Throughout the day, you talk to yourself inside your head. We all have a constant running conversation with ourselves. But what that conversation is about and the words you use to speak to yourself can have a huge impact on your mood, your stress levels, and your ability to cope with whatever life throws at you.
Self-talk is a powerful tool when you use it to become more motivated, compassionate, and productive. But when you indulge in negative self-talk, the impact can be startling. Discover the difference between positive and negative self-talk and how you can start being aware of and changing the way you talk to yourself.
We all experience negative self-talk during our lives, when our inner critic decides to berate us and make us feel bad. Your negative self-talk may be critical of your decisions or appearance, create catastrophes out of everything, blame you for unfortunate events, or other demoralising talk you wouldn’t tolerate from another person.
Studies link negative self-talk with low self-esteem, higher levels of stress, and depression. It can be damaging to your motivation and make you feel helpless and alone.
Positive self-talk is the exact opposite. This is when your inner critic morphs into an inner-cheerleader. It’s supportive and affirming, and makes you feel good. Positive self-talk makes you aware of your good traits and helps motivate you to go after the things you want. People who practice positive self-talk are also better equipped to deal with setbacks and disappointments.
Flip the script on negative self-talk
If you realise you’re creating too much negative self-talk, there are some things you can do to encourage yourself to change your internal script.
Motivation is a little like a muscle – the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. You need motivation in your daily life to get the big tasks done that make a real difference to your future – even if there are other things you’d rather be doing instead.
It’s human nature to take the easiest path. The more you fight against your nature with motivation, the easier it becomes to make healthy choices. Here are some tips to boost your motivation:
1. Remind yourself what’s in it for you
One of the reasons we often lack motivation is because we can’t see why a task is important or valuable or beneficial – either for ourselves or the world as a whole.
Bring a task back to its basic roots and figure out how it’s significant to you. Doing well in school means you may be able to get into the university of your choice, or impress a potential employer. Doing a chore around home helps to keep you on good terms with your parents, which means that when you ask if you can go to a party on the weekend, they might be more likely to say yes.
2. Give yourself a fresh start
A popular mindset trick that can work wonders for motivation is to see a task as a fresh start. There’s a reason New Year's resolutions are so popular – they help us to disconnect from our failures over the past year and focus on looking at the big picture of our life. You don’t have to wait until New Year’s Eve – craft a message for yourself reframing a task as a fresh start. Promise yourself you’ll make things happen today. Believing in yourself is half the battle.
3. Make a commitment
You could use a commitment device – like writing yourself a contract, or making a pact with a friend where you’re both accountable to each other – to help motivate you to succeed. Making a commitment works because you set a concrete goal, and you create consequences for yourself if you miss that goal. Maybe you’ll donate $1 to charity for every workout you miss, for example.
4. Set small, measurable goals
Break down big tasks into smaller parts. You want each part to be able to be achieved in less than an hour. It’s much easier to motivate yourself when you can see an end-point in sight. When you complete one of these small goals and cross it off the list, your brain gives you a mini hit of dopamine, which encourages you to push on with the next goal.
5. Create rituals and routine
When you perform a task over and over, you create a habit that then becomes difficult to break. As humans, we do this easily with bad habits – smoking, sleeping in, watching TV all evening, playing video games until the early hours of the morning. We can also create habits out of our healthy choices, such as a morning routine that involves exercise. By replacing bad habits with healthier ones you can improve your daily levels of happiness and motivation.
Motivation doesn’t have to be an elusive force in your life. Use these techniques to transform your mindset and achieve the goals you set yourself.
In small doses, stress can help you get things done, like pass a test or achieve a goal. But if you’re stressed all the time, you end up draining your body of the energy it needs to function normally. Learn how to identify signs of stress in yourself so you can take steps to improve your mood.
What is stress?
Stress is simply your body’s coping mechanism for danger. When your body thinks you’re in trouble – even if that trouble is imagined – it goes into survival mode and releases stress hormones. In a real emergency, stress gives you extra energy to push through, defend yourself, react quicker, or think fast.
The problem is, your nervous system often can’t detect the difference between physical and emotional danger. If you’ve had a fight with your BFF, your body can treat that fight as though it was a physical attack. The more times you activate your stress responses, the easier these triggers occur. You train yourself to feel more stressed.
