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To succeed in mental fitness, positive self-talk matters

May 20, 2021
By Bill Howatt

EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘Mental Fitness: The next frontier in workplace mental health’ is a weekly series, in partnership with Dr. Bill Howatt of Howatt HR Consulting in Ottawa. This series takes a deeper look at mental fitness — an approach to prevent mental harm and promote mental health.

“We play a critical role in defining what we want to think about ourselves.” — Dr. Bill Howatt

Research shows that most of our self-talk is overly negative and works against our emotional well-being. Negative self-talk increases negative thoughts that create feelings such as anger, regret, irritation, frustration, hopelessness, and disappointment.

Evidence shows that self-talk is about much more than creating self-confidence; it is about how we wire our brain from a neuroscience perspective.


There is no magic to mental health; what we think impacts what we feel. Learning to become more influential with our thoughts can incrementally increase our emotional well-being.

When we discover how to generate more positive and secure thinking, it defines how we experience our moments.

Believing in who we are is at the core of being able to generate positive self-talk. What we believe to be true about who we are influences what we think and say to ourselves.

The concept of self-love can sound to some as being odd. Sadly, this is because they are more focused and concerned about what others may think, which puts their self-acceptance on the shoulders of others. This can be a formula for constant insecurity and frustration.

Psychologically Safe Workplace Awards provide employers tools, data on mental health

Self-acceptance comes down to believing you are worthy of love, acceptance, and desired personal and professional goals.

If you have any challenge saying to yourself, “Name. I love Name,” you may struggle with creating positive self-talk. When you can treat yourself with the same respect you treat someone you love, you are on the right track.

Fully benefiting from a partner, personal, or professional relationship begins with self-love, as this allows you to trust that you are worthy of good things happening to you.

This is much different than being narcissistic, where the energy is to project to the world an over-inflated sense of self-importance.

Some of the benefits of engaging in regular, positive self-talk for emotional well-being are:

  • improved optimism
  • increased vitality
  • greater life satisfaction
  • improved immune function
  • reduced pain
  • less negative stress
  • better cardiovascular health
  • better physical well-being
  • reduced risk of death.

Tips for generating more positive self-talk

There is no shortcut nor Vitamin B shot for training your brain to create positive thoughts. If you want to have more positive thoughts, you will benefit from tuning in to your positive self-talk.

Do all you can to think positive thoughts about yourself and others.

Get your self-love foundation in place: This is not optional if you have any challenges with trusting and believing you are a good person and worthy of love and acceptance. Being trapped in insecurity and requiring others to accept you for who you are can leave you experiencing hopelessness, anxiety, and worry.

After 30-plus years of doing therapy with many amazing people, I have concluded that this step is either skipped, assumed, or not even considered. If you have no idea how to do this work, it is worth sitting with a mental health professional to plan and learn how. The benefits are priceless.

Practise what you do for loved ones: Set the internal rule that you will not say anything to yourself you would not say to a person you love. In challenging moments, choose caring and nurturing words. If you make a mistake, apologize to yourself and promise you will do better next time.

Practise daily affirmations: Your subconscious mind listens carefully and stores what it is told. Write down three things you want to believe about yourself and put them in a spot where you can see and read them several times a day.

Suspend negatively judging others: Saying negative things about other people in your head may indicate what you are thinking about yourself, as perception is often projection.

You do not need to like or accept others’ actions. However, judging them with negative names and labels creates thoughts that you may attach to yourself.

Accept negative thoughts as options: Understand that you will never be able to stop all negative thoughts. They are nothing more than an option for how to think, and you get the choice to accept them like you would when reading a food menu. You can acknowledge and practise skipping over them to focus on what you want to think.

Practise positive self-talk: Start by following one simple rule: Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to anyone else. Be gentle and encouraging with yourself. If a negative thought enters your mind, evaluate it rationally and respond with affirmations of what is good.

Anchor go-to phrases: The brain is plastic and will accept what it is told over and over. When you get caught off guard by a negative thought and are not sure how to remove it, go to your anchor phrase.

An anchor phrase is what you ingrain. Take a line like, “I am not perfect, but I am good enough, as I am OK.” Create your own anchor line and for a minimum of 90 days say it to yourself at least three times day and notice the feelings associated with it.

If you do this with intention, your brain will have it accessible so that in a difficult moment you can choose it to replace an unwanted, negative thought.

Dr. Bill Howatt is the Ottawa-based president of Howatt HR Consulting.

If there is a particular microskill or topic you would like to see Dr. Howatt write on that supports employees’ mental health in the workplace, please send your request to Talent Canada editor Marcel Vander Wier.

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