What To Say When You Talk To Yourself by Shad Helmstetter, is a self-help book which explores the principles behind self talk. In the book, Helmstetter provides examples of the various levels of self talk as well as precise self talk scripts that readers can use to improve their inner dialogue and hence, optimize their lives towards success.

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“What To Say When You Talk To Yourself”  by Shad Helmstetter

The Book in 10 Sentences:

1. The quality of our lives depends on the quality of our programming, that is, how we talk to ourselves.

2. The brain simply believes what you tell it the most – It does not care whether it is right or wrong.

3. The mind says: “Give me the words. Give me the directions, the commands, the picture, the schedule, and the results you want.” 

4. There are 5 levels of self talk; most of us operate on level 1 -the lowest level and the most damaging. [Read Insight #1]

5. Re-frame your self talk from: “I just can’t seem to get anything done today!” to: “I am organized and complete my work on time.”

6. When you talk to yourself, a single positive phrase won’t result in an overnight miracle; instead, use self talk scripts which address all the major subject areas of a problem.  [Check insight #3 for an Actual Script]

7. For better focus, clarity, and mood: engage in dialogues with yourself. [Read Insight #2 ‘Self Conversation’]

8. Adjust your Attitudes; one can change how they feel about anything by merely adjusting the way they think about that particular thing.

9. The change that occurs internally as a result of personal choice is the change that lasts.

10. “Mastering your future starts by managing yourself.”


INSIGHT #1  The Five Levels Of Self-Talk

“Self talk is a specific set of concisely worded directions –usually a group of dozen or more combined phrases. They link together on the same subject, which jointly paints a detailed picture of the better you which you would like to become, or the change in your life you would like to create.”

On any given day, each of us engages in self talk on any of the five different levels, says Helmstetter. Some of the levels work for us, whilst others work against us. 

The author outlines five distinct levels of self talk.

Level 1: “Negative Acceptance.”

This is the lowest level of self talk and is the most damaging. According to Helmstetter, most of our self talk occurs at this level.


“I can’t seem to get anything right!”
“I just can’t!”
“Today just isn’t my day!”
“…was right, I’m useless!”

Level 2: “Recognition and the Need to Change.”

As Helmstetter says, the self talk at this level may appear that it is good but in reality, it is actually working against us.

Some examples are:

“I really should get to work on time.”
“I need to lose some weight badly!”
“I’ve got to do something about this!”

The reason why these phrases work against us is because they provide problems without solutions. When we say things such as “I really need to be more organized,” what we are really saying is “I really need to be more organized… but I’m not!”

Level 3: “Decision to Change.”

At this level, your self-talk shifts positively and is aimed towards working for your benefit rather than working against you.

Examples of level 3 self talk are:

“I no longer have a problem dealing with people at work.”
“I don’t eat more than I should.”
“I never get upset in traffic.”

Helmstetter writes: “when you move to Level III, you are automatically beginning to rephrase old negative ‘cannots.’ That is, you are putting them behind you, and stating them in a positive new way. This tells your subconscious mind to wake up, get moving, and make the change.”

Level 4: “A Better You.”

This is the most effective level of self-talk, says Helmstetter. Level 4 self talk is crucial, but we tend to use it the least. Self talk at this level inspires, encourages and implores the individual.

Some examples of statements on this level are:

“I am organized and get things done”
“I have determination, drive and self belief.”
“I am a winner, I believe in myself!”

Level 5: “Universal Affirmation.”

According to Helmstetter, Level 5 self talk is to do with ‘oneness’ and divinity with the universe. Words at this level are meaningful and engaging:

“I am one with the universe, and it is one with me.”

He also adds: “This is the self talk for seekers, still living amongst mankind, but anxious to find a greater reward.”

The author advises that those who wish to better their inner programming may begin to use the self-talk of level 3 and level 4. This, in essence, is self talk that will actually work to improve an individual’s life.

INSIGHT #2 The Five Methods For Applying Self Talk.

i. Silent Self Speak
This is what you think about yourself and everything around you. Silent self talk happens both consciously and on an unconscious level. The idea is to listen to all the negative things you say to yourself and then to re-frame them.

For example, consider the phrase below:

“ I can’t seem to get anything done today!”

Reframe it to:

“I am organized and complete my work on time.”

ii. Self Speak
What you say when you are speaking paints an important part of the pictures and commands that you send to your subconscious.
Helmstetter advises only on using words that align with who you want to become and not saying phrases which might be counterproductive.

iii. Self Conversation
This involves talking to yourself loudly as if you were having a dialogue with yourself whilst holding down both ends of the conversation.

