The Difference between Positive Self-Talk and Pity
Yesterday, we talked about how negative self-talk sounds. If you’re taking this course, I imagine that it resonated with you deeply. If you’re anything like I was when I started to improve my inner voice, you may not be convinced that positive self-talk is a good thing.
At first, I was reluctant to practice self-acceptance. I didn’t see positive self-talk as encouragement. In my mind, I was giving failure a space to thrive.
According to Dr. Kristin Neff, a leading researcher on self-compassion, the initial stages of improving your inner voice can feel very much like letting yourself off the hook.
That’s precisely what pity does. It enables a set of beliefs that make personal problems seem uncontrollable. It helps exaggerate our suffering to the point that we can chalk it up to fate, rather than something we can control. If your mindset trends toward pity, your actions end up dissociating from their consequences.
To me, there is no form of deception higher than self-pity. Aspects of your life are out of your control; this will never stop being true. But that doesn’t mean the entirety of your life is, nor does it mean that you can’t work to gain more control of your life.
Healthy self-talk is nearly the opposite. It requires patience, understanding, and accountability. When we take responsibility, it puts us in control of our actions and their consequences. We no longer default to blaming outside influences but instead, look for ways we can change and enhance our lives.
But what does it look like when we slip up? How should we respond to ourselves? The first step is to differentiate between the error and your identity. People often mistake themselves as a failure rather than a person who failed. It’s an important distinction, marking the difference between positive and negative self-talk.
Let’s look at an example. I recently started running after years of convincing myself that cardio simply wasn’t for me. In the past, my inner voice would say things like, “You always do this,” or, “why do you even bother?” My inner critic wanted me to see myself as a failure, rather than someone who failed. This attitude is purely a distraction meant to keep us comfortable. It’s pity, and it has no place in how we speak to ourselves.
Now, when I skip a run, I’m focused on past successes and think of what changes I can make to improve my performance. My inner voice acts as a personal coach motivating me to do better and move outside of my comfort zone. It helps me push for improvement rather than fixate on setbacks.
In a 2012 study, participants were instructed to write something kind about a personal weakness or recent moral transgression. When they did, it caused them to take increased ownership and work to improve themselves.
For this exercise, you have two options. For either option, write a one- to three-sentence summary.
1. Think back to a time where you felt humiliated or like a failure.
2. Write about a personal weakness you see in yourself.
Once you’ve written those sentences, imagine that you are talking to yourself from a caring and understanding perspective. What would you say? What sort of language do you use? How does your tone sound?
Tomorrow, we’ll be covering questions that help us reveal an accurate portrayal of our lives and why that matters.
Thanks for reading!
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