How to Change Your Negative Self-Talk

John 10:10 ESV

You see them everywhere. Little inspirational sayings like, “You are the only one who can limit your greatness.” Or, “Make your optimism come true.” They are on posters in gyms and offices. Social media is plastered with them. Do they help? Do they work? Well, if you’re feeling harried because of a stressful commute and a looming project, a kid with the sniffles, not to mention a pile of laundry sitting in a corner at home and a to-do list that stretches to the horizon, is a pithy platitude really going to turn things around for you? Maybe.

If you don’t feel guilty for not measuring up, a powerful quote might give you a boost. You may suddenly feel a surge of motivation. It can shape your self-talk in that moment to take positive action. But for a deeper and abiding change, you’ll need more than a feel-good slogan. You’ll need more than inspiration to change your on-going internal dialogue.

Inspiration has its place. But ultimately inspiration that comes from the outside is synthetic. It won’t last for long. It has a short shelf life when it comes to deep, life-changing self-talk. It may be helpful, even necessary at times, but it’s not enough. Don’t be hoodwinked by the “inspirational-industrial complex.” Long-lasting and life-transforming inspiration has to arise from a deeper place.

True and lasting change is an inside job that has nothing to do with performance.

It doesn’t matter if you’re married or single, young or old, shy or assertive: if your self-worth hangs on a condition of good performance, your self-talk is sure to be riddled with self-doubt, insecurity, and anxiety. After the upbeat quotes become white noise, your inner voice is bound to be condemning. Why? Because, as French philosopher Blaise Pascal said, there is an “infinite abyss” in the heart of each of us that can be filled only by God. And until we fill that abyss with God’s love — until we feel it deep in our beings — our sense of worth and significance becomes illusive. We will never be fully satisfied. We will never have a solid foundation of love to stand on.

Healthy people plant their feet firmly on a deep and confident sense of worth that is built by God’s love.

They recognize that God created them and that He knows them intimately and loves them — no matter what. They think of themselves as “wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14 NIV). They have intrinsic worth that no longer depends on performance.

We could give you a list of psychological tricks and techniques to change your negative self-talk. But we prefer to cut right to the heart of the matter. So at the risk of sounding trite, the key to changing your negative self-talk into the best kind of self-talk is to experience God’s love deep down in your soul. We’re not talking about “knowing” God’s love — which comes as a result of a studied and reasoned, or academic, pursuit. You can know things you don’t experience. For example, you can argue that the Bible says God loves the world (John 3:16), and you are part of the world, so you are loved by God. That’s a mental exercise. Not an experience.

In the 1700s, Jonathan Edwards used a simple analogy: “There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet and having a sense of its sweetness.” You can know honey is sweet because someone tells you, but you don’t really know its sweetness until you’ve tasted it.

We’re talking about opening your heart and allowing the sweetness of God’s love to be experienced. This is more about your heart than your head. It’s what John Wesley was getting at in pondering God’s love when he described his heart as being “strangely warmed.” Pascal, who was a mathematician and scientist as well as a philosopher, said his heart was “directed into the love of God.” It’s a feeling at the center of our beings. It’s beyond knowing with your head. In fact, it’s beyond comprehension. How can you wrap your head around being loved by the Creator — so much so that you feel it?

When I (Les) was a graduate student in seminary, a professor asked a class of more than fifty students: “How many of you experience God’s love?” He quickly added, “Don’t raise your hands on impulse. Think about it and only raise your hand if you know the feeling of being loved by God.” Out of this room of students preparing for ministry, how many hands went up? Fewer than a dozen. Those who didn’t raise their hands gave answers like “I know I’m supposed to say that I have… I know the Bible says He loves me… but I don’t feel it.” Some even admitted that God felt cold, aloof, and demanding — not loving.

The professor wasn’t surprised. It wasn’t his first time to pose the question to a class of students. He followed it up with another: “How many of you have been conscious of God’s love for you, personally, in the past week?” No hands went up this time. He waited a couple of beats and continued: “How many have been conscious of God’s disapproval of you this week?” Hands shot up all around the room.

If you want to experience God’s love, if you want to feel it deep in your spirit, you’ve got to admit that you are indeed inadequate — that you haven’t and will not ever earn God’s love. It’s an impossibility.

You can only receive it as a grace gift. When God tells us,

Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His presence continually. — 1 Chronicles 16:11 ESV

He is not merely making a suggestion. He designed us to live with Him. That’s where we find health, wholeness, and fulfillment. Jesus underscored this when He said,

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. — John 10:10 ESV

You may feel as though a million hurdles stand in your way to experiencing God’s love — guilt, shame, blame, perfectionism, legalism, inadequacies, hurts — but be assured that nobody has or ever will earn the love of God. Each of us is undeserving. But when we open our hearts to receive it and continually walk with God to experience it, our internal dialogue forever changes.

Instead of a momentary inspiration to get you to your next accomplishment so you can feel better about yourself, you find yourself feeling profoundly significant in front of your Creator and have a lifetime of motivation to be exactly who you were designed to be.

The payoff? Insecure feelings are few and far between. Worry wanes. Peace reigns. Your relationships become rich and vital. You are less defensive, more caring, generous, and attractive for all the right reasons. The more you tune in to and master your self-talk, the more you embrace just how profoundly significant you are in the eyes of your Creator. You are becoming healthy and whole.

Excerpted with permission from Healthy Me, Healthy Us by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, copyright Les Parrott.

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Your Turn

Do you want to have better relationships? A better marriage? A better life? Much of that starts with getting healthy inside first and using healthy self-talk. Do you want to experience God more and put His Word into your heart? Seek His face! Come share your thoughts on getting healthy on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

Les and Leslie Parrott

Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott are founders of RealRelationships.com and the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University. Their bestselling books include Love Talk, Crazy Good Sex, and the award-winning Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts. Their work has been featured in the New York Times and USA Today, and they have appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, and Oprah. They live with their two young sons in Seattle.

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