Before attempting this method, the author cautions that you go somewhere private. That is unless you want your most trusted family members or friends to think you’ve gone loony!

Here is an example from the book:

“In a clear, confident and loud voice, I turned to myself and said,

“Hi, Shad! Looks like we’re grounded”

“Yup!” I answered, just as confidently.

“What would you like to do?”

“Let’s talk!”

And thus began one of the most interesting conversations I believe I have ever had –with myself!”

iv. Self Write
The idea here is to write down your self talk. This involves noting down on a piece of paper: the ten most significant self talk suggestions that you are giving to yourself most often. This is basically identifying the negative Level I and II self-talk within you. It’s to do with phrases starting with, “I can’t…” or “nothing seems to go right,” or “it’s just not my day.”

v. Tape Talk.
The idea here is to record ‘new programming’ statements and listen to it once or twice in the day via cassette or CD player. The benefit here is that one can listen to the tapes even whilst they are busy doing other chores.

INSIGHT #3 A Self Talk Script For Weight Loss.

“…While writing the actual self-talk for the problem of losing weight and keeping it off permanently, I identified fourteen individual subject areas of self talk. Each subtopic was vital to the one specific problem I was writing about.”

Below is a script which the book outlines, to assist with weight loss. For it to be effective, Helmstetter advises that one reads the script three to four times daily.

  •  “I am in control of myself in every way –at all times and in all situations.”
  • “Each time I sit down to eat I reaffirm my determination to achieve my goal. By eating right, and never giving in, I am reaching the weight I want.”
  • “Whether eating in or eating out, I really enjoy eating less.”
  • “I never feel the need to finish the food in front of me. I eat only what I should –and never one bite more.”
  • “One way to weight-loss that’s easy and works, is less food on my plate, and less on my fork!”
  • “By ordering less when I eat out, and by serving myself smaller portions at home, I keep myself aware of the importance of staying with my goal –each and every day. Less on my plate means less on my waist.”
  • “When I sit down to eat, at no time do I allow anyone else to influence, tempt or discourage me in any negative way.”
  • “What I eat, and the goals I reach, are up to me. And I give no one the right to hinder or control my success.”
  • “Although others may benefit from my success, I am achieving my weight loss goals for my own personal reasons –for myself, my life, my future and my own personal well being.”
  • “I am never at any time, tempted to take one bite more than I should. I am strong. I am capable of reaching my goal, and I am doing it!”
  • “Being in situations which put a lot of food in front of me is not a problem to me now. I simply say “No!” to the food and “Yes!” to my success.”
  • “I enjoy sitting down to eat. Each time I do I conquer my past, and I create a trimmer, happier, more self-confident future in front of me.”
  • “When I sit down to eat, I do not need someone else to remind me of my goal, or to keep me from eating something I should not. I take full responsibility for myself, and no one else has to do it for me.”
  • “Controlling my weight, and my appetite is easy for me now. I enjoy smaller portions, smaller bites, and a slower, healthier, more relaxed way of eating.”
  • “I have set my goals and I’m staying with it. I have turned mealtime into ‘achievement time.’ ”

INSIGHT #4  Situational Self Talk

“…how we react to those things in life which we can do nothing about will always be the truest test of our own self-control, our own individual sense of self, and our ability to manage our minds…”

The primary goal of ‘Situational Self-Talk’ says Helmstetter, is to adjust situations by adjusting how we look at them.

Here’s a list of everyday situations collected from the book What To Say When You Talk To Yourself along with relevant self talk statements that you can apply to shift your perspective.

i. Situation: When standing in a long queue:
Self Talk: “I don’t mind standing in line. That’s where I am and I’m doing what I need to do. Standing in line doesn’t bother me –and I really like getting things done.”

ii. Situation: Amidst torrential rain:
Self Talk: “It’s raining today and that’s fine with me. I’m going to have a good day and a little rain can’t stop me.”

iii. Situation: An incoming call at work from an irate customer:
Self Talk: “I like solving problems. I always deal with problems and I never avoid them. I’ll take the call and I’ll tackle the problem head on.”

What To Say When You Talk To Yourself by Shad Helmstetter – Summary Notes

Chapter One: Looking for a Better Way. 

“I believe that mastering one’s future must surely start with managing ones ‘self.”

Shad Helmstetter provides a brief outline of his childhood; growing up in a rural farmland with an over imaginative mind. He had more questions than answers;

What if we could reach up and touch the stars?
What if we could stop what’s holding us back and turn things around for our own sake?
If we can or should control our lives, then what holds us back?
Why are some more productive, happier and fulfilled with their lives and others are not?
What is the wall that stands in our way?

