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Talk The Talk So You Can Walk The Walk

November 27, 2017 in

We talk a lot to ourselves. Your inner dialogue or intrapersonal communication is known as self-talk. Self-talk is that internal conversation you have about yourself to yourself. It can be done both in your head and/or out loud. Verbalizing your talk has also been proven to serve as an effective learning strategy. Self-talk is when you provide judgements and evaluations on what you’re doing as you do it1. Think of it as a ticker tape of thoughts similar to what you see on the bottom of a News channel or ESPN. Often times self-talk is considered solely negative or positive when in fact it is either counterproductive or productive. Do your thoughts work for you or against you?

“Self-talk shapes our relationship to ourselves2” and can influence others.

Being self-aware of your inner dialogue is important because it affects your behavior, your motivation, and those you lead. Productive, purposeful thoughts that are self-validating can enhance your performance while counterproductive, self-critical thoughts can cripple you. More often than not, our self-talk represents feelings of frustration, pessimism, disgust or even apathy.2 Those emotions are a reflection of thoughts such as, “this project is impossible”, “nothing works out in this department”, “I can’t wait to be done with this” or “what does it matter, we aren’t going to land this account.” Debilitating thoughts such as these only lead to unproductive reactions and emotions. One way to look at it is by asking yourself, “Would you want your superior to talk to you the way you talk to yourself?”2 Ultimately, we can have our thoughts and internal conversation work for us rather than against us. Direct your inner dialogue to be both positive and constructive. Examples include, “This project is particularly challenging, but I am good at what I do so this is a great opportunity to show what I got,” “I will more than just get through this proposal, I’m going to make it really hard for this client to pick a different company to handle their account.” It’s all about being deliberate with what you say to yourself in order to achieve what you set out to do. Do we all have counterproductive, negative thoughts? Hell yeah, we do. Being self-aware of those inner monologues and changing them with intent allows for growth and more successful self-management. Otherwise, your behaviors driven by your thoughts will start to reflect on others and they will see you as an ineffective leader.

Rogelberg and colleagues investigated self-talk within effective and ineffective managers. The study involved those leaders writing letters to themselves about their plans and achievements1. The letters served as the written data of self-talk and thus could be rated. Managers who scored higher on the used constructive self-talk scale, on average reflected those who have experienced more success in their careers. These results correlated with the managerial effectiveness in that constructive self-talkers were higher in leadership skills and creativity with low perceived job stress. The Rogelberg study highlights the more energy and time you spend berating or second guessing yourself or resist change, the less brain power you have to problem solve and handle managerial responsibilities1. Researchers Zourbanos, Hatzigeorgiadis, and Theodorakis also discovered that positive self-statements made by coaches, which lends itself to leaders in this case, influenced their athletes’ (employees) self-talk. As a leader, interpersonal communication impacts intrapersonal communication4.

Not only do you want your thoughts to work for you, but projecting our thoughts OUT LOUD enhances learning. This learning strategy is known as self-explaining and is another additive to constructive self-talk. Explanatory questions include: “What does this mean? Why does it matter?”3 When learning material, especially new information, asking ourselves those questions slows us down and so we then deliberately begin to think about our thinking. Ways to utilize this branch of self-talk is by summarizing and linking back what you’re learning to what you already know (make connections).3 When you summarize anything, you are putting it in your own words and thus promoting learning. Making connections is conducive to the way our brain and memory works. Any new information we learn is linked around or with information we already have in our brains. This is why when we learn something entirely new to us, it is harder! We have no prior context to which to attach the new information.

Talking to ourselves tends to get a bad rap when it in fact doing so drives how we behave and can be utilized to more effectively learn. You have a choice in what you say to yourself, it’s up to you whether or not you want to feed into those thoughts that prevent you from being your best self, the best leader, or the best performer.

If you’re interested in learning more about constructive self-talk and its various benefits feel free to reach out to HigherEchelon for more specific ideas.


  1. “Make Your Self-Talk Work For You”: available Psychology Today, Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, September 10, 2013, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201309/make-your-self-talk-work-you
  2. “Self-Leadership and Success”: available Forbes, Brett Steenbarger, May 15, 2015, https://www.forbes.com/sites/brettsteenbarger/2015/05/15/self-leadership-and-success/
  3. “Talking to Yourself (Out Loud) Can Help You Learn”: available Harvard Business Review, Ulrich Boser, May 5, 2017, https://hbr.org/2017/05/talking-to-yourself-out-loud-can-help-you-learn
  4. “Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology,” Robert S. Weinberg and Daniel Gould, 2011