An Important Kind of Conversation


By Troy Headrick

I was raised in a very unusual way.  I spent the first eight years of my life as an only child and resided in a rural area.  In fact, for a good chunk of my formative years, I didn’t really have neighbors and certainly not any with kids I could play with.

Because I had no siblings or friends to converse with, I learned to spend a lot of time talking with myself, a technique that some psychologists call “self-talk.”

I very clearly remember many examples of engaging in self-talk even as a very young boy.  For example, while waiting for the bus in first grade to take me from my beloved country home to town so that I could go to school, I often remember staring at the rising sun and giving myself a little pep talk.  (Ironically, even though I eventually became an educator, I hated going to school as a youngster.)  During these talks, I’d remind myself how short the school day would be and how soon I’d be able to return home, a place where I felt totally at peace.  These daily talks with myself helped me remember that the trauma of going to school would soon pass, that I’d survive the ordeal perfectly well, and would eventually be back to the place I felt the happiest.  Thus, these self-talks gave me the courage to get through the day.

(By the way, if that first link didn’t answer all the questions you have about self-talk, I’d suggest that you read this.)

Today, I still use pep talks of this sort when I’m feeling a little down or facing something I perceive to be a hassle.  I use them in other ways too.  For example, when walking outside for exercise, I’ll often find myself deep in thought about all sorts of things.  The day may be an absolute gorgeous one, but I’ll be trapped in my head.  When I finally become aware that I’m too much in my mind, I’ll say something like this, “Troy, wake up.  Look around you.  Notice how beautiful this day is.  Look at the trees.  Notice the lovely clouds.  Feel the cool breeze on your skin.  Get out of your head, open your eyes and ears, and pay attention to everything that’s going on around you.  You’re missing everything!”

Because we live such stressful lives, it’s easy to think obsessively about all those things that are driving us crazy.  Doing so deprives us of the opportunity to be “in the moment,” to see and appreciate ever-present beauty.

I also have this bad habit of exaggerating little personal setbacks and thinking that they’re an indication that I’ve failed in some grand way.  When I become aware that I’m beginning to think of myself as a failure, I’ll have a little talk with myself.  I’ll say, for example, “Troy, what happened was no big deal.  You’re thinking it’s a big deal, but that has nothing to do with reality.  You’re letting your imagination get the best of you.  You know that you’ve long had a tendency to make mountains out of molehills.  This is part of your personality.  Why do you do this?  Relax.  Settle down, take a deep breath, stop overblowing things.”

It occurs to me that self-talk is essentially a self-corrective.  When we’re feeling blue or too caught up in our thoughts, self-talk can be a method whereby one acknowledges that something is amiss.  Once that acknowledgement takes place, the self-talker then actively reminds and cajoles herself to see things more realistically or optimistically.  Self-talkers don’t turn to others for help, they turn inward for it.  It can be an especially potent form of self-help because the self-talker knows herself better than anyone else does.

Have you ever had the opportunity to use self-talk?  If so, how did it go?  What form did it take?  What advice would you give to others as they use self-talk to self-help?

Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.


46 thoughts on “An Important Kind of Conversation

  1. Troy, I appreciate your candor. I also grew up around mostly adults, with 2 siblings 8 and 13 years older. I had so much self talk, and still can crack myself up. I created outdoor games and likes to write as well. Lots of time looking through encyclopedias….I think I’m the better for it, as far as introspection and self esteem. Thanks for being one of me!!

    1. It’s interesting to meet someone who understands what it’s like to grow up in a very unpopulated, rural setting. Like you, I had to learn to be imaginative at an early age, and I also stumbled into the idea of “self-talk” (perhaps way before psychologists began to write about such a thing). Also, like you, I agree that such a lifestyle has given me many helpful life traits. For example, I’ve never once been bored. And I feel like I understand myself very well. Also, quite surprisingly, I feel like I understand others too. Maybe because there were so few people around when I was growing up that I really paid attention to those few folks. I observed them and studied them a lot and quite deeply. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I always enjoy connecting with a kindred spirit. Take care.

