Self-Talk: What It Is and How It Can Help You Be a Better Dater

A woman who practices positive self talk, smiling with her fiance as they hug outside.

If you want to make any big lifestyle change, it usually starts with your talk. And that’s because intentional action always follows talk. And no, I’m not referring to what you say aloud, I’m referring to the things you think and ‘say’ to yourself.

You might think success in dating comes from having a good job, dressing well, getting in shape, or knowing how to charm. While those things do help, none of those will give you the boost that improving your self-talk will.

What Is self-talk?
Self-talk is sort of an abstract idea, but the best way to think about it is the narrative you have in your head about yourself. It encompasses your general self-image, but also things that you say to yourself inside your head during emotional moments like, Gosh, you’re stupid, when you trip in public or, You totally deserved that, when your boss offers you a promotion. You can also think of it as the little voice in your head.

So what does that have to do with dating?
You’ve probably heard the adage, “You can’t love someone till you love yourself.” Well, it’s true. Self-love is the foundation of confidence. A big boost in confidence will take you farther in your dating than any other single quality. People who love themselves can share themselves unabashed, and that will help you connect with people romantically more than anything else you can do. Positive self-talk is a huge part of having confidence, and negative self-talk is often a huge part in lacking it.

Improving your self-talk will help you love yourself and hopefully, someone else, too. Here’s how to go about it:

1. Keep your word.
If you want your positive self-talk to have power, you have to empower your word. The most effective way of empowering your word is to keep it, for things big and small. And, yes, that also means keeping your word to yourself. Your word becomes weaker every time you break it, so when you say you’ll go to the gym, do it. When you promised dinner with your friend, show up. The better you get at keeping commitments to yourself and others, the more faith you’ll have in the power of your talk.

2. Set goals and follow through with them.
Now that you’ve started keeping your word in small things, set the bar a little higher. Challenge yourself to follow through on medium and long-term goals. Attend each session of a 10-part cooking class. Plan to run a 10k in six months and get on a consistent training regiment. When you set and follow through on these goals, it not only reinforces the bond of your word, it’ll naturally increase the positivity of your self-talk.

3. Compliment yourself when you do well or achieve something.
Revel in your successes, even the little ones. Whether you showed up early for work every day in a week or you nailed a big presentation, both deserve a verbal pat on the back. Constant reminders of your personal values are a surefire way to improve self-talk.

4. Visualize situations you’re nervous about.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of mirror self-affirmations, at least not by themselves. Many people make self-affirmations without any belief in what they’re saying. Visualization is all about understanding what these affirmations look like. When you make a statement like, “I want to have a boyfriend in 10 months,” visualize what the dating process looks like, what your boyfriend is wearing, how good you are to him, how you met, what conversations look like. Visualizing these goals normalizes them. It makes them achievable. Then, when the situation you’ve been seeking arises you may be nervous, but you’ve already rehearsed it in your head.

5. Do a “what does this affect” check?
A lot of negative self-talk comes from situations where people feel embarrassed. If you struggle with this, do a “what does this affect” check. Make a list of the most important things to you. These can be things like your family, your friends, your job, your faith. In the moments when you feel silly about something you’ve done, ask yourself did your actions affect your family, your friends, your job, or your faith. Most of the time, the answer is no. In that case, forgive yourself for whatever happened or realize that what happened probably wasn’t a big deal. These checks are a reminder to be easier on yourself, and that small things shouldn’t derail your self-love.

6. Stop shoulding on yourself.
Shoulding on yourself is when you impose impossible standards on your life, like “I should look like a young George Clooney,” or ruminating on past decisions, like, “I should’ve taken that job years ago.” I’m not saying you shouldn’t reflect on your decisions thoughtfully. I’m saying you should accept that some things are crazy to expect of yourself and that the path you took is the one you’re on and you have to accept it. Stop the self-shaming and accept your place in life. Work to improve yourself through hard work and kindness, not through reprimanding yourself for normal failures.

It’s easier to tell yourself you want to improve your self-talk than to actually do it. In fact, it’s not easy to improve at all. If you have poor self-talk, you probably developed the habits that led to it over months or years. It’s a big undertaking to change all at once, but the first step is becoming aware of it. Now you are. The next step is catching yourself when you do it. The last step is loving yourself a little bit (or a lot) for everything that you do. That’s not to say your perfect, just that you accept yourself. Start there and the rest will follow.

Alex Bocknek

Alex Bocknek is the senior editor of The Date Mix and works at Zoosk, the online dating service. He’s also a recovering music critic and an aspiring fiction writer (probably lost) on the way to an independent bookstore near you. He can be found occasionally musing about politics, philosophy, and love in the modern world.

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