This quest for answers, as he says, led him on a journey from “the back road of a farmland village all the way to the negotiating tables in the towering offices of New York’s Madison Avenue.”

Chapter Two: The Answers. 

…If you had a better mental program, or were given an extra helping of self-confidence, or double the amount of belief in the outcome then what could your future hold? How would you do things differently? What about your personal life, would you improve anything?” 

A student of success for two decades, Helmstetter writes about the ever increasing number of self-help books. Each book promises to share with its reader’s the secret to success.

“..take it with a grain of salt,” he says “if someone offers you the moon, don’t buy it.”

A motivational talk can inspire, but as the feelings of motivation wane away, we are back to our default state. The speech is not the problem, it probably was exhilarating, but as Helmstetter points out: “it’s not how the brain works.”

He adds: “Only when you give your brain the right directions, will it work for you.”   

The brain tends to revert back to its default mode. This is what the author calls the ‘programming’ that we receive.

A child in its infantile stage hears “NO” thousands of times by the time they’ve turned just one year old. One can only imagine how many times that child has heard the word “NO” or other similar messages such as ‘can’t’ or ‘should not’ by the time they’ve reached adulthood. Eventually, the sheer repetition of these negative messages takes its toll and as it continues year after year, we start to believe it ourselves. They become our “daily dose of cannots”. 

As the author further clarifies: “Repetition is a convincing argument”

Every word, action we take or how successful we are (or are not) is a result of the programming we get from others and the conditioning we give to ourselves. Helmstetter clarifies that as a result, the actions we take in the future are, therefore, determined by the beliefs within our subconscious mind. In addition, these beliefs tend to not be of our own but are a result of the programming we have received growing up. This programming is a result of well-intentioned parents, teachers, friends, the evening news… and society at large.

Studying the various philosophies, numerous theories as well as human behavior, Helmstetter states two ideas, which he claims was a turning point for his life:

1.“your success or failure in anything, large or small will depend on your programming”-what you accept from others, and what you say when you talk to yourself.

2.“It makes no difference whether we believe it or not. The brain simply believes what you tell it most.”And what you tell it about you, it will create. It has no choice.

Chapter Five: We Learn to Believe.

“We are ships with countless captains, all seeking to direct us on their own courses, for their own purposes, not even knowing they are leading our ships astray.”

 What an adult tells a child can have a powerful impact on the child’s mental programming. In addition, some of the ways society programs us are subtle, but still has a powerful effect on our minds.

We tend to go through life with bad programming. There is no wonder that we fall short of our goals and not reach our potentials. The solution, Helmstetter says, is to reprogram. By changing our programming, our subconscious mind shifts and works for us. This, in turn, leads to a change in our behaviors and attitudes.

Chapter Six: The Wall.

“We are the result of the programs in our subconscious mind.”

We engage in self talk all the time, says Helmstetter. While most of it occurs unconsciously, sometimes the self talk manifests itself as feelings that we can’t quite express.

The more weight we place in a particular narrative or belief, the more we will accept other ideas that are similar to those beliefs. As Helmstetter clarifies, it is as if we’ve created this giant wall made out of the negative self talk that takes place within our own minds.

Over the many years that Helmstetter spent searching for lasting improvement, he noticed that most of the content of his self talk was negative and self-defeating. He would note down whenever one of those self-defeating narratives would play in his mind. Some of them were along the lines of:

“Today is just going to be another of those days!”

“I’m so clumsy!”

“I can’t seem to get anything right!”

“I won’t be able to do this now!”

“I just can’t seem to get organized!”

“I’m just no good!”

Imagine this: you have been telling yourself ‘I’m not good at remembering names’ for years.

 You’re at a formal dinner and you tell yourself “I’m going to try and remember this person’s name.” But a minute later, after exchanging pleasantries you try to recall the person’s name and you forget!

As Helmstetter writes: “You have been programming yourself to forget the name!”

Our ‘internal software’ does anything we tell it to with equal indifference. Therefore, unless we change the programming and the conditioning that we give ourselves, the subconscious mind will continue to execute the same program.

Chapter Seven: Passing It On. 

As we learned our programming from others around us, we tend to pass it on to others. Think of the kind of programming a parent, whose intent is to give their child a good upbringing gives them behind closed doors:

“You’re just not good at this.”
“Why can’t you be more like your sister?”
“You always seem to attract the wrong friends!”
“You will never amount to anything!”