    1. I think many people who grow up a bit separated from others eventually find themselves turning toward scholarly pursuits. Plus, I’m finding (by reading these comments) that lots of people use self-talk in lots of different ways. Thanks for the comment, Betul.

  2. Oh boy, self talk. Yeah, I talk to myself all the time. Yet what I say aloud are really awful things. I remind myself that I am a piece of shit, that I will never amount to anything, all the hurt I cause etc etc. If I voice positive things, they sound like a lie. I don’t know why I can’t accept myself, or say good things about myself. It really sucks,

    1. If being this way bothers you, why not try an experiment? (If it fails, you can always go back to the way you were before you conducted it.) When that inner voices says negative things, why not try to debate with it? After all, if you have one voice inside of you that speaks, isn’t it possible to have two, one negative voice and one positive one? Or maybe it would help to do a little reading on self-talk. I’ve included two links here but there’s so much good stuff out there on the subject. At any rate, thanks for sharing your story and let me know how things turn out. You can always contact me via this site or through my personal blog. Take care.

      1. I say the negative stuff because I write such positive stuff… and, I’m quite extreme in my see-saw skewed points of (self) view. Because I know I’m not really any of the qualifiers I say or use to describe the way I may appear or behave. I tend to reflect or amplify the vibes or whatever of the people around me, those I interact with.
        I cut myself down to prevent getting a big head. And I don’t want to mislead others with the words or names I attribute to myself or anything. Words and names are useful identifiers, but they are not necessarily the truth or absolute actual whatever of the thing.
        So yes, I always tend to counter my own words And viewpoints of stuff, and it’s difficult to ascertain which is the illusion and the other the allusion, or delusion, with such hypernyms and hypotheticals.
        Thanks for sharing, Troy. 😎 it is very much appreciated – your offer, as well as all the articles of poignant points to ponder you publish here.

      2. Interesting. It sounds like you have a unique method for achieving balance in life. I look forward to your future comments to my blogs. Stay in touch and thanks.

  3. Hey! Just want to inform you that I can totally relate with you.

    Everything you’ve said is true and solid.

    During my younger years, I tend to have suicidal thoughts. And I often recall what my Mom always tell me, that there’s only a thin line between sanity and insanity.

    At any moment it could go wrong and you can never turn back to your normal self again.

    That’s creepy, but that’s so far the most honest advice I have heard from my Mom.

    In short, my Mom is just telling me not to be hard on myself.

    And in relation to your topic, it is true that there’s both an angel and a demon inside your mind.

    Whenever that happens, that’s when self-talk comes in.

    After imagining all the worst things that could possibly happen to me, I start consoling myself.

    Saying things that, you’re just overreacting.

    So in most cases, I also learn not to trust my emotions that much.

    I try not to take things as a big deal and using that kind of “self-talk” is for me an effective tool to conquer your fear, to overcome your self-doubt and lastly, to get of your suicidal behavior.

    In addition to that, whenever I do self-talk, I somehow feel that I have an imaginary friend inside of me.

    A back up whenever I start to feel down about myself again. ☺

    Sorry for the lengthy comment. 🙈 I was just so moved by your post.

    Thank you so much for this most honest post of yours! 💓

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story. You’ve said a lot of things in this comment that suggest you’ve become a master at self-talk. Like you, I don’t always trust my initial emotional responses to things. I often give myself a “cooling down” period and then I self-talk through what took place. Often, I’ll discover, that I’ve overreacted. You use the word “consoling” and that’s a good one to use. Mostly, when I do self-talk, I’m really consoling myself. Again, I really enjoyed reading your comment and I hope you continue to read my blogs. Take care and stay in touch.

