Sometimes a little self-criticism is not a bad thing. We all can learn much from our mistakes. However, too much of it may affect your brain -- and your life.

Negative self-talk. It is that little voice in your head that judges you. It says you are not good enough. It reminds you of all your faults and mistakes.

“Negative self-talk actually determines the outcomes in our lives. The way we talk to ourselves about ourselves, and the way we talk to other people about ourselves, literally creates the outcomes in our lives.”

That is Professor Paul Hughes. He is an educator and researcher on how the mind controls behavior. He says the way we talk to ourselves and about ourselves to other people can affect every part of our lives – from our career to our family life.

Hughes saw this firsthand while teaching at a community college. He noticed that some students who studied hard and came to class every day still did poorly on exams. He wondered why.

Students may do everything right. But when it comes time to take a test, they do not do well. They may suffer from something commonly called “test anxiety.”

So, why do good students sometimes do poorly on tests? Hughes uses a common expression to explain. If there is a lot on the line, there is a lot a student can lose. The result? They get nervous and test poorly.

Hughes used one of his students at a community college as an example. Lindsay was a good student. She came to class early, took part in discussions and did all of her homework.

However, she did poorly on exams. When Hughes asked her how she felt before a test, she told him she was very tense. She wondered why she had trouble remembering what she had studied. She said she did not trust that she knew the right answers.

Hughes took Lindsay’s negative statements and turned them into positive questions. Before a test, He told Lindsey to say to herself: Why am I so relaxed when I take an exam? Why am I so focused during my exam? Why do I remember everything I study for an exam? Why do I trust my answers?

Lindsay took his advice. Two weeks later, she took an exam in another class and scored 15 points higher than she had on an earlier exam. Four weeks later, she earned a “B” on the final exam in Hughes’ class.

Hughes saw student after student succeed with his method. So he decided to write a book about the subject. His book is called “Change Your Grades, Change Your Life.”

He claims that his method of positive self-talk works with all the students who have tried it. He adds that they got more than just good test scores. They got their self-confidence back.

Exercise 1


Read the following vocabulary with your teacher.

outcome (n.)  /ˈaʊtˌkʌm/ -  something that happens as a result of an activity or process

  • We are still awaiting the final outcome of the trial.

anxiety (n.)  /æŋˈzajəti/ - fear or nervousness about what might happen

  • He's been feeling a lot of anxiety about/over his new job.

focused (adj.)  /ˈfoʊkəst/ - giving attention and effort to a specific task or goal

  • They are making a focused effort to win support for the proposal.

self-confident (adj.) /ˌsɛlfˈkɑːnfədənt/ -  having or showing confidence in yourself and your abilities

  • She has a self-confident look about her.


Exercise 2


Answer these questions about the article.

1. How can negaive self-talk affect our lives, according to professor Hughes?

2. What happened to some of professor Hughes' students?

3. How did professor Hughes help his student Lindsey?

4. What is the title of professor Hughes' book?


Exercise 3

Make a sentence.

Make sentences using these words.

outcome, anxiety, focused, self-confidence


Exercise 4


Have a discussion on following questions.

1. What do you think of professor Hughes' theory about negative self-talk?

2. Do you believe that negative self-talk can influence the outcomes in your life?

3. Do you ever feel anxiety? If yes, when?

4. How do you deal with stress?


This lesson is based on a news article originally published by VOA.