Time & Productivity

Positive Self-Talk to Feed Productivity & Tenacity

Research on athletes and students shows that repeating positive mantras and encouraging sentiments to yourself in times of stress and pressure actually has a demonstrably positive impact on performance — and self-esteem. Here, learn how you can encourage, inspire, and push yourself toward progress by acting as your very own ADHD coach.

Happy smiling narcissistic business woman office worker character looks at mirror. Vector flat cartoon illustration

Research among athletes and students has shown that positive self-talk results in improved performance by a number of measures. In fact, just uttering the three words “I am excited” in a high-pressure situation is proven to relieve stress, improve self-confidence, and lead to better performance, according to research1 from Harvard Business School.

What’s more, a recent paper2 in the British Medical Journal reports that cognitive behavioral therapy — a form of talk therapy that can be done without a therapist — is as effective as Prozac or Zoloft in treating major depression.

Why does this matter? This research suggests that, with a few positive mantras and some mindful positivity, you can effectively become your very own ADHD life coach. The trick: Learn the specific types of self-talk that have the power to persuade and motivate — to crystallize what you should be focused on, help you refocus when distractions yank you off-course, help you see things strategically, and make better decisions. Here’s how to get started.

Why Do People with ADHD Need Positive Self-Talk?

Normal thought patterns reinforce existing beliefs. And as adults with ADHD, we are the products of a lot of negative programming. By the time we’re 18 years old, we’ve been told “no” about 148,000 times. One hundred forty-eight thousand times we were told: “No, you can’t do that. No, do not try that. No, that’s not for you.” And so on. This contrasts sharply with the few times we were told: “Yes, by all means, you can do that. Yes, go for it.”

[Free Resource: Free Guide to Natural ADHD Treatment Options]

As a result, according to behavioral researcher Shad Helmstetter, Ph.D., author of What to Say When You Talk to Yourself, up to 77 percent of our thoughts are negative and counterproductive and work against us. So the biggest reason we need self-talk, and not more internal dialogue, is that we have to deprogram that thinking — much like a coach or therapist does. Reversing the negative loops that are holding you back is one of the many ways you can use self-talk.

“Why does this crap always happen to me?” “I’ll never quit smoking.” “No matter what I do, I can’t lose weight.” “I’m never gonna be able to do this job well.” If you can get in the habit of catching yourself in these loops, you can use self-talk to reverse them.

What Does Positive Self-Talk Look and Sound Like?

You might think you’re already coaching yourself: “I gotta start this damn project soon or there’s gonna be hell to pay.” Or, “Hmm, what if I did it this way instead of that way?” That’ll help you get things done. But that’s not coaching. That’s inner dialogue.

[Read: Finish What You Start]

Think about how you would persuade or motivate another person. Ideally, you talk face to face, with a reasoned point of view, and reiterate that point of view until he or she finally gets it. Now apply that logic to self-talk: Talking to yourself face-to-face is a powerful tool for getting more done, changing habits and beliefs, and being happier.

I’m not talking about “rah-rah” positive thinking. Powerful self-talk is rational, fact-based self-coaching. It provides objective opinions and evaluations of what you’re doing and thinking while you are thinking and doing it.

Where Can I Try Positive Self-Talk In My Life?

Think of how you can apply self-talk to things like:

  • Breaking through the wall of procrastination; self-talk can expose the irrational reasons you’re avoiding the task.
  • Keeping focused on two primary tasks; self-talk can help you resist the call of distractions.
  • Recovering from major setbacks.
  • Creatively problem-solving rather than feeling stuck and powerless.

Anywhere there’s a gap between your current performance and your potential, self-talk can make a big difference.


1 Brooks, A.W. “Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, vol. 143, no. 3, June 2014, pp. 1144–1158.
2 Amick, Halle R, et al. “Comparative Benefits and Harms of Second Generation Antidepressants and Cognitive Behavioral Therapies in Initial Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” BMJ, 8 Dec. 2015, doi:10.1136/bmj.h6019.

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