Common signs of stress
If you think you might be involved in a stressful situation, ask yourself if you are experiencing:
Causes of stress
Stress can be caused by many things. It can also be a symptom of a more serious condition. Common causes of extreme stress are a death in your family, relationship break-up, parents divorcing, being injured or taken ill, bullying, or striving for a particular goal. Big life changes, financial problems, negative self-talk, and pessimism all contribute to stress, according to the Helpguide website.
Activities to improve your ability to handle stress
If you find yourself frequently stressed out, doing these activities on a regular schedule can help reduce your stress levels:
Remember, a little bit of stress is a good thing, but too much could leave you feeling tired, irritable, and not performing at your best. Luckily, there are lots of ways to lower your stress levels.
Have you ever noticed how when you clean your room you get a weird feeling of calm? The simple act of clearing away the clutter and making a clear path from your bed to the door can lift your mood.
Your mind works in the same way. When your brain is a mess of thoughts – especially if some of those thoughts are negative – you can feel restless and unfocused. It can be hard to motivate yourself to do anything.
If you’re cluttering up your mind worrying about the future, stewing over events in the past, complaining, beating yourself up, stressing yourself out with negative thoughts, or just running a constant to-do list that never seems to end, your mind could do with a bit of a tidy out.
Learning how to declutter your mind is a good coping technique you’ll use again and again throughout your life. Below we recommend some ways to clear out the mess and focus your thoughts.
1. Write it down
Many people find that when they write down their thoughts or ideas, it moves them from their brain on to paper. If you’re a creative person then you’ll find it particularly effective to sketch out ideas for your projects. Keeping an appointment book or calendar can help you track all those dates and events, so you don’t use your mental energy.
2. Let go
If you find yourself cluttering up your mind with thoughts and regrets about the past, it’s time to learn how to let go. Imagine your mind is an enormous chest of drawers. Inside each drawer is a mistake you made, opportunity you missed, or person you hurt.
Pick up each drawer one by one, and dump the contents into an enormous rubbish bin. This is a powerful mental imagery tool that can help you subconsciously let go of what’s bothering you.
3. Do one thing at a time
Human beings have this crazy belief they can multitask and perform many different jobs at the same time. Scientifically, it’s just not true.
When you’re multitasking, your brain is actually switching from one thing to another as fast as it can. Every time it switches, it needs time and energy to recall previous details and prepare for new ones. This multitasking tires out your mind and leaves you feeling stressed and cluttered. It’s far more efficient to perform one task until it’s completed before moving on.
4. Go on a low information diet
All day you’re bombarded by info – from looking at YouTube videos before school, to reading a blog on the bus, to all your classes, then watching TV at night, talking to your friends, reading magazines and surfing the net. This constant stream of info makes your brain hurt as it frantically tries to remember everything it thinks is important.
Actually, very little of what we watch and read and discuss is vitally important. However, as well as tiring out our brains, it can make us feel guilty, sad, or angry – all emotions that take up space in our brain.
Limit the amount of information you consume, by cutting out websites, TV shows, magazines, and blogs that don’t contribute to your well-being. Do you really need to watch four hours of TV every night? Set a limit on the amount of time you spend on the internet each day. Give your brain a rest or engage it creatively with hobbies, reading, playing board games, sport, or other activities.
5. Put your life on autopilot
One reason your brain can feel cluttered is because you spend time and energy agonising over choices that don’t matter. Stressing out about what to wear each day or what to have for breakfast can take up valuable real estate in your brain that’s needed for more important tasks.
Try to create routines around mundane tasks to take away your need to make decisions. Have the same thing for breakfast every morning (or alternate 2-3 of your favourites). Choose a certain time and day of the week to do your chores. Shower at the same time each day. The more you move these small tasks out of your brain, the more energy you can dedicate to important stuff like hobbies, studying, your boyfriend or girlfriend, family, and friends.
Clearing out the mental clutter will give you clarity and purpose. What can you do today to declutter your mind?
Stress is a normal and ingrained action in our brains and bodies when we feel threatened. Our earliest ancestors experienced stress when confronted with a sabre-toothed tiger. This stress activated their “fight, flight, or freeze” response, and helped them stay alive during difficult situations.
Now, we often talk about stress as a negative thing. A low level of stress can help us strive to achieve our goals. But if you’re feeling stressed all the time or your stress is having a negative impact on your life, it’s worth considering how you can reduce or manage it.
