Four Tips to Up-Level Your Self-Talk and Super-Boost Your Motivation

By Lara Honos-Webb, PhD, author of Six Super Skills for Executive Functioning

Self-talk solutions. These are three words that will super-boost your motivation.

What if you went to the doctor with strep throat and the doctor gave you one antibiotic pill, and sent you home. Most of us know that when you take antibiotics, you have to take the full dose every day for a week or more. You wouldn’t get better with one pill or a shorter dose.

Same too with therapy and self-help stuff.

If you struggle with wasting your time on social media, video games, or streaming videos on Netflix, Hulu, or Prime, ask yourself:

• “What are the benefits of this time on technology?”

• “What am I missing out on by spending time on technology now?”

This will boost your motivation to be more productive by reminding you of the costs of your behavior and realizing that there are limits to the benefits.

You can also say to yourself:

• “I don’t need to do this again.”

• “I can do this in ten minutes, or ten hours. This is not going away.”

Delaying a compulsive behavior can often buy you productivity time, and you may find the urge passes and you continue with more productive behaviors.

When you are feeling resistance to a task, you can ask yourself:

• “What’s the smallest amount of time I am willing to put in now?”

Another way you can use self-talk is to build your confidence. For example, you can create a list of your top five strengths. If you need help, ask a few friends or family for ideas. Once you come up with a list, you can turn these into positive self-talk. You can even write out compliments you receive and turn those into self-talk.

Examples include:

• “I’m great at caring about people and connecting; I am excited for the homecoming dance.”

• “I’m a great problem-solver. If I keep going, I will figure this out.”

Four Tips to Up-Level your Self-Talk

Say it out loud. Positive thinking can go a long, long way in any situation life throws at you. For those of you who get stuck in your own head, positive thinking may not be enough. That’s why when you read “positive self-talk,” you should take it literally. Talk out loud. You may think you sound crazy at first, but sometimes the crazier option is to keep your voice in your head, bottled up with all of your other emotions, self-doubts, and whatever else is attempting to drag you down to the bottom of the sea of failure. When you speak out loud, you can physically hear yourself.

According to the science of talking to yourself, it is all good! First it improves your selective attention. Think about it, when you are talking out loud you can’t think anything else; your focus is very narrow. This works for learning facts, too.

Say it in third person: Speaking your own name instead of saying “I” gives you a broader perspective; it takes you out of the I and can help limit self-criticism. For example, if you find yourself increasingly frustrated in using tech, you can limit the negativity by using your name to gain some distance from the emotions. Brain-scan research has found that using your own name, “Darnell is frustrated that he has constant tech support problems,” can give a broader perspective and improve mood regulation according to Moser et al, (2017). This tool is so simple to apply and takes no extra time to tip the scales toward managing your moods rather than having your moods manage you.

The Humor Effect

Humor increases memory and attention. One time I had to remember to pick up Aspen brand animal bedding for my guinea pig, Cookie. I pictured Cookie skiing on the slopes in Aspen, CO, and I remembered to get it. This is called the humor effect (Karlson, K. 2011). (Strick et al., 2009). This suggests that educational policy should take a different attitude toward the class clown, instead of sending them to the principal, maybe they should stand aside the teacher like a sign language expert and translate the learning material into funny jokes! Seriously though, when you use self-talk, get creative and try to mash together humorous images.

Get around Your BS detector. What if you want to start a regular habit of going to the gym, and you say to yourself, “I am unstoppable. I got this,” and sometimes your brain says back, “Yeah right, how many times did you go last week?”

A simple way to get around this to change the self-talk to:

· “I am loving being unstoppable and eager to get to the gym.”

This may feel truer because if you were unstoppable, you would love it. This will seem true to most people.

You could even ask yourself a question: “How could I feel enthusiastic to go to the gym?” This can work by getting around self-criticism while at the same time inviting flexible thinking.

If you’re in a tough spot, or are in the middle of a dark time, talking out loud—specifically as a form of positive reinforcement or encouragement—can boost your motivation, focus, and overall confidence.


Third-person self-talk facilitates emotion regulation without engaging cognitive control: Converging evidence from ERP and fMRI” by Jason S. Moser, Adrienne Dougherty, Whitney I. Mattson, Benjamin Katz, Tim P. Moran, Darwin Guevarra, Holly Shablack, Ozlem Ayduk, John

Jonides, Marc G. Berman & Ethan Kross in Scientific Reports. Published online July 3 2017 doi:10.1038/s41598-017-04047-3

child wearing an orange backpack while facing away

Lara Honos-Webb, PhD, is a worldwide attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) expert, and offers ADHD coaching. She is a clinical psychologist, and author of The Gift of ADHD, The Gift of ADHD Activity Book, The Gift of Adult ADD, The ADHD Workbook for Teens, and Listening to Depression. She has also published more than twenty-five scholarly articles. Learn more about her work at

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