The Power of Positive Self-Talk by Meg Roche

self-talkI believe it is necessary to specifically teach students of all ages that they are responsible for their thoughts and the resulting feeling or emotion. A positive approach to their learning depends upon their thoughts. It seems to be common belief among students that someone else, teacher, parent, tutor or friend is the reason, or the person of blame, when something goes wrong or it is too difficult.


Professor Michael Bernard explains in his program You Can Do It! Education that one of the ways of thinking that supports persistence is ‘working tough.’  ‘Working Tough’  means preferring but not demanding that things be exciting and never boring and thinking that to be successful, I sometimes have to do things that are repetitive, not easy or fun.


Dr Carol S Dweck writes in her book “Mindset” The transition to high school is a time of great challenge for many students. The work gets harder and grades can suffer, but not every one’s grades suffer equally.  In our study, only the students with the fixed mind-set showed a decline. They showed an immediate drop-off in grades and slowly but surely did worse and worse over the following two years. The students with the growth mind-set showed an increase in their grades over the two years.


To achieve the positive mind-set, the belief about themselves, many students need to be taught or have demonstrated to them how a change in thinking will change the way they feel and act in certain situations. For some it is even necessary to explain or demonstrate what is meant by ‘mind-set.’


By using everyday situations we can have students understand how by changing their thoughts their feelings then behavior will change. To look at an exercise set by the teacher and immediately think, ‘this is too hard,’ I won’t be able to do this,’ will cause feelings of anxiety and maybe anger at the teacher.  However if the student can change their thinking to, ‘this looks hard so I’ll have to concentrate,’ or I’ll start, but might need help,”



A simple strategy to introduce the concept of changing thinking to change behaviour towards work, or other people.



  1. Explain to the class how important it is to listen to their own thinking, to do the self-talk as this is the catalyst of behaviour.
  2. Ask some question. “You see someone with their hand in your school bag.

What do you think?”

  • He/she is stealing something.
  • That’s my stuff.
  • I’ll get them.
  1. How do you feel?
  • Angry
  • Furious
  • Upset
  1. You call out ‘What do you think you are doing, that’s my bag?”
  2. The other student answers. “Sorry it’s the same as mine. I was looking for my apple.”
  3. What do you think now?
  • Could be a mistake.
  • There are many bags like mine.
  • He/she doesn’t usually take stuff that doesn’t belong to them.
  1. How would you feel now?
  • Bit upset
  • Gullible
  • Tolerant
  1. Discuss how the feeling or emotions changed with new information giving new thinking.

Take the discussion to understand that by changing thinking they have changed feelings.

  1. Continue with other examples.

You are in the supermarket and a man knocks you over and keeps running. What do you think?

New information.

You find out his small child has wandered off and can’t be seen. Does your thinking change?

You try to be friendly to someone in your class by asking how they are, however they just stare at you and though you weren’t there. What do you think?

New information. You hear they had been called to the office as someone in their family was involved in an accident.

Does your thinking change?

  1. In each of these examples was there a change in feeling?

Asking questions to establish a change of thinking leads to a change of feeling.

  1. With students in small groups, ask students if they can recall incidents where they have changed the way they felt when they had more information. Explain to the group.


Students may prefer to give incidents of other people, e.g., a football player who missed the goal when it should have been an easy kick. Did their face show feelings, what would they be? When they got reassurance from other players their face showed a different emotion, what would that be?


Teenager unwraps a present to find a pair of socks, what would they think?

Unfold the socks to find a fantastic watch, with this new information what would the new thinking be?


Your parents believe that all kids should do chores around the house without payment but all your friends get paid by their parents and you think yours are unfair and mean. What will you start to think and how will this effect what you do?  If you change your thinking what change will it bring about in your behaviour?


You have an assignment due tomorrow and you have hardly even started, as well you have to do a book review and you haven’t even finished reading the book. Your friend has finished her book review and offers to lend it to you to copy. What do you do? Discuss first thoughts and following thoughts, which determine your behavior.


Meg Roche

Meg taught for many years and was awarded the National Teacher of Excellence prize in 1998. She works in the field of Social Emotional Learning and is the Key Trainer for You Can Do It Education in Western Australia. She has been involved in the teaching and facilitation of YCDI workshops and in-service training for teachers and parents since 1998. During this time, Meg has developed strategies and activities to support any good emotional well-being program.  These have now been published in Evert Child Every Day a book to support teachers in the instilling of life effectiveness skills.


Meg also presents the Poverty Matters program. Many of our students and their families live in generational poverty so their lives are governed by a different set of behaviour cues and different life styles to  those  who  live in  middle class.   Education  is designed by middle class people, for middle class people  to deliver to students with middle class norms and we wonder why so many of them  fail to do well at school.



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