What parents don’t seem to realize is that as Helmstetter points out: “these statements create a self-belief in the child which leads to failure instead of the success that they were trying to bestow.”

Our subconscious works 24-7, it acts like a sponge soaking anything you tell it. It does not have the ability to make moral judgments.

Much like a machine, it will do whatever the programs installed tell it to do.

Even if it is a lie, if told often and strongly enough the mind will believe it to be true.

Chapter Ten: The Problem with Positive Thinking.

Over the last few decades, positive thinking is one of the great concepts to have come out in self-help. However, Helmstetter argues that positive thinking by itself won’t propel someone to the pinnacle of their potentials.

“It’s like jumping ninety percent of the way across a chasm. We almost make it to the other side.”

This, he argues, is because your mind already has certain programming that’s been set up. If you decide to never again think negatively, that’s only half the road. Without giving yourself a specific new vocabulary of the right things to say, you will slip back into your comfortable old ways of thinking negatively. It’s the default state.

“It is fine to throw out the old –it is essential. But it is also essential to replace the old with the new –word for word, thought by thought.”

Chapter Twelve: Not Hypnosis -Not Subliminal.

“Personal responsibility is the bedrock of all individual action.”

In this chapter, Helmstetter attempts to distinguish the concept of self-talk from that of hypnosis and subliminal conditioning. He says that both hypnosis and subliminal conditioning may or may not be true. Furthermore, he clarifies that the reason behind the effectiveness of self-talk has to do with personal responsibility.

He defines personal responsibility as:

“…the basis of our individual determination to accept life and to fulfill ourselves within it.”

“There are those who will say that hypnosis has its place. I believe it does. There are those who will say that “subliminal” mind techniques are effective. They may be right. But I encourage you to take the responsibility for you and everything you accept and do as a part of your own given birthright!”

Chapter Thirteen: If It Isn’t Simple, It Won’t Work.

“We are too busy fixing the train to realize we are on the wrong track.”

Helmstetter argues that if an idea is not simple to implement or practice, then it most often will not work. He adds that we all have a desire to improve at least one thing about ourselves, but we just don’t get about doing it.

In addition, he writes: “The more successful you become inside, the more successes you will automatically create on the outside.” But taking that step towards improvement can be difficult, as he reasons:

“We are so busy taking care of first things first that we have no time, energy, or thought left to take care of the one thing that could make all of the other things better.”

That is, becoming better at managing themselves.

Chapter Fifteen: Whatever Your Need or Position in Life.

“The thoughts and the mood which caused [Depression] in the first place can be replaced –by the refreshing change of mental scenery which self talk creates. Any of us can talk ourselves into depression and discouragement –and we can as easily talk ourselves out of it.”

We choose the way we want to view anything.

We can choose to see things through a dark lens where everything is negative, or we can choose to view things in a more pragmatic manner.

Chapter Sixteen: Changing Habits.

Our habits are like mental programs which are “well-trodden paths which even though they lead us in the wrong direction, we most easily follow.”

Most of us have at least one habit that we would like to change or stop completely.

Some habits are less subtle than others such as ignoring problems, worrying, telling ourselves white lies, not setting priorities, interrupting others, etc.

The author advises that when using self-talk to change a habit or affect an attitude: to use a solid body of self talk around the subject instead of just one self talk phrase. He also advises one to choose a small habit first and to focus on minor changes, instead of attempting to make drastic changes overnight. 

Chapter Seventeen: Changing Attitudes.

“Our attitudes towards the role we play on this earth are some of the most important beliefs we will ever hold.”

Attitudes, directly and indirectly, affect everything we do, writes Helmstetter. An individual’s attitudes will either propel them towards victory or bog them down in defeat.

Helmstetter also tells us that you can’t change someone’s attitude by using a ‘carrot or a stick,’ that is –with incentives, flattery or punishment. An incentive may appear to work briefly but its effects wear off in time. 

To change the way we feel about anything, says Helmstetter, we need to first start with the attitudes that we hold about ourselves.

Chapter Nineteen: Internal Motivation.

“There is an energy which can create either mobility or immobility in our lives. It is an energy which comes to us in the form of love, fear, joy, anger, passions, or despair. It comes to us as ecstasy, concern, pride, jealousy, desire, grief, compassion, or elation.These are our emotions; these are our motivators and our de-motivators. They set us in motion –or they stop us in our tracks. They are the fires which infuse our lives with actions, or burn us out in the smoldering embers of submission.”

