A Note About Self-Talk

Last week I hosted my Q&A show #AsktheEditor for my private community More to the Story (if you’re a nonfiction writer and you’d like to join me you can request an invite here).

One of the questions I got was:

How do you overcome your own lack of self-confidence?

Whenever I get a question like this my first instinct is to zero in on self-talk, as in: how do we talk to ourselves? If we tell ourselves, I can’t do this or I’m not good enough to do this or my writing is shit, well then, guess what? We are tearing down our own chance at building confidence.

A few years ago I started seeing a new doctor. Finding a doctor is not an easy thing for me because I have a lot of specific needs, and I have chosen to follow alternative treatment therapies to manage my health. But I knew this new doctor was the right one for me after the first visit.

During that visit, she spent more than an hour with me. She focused a lot of her attention not on what I’m eating or how I’m exercising, but on how I’m managing stress. Toward the end of the visit she asked me if I have kids or plan to.

I said no, wondering what this question had to do with her treatment recommendations.

“How about a little niece?” she said.

“No,” I said, still trying to guess what she was getting at.

“Do you have a sister?”


“Younger or older?”

“She’s nine years younger.”

“Perfect. What’s her name?”


“Okay, now,” she said while typing her notes into the computer, “anytime you are feeling upset or stressed out, I want you to imagine that you are talking to Kendra when she was five-years-old. Whatever you would say to that little girl is what I want you to say to yourself.”

Right away I knew exactly what she meant. When Kendra was five, I was fourteen. If she were crying or hurt or upset, I’d take her into a hug. I’d rock her back and forth. I’d tell her that everything was going to be okay. I’d tell her that she didn’t need to cry because I was there and I would take care of her.

How often do I treat myself like that? Not very. And if I’m being completely honest the more accurate answer is: rarely.

So when I think about overcoming a lack of confidence, I try to apply the same mentality. If I were talking to my sister at age five (or even at age thirty, the principle is still the same), and she were doubting herself. What would I say? I’d tell her she’s doing great. I’d tell her it’s okay to fail, and that even if she does she’ll learn something from the experience. I’d tell her that she’s got this. I’d tell her she’s been working so hard and training for so long and that now is her time.

How often do I treat myself like that? Rarely.

I’m so bad at it, in fact, that I have to write emails like this to you just to remind myself of how I should be talking to myself.

Listen: confidence comes from what we believe about ourselves. Unfortunately, we tend to believe what we hear from others—we let them tell us who we are. We can’t control what others say about us. But we CAN control what we say about ourselves. It’s the first and best place to start if you want to battle self-doubt and a lack of confidence.

Next time you’re feeling unsure of yourself, imagine that you’re talking to your sister. If you don’t have a sister, imagine you’re talking to your best friend. 

What would you say to her?

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