repetition to the point that a set of actions become our default — they become automatic. We’ve brushed our teeth every night before bed since we were children. When bedtime rolls around, the impulse to brush our teeth is automatic.

Athletes who have practiced physically activity almost every day for years feel an impulse to move their bodies every day.

Even when the impulse isn’t there, after years of repetition, discipline kicks in.

Words and thoughts also become a habit.

And if you believe the compelling argument that habits are the compound interest of self improvement, then you can understand the damage negative self talk can do over time.

Essentially, it can become automatic. The longer you give in, the more difficult the pattern is to break.

So the sooner you can become aware of negative self talk, the better. The less work will be required to retrain your thoughts.

The sooner you can accept the reality that feeding the bad wolf is hindering your quality of life, the better.

You might also like: How to Recognize Your Blind Spots

How to build awareness

Self-Awareness is hard. There’s no doubt about that! In a recent post, I discussed the various reasons why self-awareness is so difficult, as well as why it’s so important.

In order to build awareness, you need to be willing to confront some difficult questions. You need to improve your ability to recognize and name an emotion, and to identify when you’re using negative self-talk.

When you catch yourself putting yourself down, call it out. If you find yourself saying: I’m so dumb, I’m not worth loving , or Something must be seriously wrong with me because I feel so down and incapable of doing anything all the time, call it out.

Acknowledge that these are words, not necessarily the objective truth. Acknowledge that repeating these words is feeding the bad wolf.

It doesn’t necessarily ensure your urge to negative self-talk goes away. Sometimes it’s therapeutic for us to feel the negativity. To release the negative energy by allowing ourselves to feel down. But then, get back up.

But if you can at least call it what it is, you’re well on your way to re-training the habit.

Awareness is key.

We can’t work on any improving any problem in life if we are not first aware.

But once we are aware of the power of self talk and can spot our patterns, we take away some of the negativity’s power. At a very minimum, awareness is the foundation for building a toolset to deal with negativity whenever it wants to take over.

In a future post, I will be addressing the actual process of re-training the instinct to negative self-talk. If you want to be the first to read it, sign up for my email list to be notified when it goes live! But in the meantime, practice building your awareness. It is a challenging first step that takes time, but soon you’ll see how powerful it can be!

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