the shape of leadership

What to Say When You Talk to Yourself

Replacing sabotaging self-talk with strengthening self-talk

Jodi Detrick on April 8, 2019

I’m glad I’m not the only one. We humans, it seems, talk to ourselves. Sometimes I do it aloud as I palm-smack my head and mumble, “Why didn’t I think of that?” or, “What in the world was I thinking?” Other times, I keep the self-talk internal. As though I have some loquacious inner ventriloquist, my mouth remains closed, but the one-sided conversation in my head is booming and endless.

Apparently even the anointed wordsmith who penned Psalm 42 engaged in self-talk. In verse 5, the writer questions himself: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?”

So, what do you say when you talk to yourself? The answer to that question matters more than one might think. Sure, some of our self-talk is innocuous: Where did I put my keys? But there are other forms of self-talk that greatly affect our peace and potential. The inner script we heed will sway the way we live, love and lead. It’s important to notice these two potent kinds of self-talk: sabotaging self-talk (the inner critic) and strengthening self-talk (the inner coach).

Sabotaging Self-Talk

The inner critic — the voice that disrupts our peace and frustrates our faith, thereby diminishing our ability to be who God has created us to be — speaks in two primary dialects: worry and regret.

In Genesis 45:5, immediately after revealing his true identity to his estranged brothers, Joseph told them, “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here.”

Like Joseph’s brothers, we often get ourselves into tangled messes of our own doing. Even redeemed people need God’s ongoing work of redemption in many areas of living: relationships, finances, leadership roles, life-work balance, and physical and emotional health. What doesn’t help is distress and anger with ourselves — twin mental scripts of worry and regret that can play on repeat. Worry is present- and future-related fear. Regret is past-related fear and often involves self-loathing.

Worry words easily drown out the promises of God in our heads, especially when life gut-punches us with pain and confusion. But putting circumstances in charge of your peace is like putting a thief in charge of your bank account. In no time, worry about things we cannot change will drain our peace reserves.

We’ve all done things we regret. But regret should lead to repentance that leads to repair. After repentance, tormenting regret serves no purpose and becomes toxic, corroding our confidence and minimizing God’s work of grace in our lives and our future. Chronic regret misshapes us. Grace reshapes us. Note to self: Face yourself, then grace yourself.

Worry words easily drown out the promises of God in our heads.

A spiritual mentor told me that Satan often tempts us to doubt God’s grace using first-person language. Rather than suggesting, “You’ve blown it. You’re such a mess. God will never use you again,” he whispers, “I’ve blown it. I’m such a mess. God can never use me again.” Spiritual vigilance requires us to do an ID check of the voices we are heeding in our heads.

Strengthening Self-Talk

Sometimes we just have to talk back to self-talk. We need the inner coach, rooted in the truths of God’s Word, to stand up to the bullying inner critic. We need to say, Hey soul, put your hope in God!

We don’t know all the reasons the writer of Psalm 42 was downcast that day, but we have some hints: the taunting of enemies, remembering better days in the past, a sense of distance from God’s presence. When we’re evaluating our sabotaging self-talk and its origin, a good place to begin is, “Why?”

I love that the Psalmist didn’t stop with the “why” question. He told himself what to do next: “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (verse 5).

Hope in God is always your best next step. Notice the Psalmist’s hope was not in circumstances, friends, armies, wealth or position. It was in God!

Here’s the thing about sabotaging self-talk: You can’t just tell yourself, I’m not going to think about this anymore. You have to displace the lies — and even those tricky half-truths — of Satan with the whole truths of God, again and again.

Psalm 119:160 says, “The very essence of your words is truth” (NLT). Despite what worry and regret whisper to you, what is true? If you are going to be a person who inspires others with truth, you must appropriate those same truths for yourself.

Start with these:
  • God loves me (1 John 3:1).
  • I am forgiven and free (John 3:36; 1 John 1:9).
  • God’s eyes are on me (1 Peter 3:12).
  • God is working in and for me (Philippians 2:13).
  • Who I am and what I do matters (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
  • Evil will not have the last word in my life (Jeremiah 29:11).

So, go ahead. Talk to yourself — we all do it. Just make sure the default orator in your head is that inner coach who speaks the language of God’s truth. That is the voice your heart is straining to catch, the one that will sustain you until you hear the Father’s “Well done.”

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 edition of Influence magazine.


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