Determining your stressors
A key part of reducing stress is recognising your stressors. These are the triggers that – like the sabre-toothed tiger – signal to your body to enter “fight, flight, or freeze” mode.
According to the US Surviving the Teens programme, the most common stressors impacting teenagers are:
Symptoms of stress
Stress manifests in different ways for different people, but common symptoms include: feeling tired and grumpy, being clumsy, shaking hands or limbs, headaches, insomnia, aching or tense muscles, frequent bouts of sickness (colds/flu), loss of enthusiasm for projects, romantic partners, or socialising, and feelings of being overwhelmed and lonely.
Dealing with stress
There are three key ways you can deal with stress, depending on your situation.
Release: You can express your feelings through artwork, writing, singing, and being thankful for good things in your life. Getting outside, enjoying nature, doing physical activity, or taking a long bath can also help. It’s important to take a break and have an outlet for your stress.
Connect: Spend time with people who relax and engage you, or hang out with your favourite pet. Laugh a lot. Remember that life is more than your stress.
Reflect: Think about what’s making you stressed. Is there any way to minimise that stress? Try planning and productivity hacks to help you finish your tasks, and changing your thinking to avoid worrying about the small things.
Stress is a totally normal part of life, and a low level of stress will help you to achieve your goals and get where you want to be. But if you’re living with a high level of stress all the time, consider what might be causing it and whether you need to talk to someone.
You may read about positive self-talk and think it’s a load of feel-good nonsense that doesn’t work in the real world. You may think it belittles real problems and creates a false sense of your own capabilities. It may just make you feel silly.
The truth is that positive self-talk is an important, scientifically-proven tool to help you cope with whatever life throws at you. It’s also a common practice among successful leaders.
What is self-talk?
All day when you walk around school and interact with teachers, parents, siblings, and friends, you keep up a running commentary in your head. This is self-talk – the things you say that only you can hear. Most self-talk is fun and useful, psyching you up before a sports game or reminding you of things you’ve forgotten, but sometimes it can be really negative – putting down others or, worst of all, dragging yourself down.
Negative self-talk hurts even worse than the things other people say about you. It means you don’t get a respite, even inside your own head. Instead of making everything fun, negative self-talk makes even an okay situation feel much worse.
Why bother practicing positive self-talk?
If you’re asking yourself this question, you probably need positive self-talk more than anyone.
The words you say to yourself shift your confidence. No matter how much you pretend it doesn’t matter, it does. The more confident and happy you feel, the better equipped you are for dealing with setbacks. It’s also less likely you’ll feel stressed or develop other health problems. You’ll be able to push through and achieve your goals.
Learning positive self-talk takes practice. It can feel silly, but it’s worthwhile to keep persevering. As you practice it begins to feel natural.
How to identify and transform negative self-talk
There are three key steps to transforming negative self-talk into a more positive outlook. You need to:
Of course, it’s impossible to be positive all the time, but if you’re sinking into the habit of talking negatively about yourself, you undermine your own confidence, self-esteem, and talents. When you transform your self-talk, you’ll be better equipped to tackle challenges and face down obstacles.
“My BFF seems really distant lately. It must mean she hates me. Of course she does – I’m so useless and stupid. No wonder she doesn’t want to be friends with me anymore.”
“I’m going to fail this test. I just know it.”
“He didn’t send me a smiley face on his text. He’s going to break up with me. I just know it. He’s going to break up with me and tell the whole school and everyone will say it’s because I’m ugly and I’ll never be able to show my face again.”
Negative thoughts build up in your head. A little thing – a test coming up, your best friend not being as chatty as usual, an offhand comment from your girlfriend or boyfriend – can build and build in your mind until it becomes the catalyst for the apocalypse.
It’s normal to have negative thoughts sometimes, but they’re not helpful or fun. If you have them too much, they can lead to other problems. A UCLA study showed that people who get caught in cycles of negative thoughts became depressed, self-critical, and less successful in their work and social lives.
Here’s what you can do to combat negative thoughts:
1. Notice them
Be more conscious of the things you say to yourself. Notice when you say negative things to yourself. Ask yourself:
• Are you assuming or mind reading someone else, and giving them thoughts or actions without evidence?