Helmstetter says that motivation is crucial when it comes to survival; we need motivation and crave it. In fact, behind all action, there is a motivational force which propels an individual to do something.

There are many motivators in our lives, some are positive, whilst others are negative. Where the problem lies, says Helmstetter, is that “we learn to rely on external motivation when we should be learning self-reliance instead.”

Examples of external motivators, both positive and negative are the boss, unfinished tasks at work, a mid-term exam, the football match on Sunday, an event we promised to attend this Friday but don’t want to go, etc.

Whilst external motivators can be an effective source to gather inspiration, it is by being self-reliant Helmstetter argues –that we can steer our lives into a whole new level.

“The only kind of motivation which we can ever be sure of is the motivation that is created within us –‘internal motivation.’ It is the kind of motivation which does not require the aid of anyone else –any assistance or support with someone or something else doing the real motivating for us.”

The chapter also contains scripts which serve the purpose of kindling that inner spark within. Helmstetter advises that for the scripts to be effective: they need to be read in silence or out loud daily.

Here are a few lines from one of the self-talk scripts:

  • “I set goals and I reach them. I know what I want out of life. I go after it and I get it.”
  • “I know that I can accomplish anything I choose, and I refuse to let anything negative hold me back or stand in my way.”
  • “Nothing seems to stop me. I have a lot of determination. I turn problems into advantages. I find possibilities in things that other people never give a chance.”
  • “I am not afraid of anything or anyone. I have strength, power, conviction, and confidence! I like challenges and I meet them head on, face to face –today especially!”
  • “Roadblocks don’t bother me. They just mean that I am alive and running, and I’m not going to stand still for anything.”
  • “I call my shots and no one has to call them for me. I never blame anyone else for the circumstances of my life. I accept my failings and move past them as easily as I accept the rewards for my victories.”

Chapter Twenty-two: Creating Your Own Self Talk.

According to Helmstetter, the best way to practice the use of self-talk is by creating new self-talk for you.

When writing your own self-talk statements, Helmstetter says that just by changing one or two phrases is not enough. Instead, he advises that you change as many of the old phrases as you can by focusing on every aspect of the problem.

It is also important that the phrases are constructed in the right way.

Here is a check-list to follow when writing your own self-talk:

  1. Always state your self-talk in the present tense (except situational self-talk). Examples are phrases beginning with “I am…” or “I will…” or “It is…” etc.
  2. Be specific. State the details, whilst attempting to cover every facet of the problem or goal.
  3. Does it get the job done without any unwanted side effects? Helmstetter clarifies “tell your subconscious mind to get the job done in a way that is healthy and beneficial for all concerned.”
  4. Is it easy to use? Keep the self-talk simple. It should be easy to recall and be able to give clear directions to your mind.
  5. Is it practical? Helmstetter clarifies: “If you program yourself to achieve the impossible, you will create frustration and failure.”
  6. Is it honest? When engaging in self-talk, don’t beat around the bush! Helmstetter adds “the only way to stop yourself from reliving the roadblocks that have stopped you in the past is, to be honest about them.”
  7. Does your self talk ask enough of you? Helmstetter clarifies: “Your self-talk should motivate you to go for the challenge, overcome the odds, and emerge as the victor.”

Chapter Twenty-three: To Change Or Not To Change.

“The key to all management, the management of others, the management of your resources, and the management of your future, is Self-Management.”

Change may occur in one of two ways, says Helmstetter. First, it can either happen as a result of an event which occurs to you (external influence). Second, it can be a decision you make within yourself that causes the change to take place (internal influence).

It is strange, the author writes, that external influences should shape most of our lives, and yet they do. Wanting a new car, a different job, or moving to a new city, these changes are merely ‘masking the problem’ as Helmstetter clarifies:

“Changes of the heart are as fragile and as temporary as changes of costumes in a play.”

The reason is that the individual who tries to change their environment or situation: ‘end up taking their old selves with them.’ In other words, their external environment may change, but internally -their belief, attitudes, and their psychology remain unaltered.

The alternative, Helmstetter writes, is the change in our lives that occurs as a result of personal choice.

If we think about it: what we do, how we live, what we become is almost entirely up to us. Of course, there are outside circumstances which influence us, but as Helmstetter writes:

“What you decide to do next will determine what you do next.”

We have more resources and tools available than what some of the wealthiest people in the world had only a few decades ago. Yet “we have not yet learned to manage the one part of our lives which is the heart and substance of everything we will ever do.”

That one thing, Helmstetter says, is managing our own selves. It may be one of the greatest challenges we will face, but it is at the root of most achievements, successes, and actualizations.


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