      1. You’re always welcome, Dear! No worries! I love reading other blogs, too. 😇 Take care as well. 😉 God bless and thank you also for sharing your story with us. ❤

  4. My self talk could be really negative at times. In high school I did an experiment for 40 days whenever my self talk aloud or in my head was unkind, I said the opposite right afterwards. That was a powerful tool to lift my spirits and self esteem.

    1. That’s a cool sounding experiment. So it turned out well? Like you, I’m always using myself as a guinea pig. Why is it that we are so unkind to ourselves? That’s a topic that needs a bit of examination. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I always find your comments very edifying.

      1. Thanks, Troy. It worked out very well. I set the habit of speaking to myself lovingly which is my policy to this day. I’ve traversed rough life experiences and remained positive. -Rebecca

  5. I really enjoyed reading this. It was relatable and familiar.

    I used self-talk often when I was a kid, although I didn’t know to call it that. I grew up in a rural farm town in southern Ohio with my parents and my brother. I had a fairly normal and boring life, except for this thing where I would talk to myself!

    I was very different from my brother and my dad. I read a lot, loved poetry, and started writing when I was a boy. I used to write down the things I would speak to myself, and even tried writing stories based on those self-talk sessions. My mom encouraged my writing, but didn’t always believe that I wrote the things I wrote…She thought some of my poems were plagiarized.

    I still self-talk from time to time, but it’s usually a recap of a conversation I had earlier. I don’t understand why, but I’m not critical of myself earlier. I use some of those conversations in writing to help my dialogue , because it was an actual dialogue!

    Thanks again for sharing this.

    1. I think we must be kindred spirits. When I was reading your story, I felt like I was reading my own biography. Because there were periods when my family was unstable, I lived for a time with my maternal grandparents. My grandfather was a rancher and cowboy and he desperately wanted me to follow in his footsteps. As a matter of fact, he taught we all sorts of ranch work and had me breaking wild horses and such. Unfortunately for him, I was more turned toward bookish things and went out off to university and then graduate school. Still, though, I understand how such people live and think. I’d like to read your blog if you don’t mind. Would you mind posting the link here? (I’m sure others would like to check it out as well.) I guess the last thing I’d like to say is that we all have our demons. I know I have mine. Self-talk often helps me deal with them. I so greatly appreciate that you’ve shared your story. Please stay in touch, Troy.

      1. Troy, thanks for your kind words. I have to agree that it sounds like we are cut from similar molds. While I learned a lot living on the farm, I was never really invested in it. I had typical farm-boy adventures and definitely got into plenty of trouble! But when I was alone, which happened often, I would read and write. I was the first person in my entire family to get a bachelor’s degree. I’m half way through a master’s in composition and rhetoric, and that is another family first.
        I welcome you to my blog! It’s at http://written
        Now, I have to say that it is patchy and often neglected. I started as a creative outlet for my thoughts and writing with no expectations that anyone would read them. I wish I had more time to dedicate to writing and maintaining it, but I’m a stay-at-home dad with six kids and my time is often allotted to them.
        I’d love to stay in contact, and I’ve already followed your site so I can read anything new that you post.
        Take care, my friend.

      2. That’s cool. Neither one of parents and none of my grandparents had college degrees. Like you, I studied what my family would call “impractical subjects.” I have a degree in political science with a specialization in political theory (political philosophy). I then went to grad school and shifted to the English department where I finished an MA. I’m ABD on my PhD in English. I used my education to travel the world and spent eighteen years living and teaching at universities abroad–in Poland, the UAE, Turkey, and English. (By the way, traveling was the second best education I ever got.) I’m a little behind in posting to my personal site but I’m about to catch up. I look forward to reading your writing. Thanks and please stay in touch.

      3. Thanks. By the way, I found your blog by clicking on your avatar. I read the piece about you working in the bookstore and really liked it. I’ll go back again today to read some more. You’ve got talent as a writer!