• Are you making demands upon yourself and setting your own standards much higher than you’d expect of someone else?
• Have you created a fantasy future for yourself and are tearing yourself down every time your reality doesn’t match up?
• Are you over-generalising and making yourself out to be a person who always makes mistakes or is hated by everyone?
• Are you turning a small setback into a catastrophe – imagining it wrecking your life. If something terrible has happened that’s caused these negative thoughts, you should write it down in detail, or draw a picture or make a recording if you’re not good at writing. Get it all out – negative thoughts and all.
Look at the event you’ve written down. Identify the negative thoughts. Go through and actually categorise them – write labels next to them for ‘catastrophe’ or ‘mind reading’.Now you can see exactly how your brain gives you these negative thoughts.
3. Replace them
Work through all the negative thoughts you’ve written down and replace them with rational responses. Talk back to those negative thoughts – make them stand up for themselves. Most negative thoughts fall down under scrutiny. Ask yourself:
• What’s the evidence?
• Is this a believable outcome?
• Will the world really end?
Replace the thoughts with reality – if you fail a test, you’ll make it up on the next one. If your friend didn’t talk to you today, you could ask him or her what’s wrong. If your girlfriend or boyfriend broke up with you, remember that people survive breakups every day.
If you’re struggling to replace the thoughts, think about what you’d say to a friend if they had the same thoughts. We’re often better at giving advice than taking it ourselves!
When you continue this practice, you’ll likely notice common triggers and worries that occur time and time again. You’ll get better at rationalising and replacing these thoughts as soon as you have them, and you’ll feel more confident and in control.
Exercising your creative mind is one of the best ways to relieve stress and cope with difficult situations. Even if you don’t think you’re a creative person, the act of stimulating your mind and approaching a problem in a creative way can help you approach your own life in a new light.
Feeling stressed? Here are several ideas for creative activities you can do to relax:
Studies have shown that colouring images can reduce anxiety and combat negative thoughts. Thanks to the recent adult colouring book frenzy, there are lots of cool colouring books on the market for all interests – whether you like sports, ancient history, pirates, mandalas, or popular TV shows.
Take a class
Many schools or community groups offer evening classes in a huge variety of subjects. Learn a new skill and try your hand at woodworking, glass blowing, crochet, or Indian cooking. If you like learning in a structured environment and getting help from an instructor, you’ll enjoy this approach.
The internet is filled with instruction guides and craft videos for every conceivable hobby under the sun. A little looking around should find you detailed instructions for a project you’d like to try.
Create a vision board
Vision boards are an exercise in thinking good thoughts and visualising a positive future. Cut out pictures from magazines, use photographs of your happiest memories, and choose quotes or words to fill in the gaps. Use this board for inspiration when you’re feeling down.
See some vision board inspiration here.
Write a story or poem
Writing is a great way to be creative while also working through negative thoughts. Take inspiration from your favourite books, films, or TV shows and create a setting and characters that inspire and challenge you. You could even publish your work online in a blog, or read out your poem at an open-mic night.
For tips on how to write a story, look here. You can also check out WORD - The Front Line on Facebook for poetry and open mic events around the country.
Build or refurbish furniture
Creating something practical or making a beautiful object out of something that’s old and broken are great ways to get your creativity flowing. What’s even better is at the end you have a cool piece of furniture you can use in your room.
Become a reenactor
If you’re into swords, cannons, or other historical stuff, you could join a local re-enactment group and learn about crafts, martial arts, and other pursuits from history.
Bake something delicious
Baking appeals to many people because the recipe gives you a guide, but you can add your own flair. Plus you get to eat something yum at the end. Invite your friends over to enjoy your creations.
There’s so much you can do with a camera or even a phone these days. Learn some simple techniques and take your camera out and about to see what you can capture. You can use social media sites like Instagram to share your photos with your friends.
Cramming hard for your exams the night before, but feeling like you don’t remember anything? Feeling stressed and anxious about schoolwork? You’re not alone – according to one study, 99% of students admit to pulling an all-nighter before an exam.
The amount of work that needs to be done can feel overwhelming. You may find yourself putting off studying so you have no choice but stay up all night before a test or exam.
Why all-nighters don’t work
Cramming isn’t effective, because your brain needs time to digest information. After six hours of studying (and a packet of chips and several energy drinks) you might feel as though the material is familiar.
