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Book Summary – What to Say When You Talk to Yourself: Powerful New Techniques To Program Your Potential For Success

We talk to ourselves all the time. Yet, we don’t realize that much of what we tell ourselves is negative or counter-productive. This book by Shad Helmstetter presents insights from 20 years of behavioral research, with specific steps and self-talk phrases that you can use to reprogram your brain, achieve your goals, live your desired life and reach your full potential. In this free summary of What to Say When You Talk to Yourself, you’ll learn the key principles and techniques for positive self-talk.

What is this book about?

Shad Helmstetter spent 20 years researching success from different angles—from psychology to neuroscience, business, philosophy, and religion. He spoke with people who had adopted different success strategies, and personally tried out a wide range of self-help solutions, including: positive thinking, goal setting, time management, self-belief, self-responsibility, meditation, eating right, and so on.

Most of these strategies work to some extent, but the effects tend to be temporary because they fail to address how our brain works.  The brain controls everything we think and do, and you cannot make a permanent change without first reprogramming your mind.

In this book, Helmstetter explains how to reprogram your mind using self-talk. It’s like the glue that binds together all the other success factors. The book was originally written in 23 short chapters, each addressing an aspect about the brain, various self-help techniques or insights about self-talk. In our What to Say When You Talk to Yourself summary, we organized the ideas into 2 parts:

• How mental programming works; and

• How to reprogram your brain with self-talk.

Part 1: How Mental Programming Works

How does the brain work?

Think of your brain like a computer that executes whatever instructions it receives.

  • We input data or instructions into a computer via a keyboard or touch screen. The data/program is stored in the hard drive, and the programming results are displayed on the computer screen.
  • Similarly, the brain receives inputs via our 5 senses, i.e. what we see, hear, taste, touch, or smell. The programming is stored in the subconscious mind, and the results are displayed through our actions or appearance. You literally become what you see/hear/think about the most.

The subconscious mind is like the brain’s command center. It stores our programming, and has countless electrochemical “switches” that control everything from our memory to our health, attitude, fears, logic, creativity, hopes and dreams. When we try to adopt a new success strategy, it often works for a while before we fall back to old habits governed by our old programming. The only way to change permanently is to change our underlying program.

Where did your programming come from?

Basically, our current mental programming is the sum of what others have told us repeatedly over the years since we were born. We also talk to ourselves constantly through spoken words, silent thoughts, feelings, impressions, or physical responses, to reinforce the programming unconsciously.

Your programming in turn shapes your beliefs, your attitudes, your feelings, your behaviors, and ultimately your results.

What to Say When You Talk to Yourself summary - effects of programming

In our full summary of What to Say When You Talk to Yourself, you can find more details and examples of:
• How you arrived at your current mental programming;
• How your programming affects everything you think, feel and do; and
• How self-talk compares with other self-help concepts like positive thinking, motivational strategies, and subliminal solutions (e.g. hypnosis or embedded messages).

The key is this: You can reprogram your brain using self-talk, by changing (i) what programming you accept from others, and (ii) how you talk to yourself. You can choose to keep only the helpful programming and replace the rest.

Learn more about your brain’s plasticity in this summary of The Brain that Changes Itself.

Part 2: Reprogramming Your Mind with Self-Talk

The 5 Levels of Self-Talk

There are 5 progressive levels of self-talk. Your goal is to stop unhelpful self-talk (Levels 1 and 2), and start adopting helpful self-talk (Levels 3 and 4). With time, Level 5 will naturally kick in.

What To Say When You Talk to Yourself summary - the 5 levels of self-talk

Level 1: Negative acceptance. This involves saying negative things about yourself and believing them. It’s characterized by words like “I can’t…” or “If only I could…” It could range from small reservations to deep fears, e.g. “I can’t seem to get this right” or “If only I could be more lovable.” This is the least helpful way to talk to yourself, since it damages your self-image and confidence.

Level 2: Admitting the need for change. Such self-talk is characterized by words like “I need to…”, “I ought to…”, or “I should…” Examples include: “I need to lose weight” or “I really ought to be more punctual”. The statements may seem helpful, but they’re actually counterproductive because they point out a gap/problem without a concrete solution. This makes you feel more guilty and frustrated.

Level 3: Deciding to change. This is the first helpful level of self-talk because it represents a firm decision to do something. It’s characterized by words like “I never…” or “I no longer…” Examples include: “I never break a promise” or “I no longer eat more than I should”. The sentences are stated in the present tense as if the change has already occurred. This instructs your subconscious mind to take action immediately.

Level 4: Being a better me. This is about presenting yourself in a positive new light. It’s characterized by words like “I am…” or “I have”. Examples include: “I am in control of my actions”, “I have a great memory”, or “I am a winner!” Such statements inspire us to become the person we wish to be, filling us with hope and excitement.

Level 5: Universal affirmation. At this level, you’re spiritually aligned with the world at large. You use words that describe what is, e.g. “Life is beautiful and full of joy and peace.” Your self-talk is elevated to a higher level, reflecting a wider perspective and a higher consciousness.


Self-Talk Steps, Techniques and Applications

Self-talk may be thought, spoken, written/read, recorded/listened to. It can also be used to change habits or attitudes, motivate yourself, solve a specific problem, or target a specific situation. The rest of Shad Helmstetter’s book explains how exactly you can move up the 5 self-talk levels above, to shift from negative self-talk to positive self-talk.  This includes:

• How to use 5 self-talk techniques, including: silent self-talk, what you say to others, self-conversations, written self-talk, and recorded self-talk;

• How to effectively craft and word your self-talk phrases/sentences, to address a range of goals and situations, e.g. change a habit, shift your attitude, motivate and uplift yourself emotionally, solve problems and achieve goals, or shift how you see and respond to a situation.

• How to apply self-talk to different aspects of life, and how to get started.

These details and examples are also covered in our complete book summary bundle.

Other Details in “What to Say When You Talk to Yourself”

Ready to start changing your self-talk to change your results and life? Do check out our full book summary bundle which includes an infographic, 14-page text summary, and a 27-minute audio summary.
What to Say When You Talk to Yourself summary - book summary bundle

This book is clearly structured, easy to read, and written in a conversational style. Helmstetter provides many sets of self-talk scripts and phrases that you can use to change habits, improve your attitudes, motivation and situational responses, as well as your problem-solving abilities. The examples range from smoking to eating right and improving your self-esteem. You can purchase the book here or visit for more details and resources.

You may also enjoy our free summary of Awaken The Giant Within.

About the Author of What to Say When You Talk to Yourself

What to Say When You Talk to Yourself: Powerful New Techniques To Program Your Potential For Success was written by Shad Helmstetter, Ph.D. He is an author and speaker, best known for popularizing Self-Talk. Shad Helmstetter has authored more than 20 books on personal growth, founded the Self-Talk Institute and The Life Coach Institution and has appeared on more than 1200 radio and television programs. He received his Ph.D. in motivational psychology from Southwest University.

What to Say When You Talk to Yourself Quotes

“You will become what you think about most; 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.”

“To change the habit, change the words.”

“We are our attitudes and our attitudes are us.”

“External motivation is the kind that may wake you up, but it will not keep you awake for long.”

“What we put into our brains is what we will get back out.”

“Life is not a matter of luck or fortune…Most of what seems to happen to you happens because of you—something you created, directed, influenced, or allowed to happen.”

“The attitudes you have about yourself determine the attitudes you will have about everything else around you.”

“[Your self-talk] is the key to how you manage yourself, and how you live and manage the rest of your life.”

Click here to download the What to Say When You Talk to Yourself summary & infographic

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