  6. I can relate. I don’t self-talk out loud but there is a lot going on in my head. There always has been. Like you I needed self-talk to survive. It’s true, I know myself better than anyone else does and the conversations seem to be more productive. It goes well for me as long as I keep my sights on getting better – not giving in to negative self-talk; or at least trying to keep the negative talk in control. A struggle sometimes but worth it in the long run.
    Thanks for opening up this subject, it’s good to hear others walk a similar path and we’re not alone and crazy after all.

    1. We’re absolutely not crazy. As a matter of fact, talking to ourselves in this way is a sign of real sanity. I do agree that it’s important not to lapse into negative self-talk. Keep it positive. Use self-talk to self-treat. Thanks so much for sharing your story. I really appreciated your comment.

  7. This reminds me of my quick self talk before the mirror. I look myself in the eye and say something to myself. The other me that responses is in my mind while I talk. It could be anything, motivation, consolation, encouragement, admonition, teasing nagging myself and it gets worse when I offend someone. I ask myself why I could do such a terrible thing, it helps me to apologise and make amends. To me self talk is healing. Be it positive or negative. But it’s better to be positive.
    It also keeps me away from worry.

    1. Wow! I love your line: “To me self-talk is healing.” You said it better than I said it in my piece. Absolutely, self-talk is a kind of self-treatment. The ultimate goal is to get better. I think your self-talk sounds a lot like you using your conscience to get right with others. That’s so cool! I really learned something from you today. Thanks so much!

  8. I love this kind of self care – use it often, both aloud and silently. When I’m digging myself into that proverbial hole, it’s a great way to stop digging. When I’m feeling pain from earlier in my life, it’s a resource to “sit down” with the younger me, and talk it through.

    1. I totally love your use of the term “self-care.” That’s absolutely the purpose of self-talk–to take care of ourselves. It’s a salve, a corrective, and sometimes a bitter pill to swallow. But, if we keep it positive and use it for good, it’s one of the best medicines around. I turn to self-talk when I get in my tightest spots, when I feel like no one else really has any sort of power to help. Thanks, Liz. You’re truly a wise person!

      1. My first urge is to say “wise ass”. Inner voice says “Where did you learn that? Why would you always say that about yourself, it’s unkind?” That’s why I talk to myself, give myself pep talks, and am working on my own system of notes and organization for a difficult class. I may not be “wise” – that seems SO Gandalf! – but I’ve got enough experience to know when to trust my own voice.
        Thank you, Troy!! I always feel like you read what I write, and see the meaning, and get to the heart of it.

      2. Aww, now I’m gonna cry. Thank you, truly. I love being able to communicate and being told that I’m doing it, and it’ something someone enjoys is a real gift. You have totally polished my day.

      3. You are certainly welcome. As I mentioned in my blog, I had never heard of self-talk before I started intuitively using it as a child. The world is so full of sound and fury signifying nothing that it’s important we hear very clearly from ourselves to cut through all that white noise. I have this terrible tendency to exaggerate things when some little something goes wrong. In such cases, I explain to myself that I’m doing this exaggerating thing AGAIN. Just hearing myself say that triggers me to recall that this is a problem I have and that things are very likely no where near as bad as I first perceived them to be. I think it helps to know ourselves really well and thus to know the best way to employ self-talk and then to use it regularly or as needed. Thanks so much for participating in this conversation.

  9. Thank you for this post, Troy. I enjoyed reading about your childhood experiences and your habit of self-talk. As you and several other readers noted, I think honest, yet positive self-talk is an important exercise. For me, my thoughts are often jumbled, so simply thinking positively doesn’t always cut it. When I actually verbalize my thoughts, I find that I choose different words than the ones in my head. I am going to make a conscious effort to audibly self-talk each day. Thanks again for the inspiration! 🕊

    1. Thanks for sharing your story. Yes, this is the beauty of self-talk. It definitely helps us get through an 8-hour shift or through the day or past a hard time. It’s a kind of strategy session for the soul.

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