Your brain needs to go over material multiple times across days in order to give your frontal cortex and temporal lobe (aka your brain) time to process it and construct memories. You may remember some facts from your cram-session because they’re still part of your short-term memory, but you’ll remember far more if you start studying earlier to engage your long-term memory.
Not to mention, staying up all night and eating sugar and caffeine to stay awake and stressing out aren’t helping your exam performance.
Here are some simple tips for effective studying.
Make a study schedule
I know, I know, boring, right? But making a schedule and keeping it will help improve your chances at recalling the right information.
You don’t need to block out hours every day and put your life on hold. Your brain absorbs information better if you study in short 20-30 minute bursts. Set a timer, and go for it!
Change it up
Try studying in different rooms, in the library, or quizzing with a friend. Changing your location can help your brain remember facts faster.
Take regular breaks
Remember what we said above about using a timer? Set it to go off after 20-30 minutes, then take a 10-15 minute break. Stretch your legs, have a snack, or do something fun.
Your brain remembers bite-sized pieces of information better than just re-reading long paragraphs. Writing out your notes onto flash cards also helps you remember them!
Make time for review
At the end of every week, schedule a small block of time to review everything you learned in class. Just this one thing alone will help you grasp concepts and recall more when it comes to exam time.
Study with your friends
Talking through problems and quizzing each other will help you retain information. Just make sure you actually get some work done!
Instead of cramming, the night before an exam you should:
Think positive: Imagine yourself acing the exam and how good you feel.
Change your mindset: Instead of seeing the exam as a threat or something to worry about, think of it as a challenge, like beating your personal best in your favourite sport or getting to another level in your video game.
Review your notes one more time: This can help to remind yourself how prepared you are and how much you know.
Do something relaxing: Watch a great movie, read a book, or hang with a friend.
Get a good night’s sleep: The better you sleep, the more you improve your creativity, problem solving, concentration, and memory for the next day.
Relax, you got this!
“Exams are such a disaster for me! I study and I feel like I know the material. When I see the exam paper, my mind goes blank. I can’t remember a thing. I can’t even remember how to spell my own name!”
If this sounds familiar, then you’re not alone. Many students find themselves freezing during exams. It’s a common problem but unfortunately, it’s also a problem that can have serious consequences. If you clam up and can’t remember the answers, your grades won’t reflect your true potential.
There might be several reasons why you get this ‘brain freeze.’ It’s healthy and okay to have these feelings - but not to the point that they are overwhelming. When your feelings threaten to overwhelm you, there are some tools and strategies you can use to help manage them during exams:
1. Insurmountable pressure
One reason you may get this feeling is because either you or someone else has placed a tremendous amount of pressure on you to do well. That feeling of expectation builds and builds until it becomes a real fear – fear of being a disappointment.
The exam now feels like a threatening situation. Sometimes, when we’re in a threatening situation, our bodies freeze. It’s a natural, ingrained response. If we freeze, the bear or sabre-toothed tiger might not see us.
This time, freezing won’t save you from the thing you fear – a low grade. If you think this is a problem for you, remind yourself that you are in control. Talk to the people in your life who are putting pressure on you and ask them to cool off. Talk to a friend or adult who supports you.
2. Incomplete memory
Sometimes you might think you know something, but you actually don’t. The words look familiar, but the meaning behind the words has completely vanished.
Research conducted by Oxford Learning shows that students most often freeze when they don’t remember something. When you learn information, you might file it in the wrong place in your brain. When you go to recall it, you can’t find the facts because they’re not where they should be.
Usually, this happens because you don’t have an active study practice that enables you to store information properly. Changing your study habits will have a huge impact on how well you perform. Try:
3. External problems
There may be other things going on in your life – trouble at home, a painful break-up, a traumatic experience, bullying, or mental illness – that are impacting your ability to concentrate and recall information.
Many students who report freezing during exams also have something big going on in their life. Even when they’re studying, they’re still thinking about this thing, pushing out information for the exam before it can be properly memorised.
The best way to deal with these problems is to tackle them the best you can, by talking to a friend or adult you trust and putting steps in place to ensure you’re safe, healthy, and happy.
Do you freeze during exams? If you know this is something that happens to you, or if you can feel a creeping fear in your gut that things aren’t going to go well – now’s the time to take action.