Dr. Shad Helmstetter, Ph.D., is a best-selling author of more than twenty-five books focused on the field of mental health and personal growth that have been published in more than seventy countries. The titles he has penned include “What to Say When You Talk to Your Self,” “Negative Self-Talk and How to Change It” and the “365 Days of Positive Self-Talk” series. As the titles might suggest, Dr. Shad Helmstetter is an expert in “self-talk,” a form of self-care for which he is the pioneering dean.
Dr. Shad Helmstetter is a behavioral researcher who envisions self-talk becoming a primary programming source in mental health. The practice can help people direct the path of their lives and therefore increase personal effectiveness. There are several specific self-talk words and phrases that strongly impact people’s individual programming and, based on his research, Dr. Shad Helmstetter produced the first professional self-talk audio programs in 1981. Today, forty years later, his recorded self-talk programs are still listened to daily by thousands of individuals worldwide.
Dr. Helmstetter is the founder of The Self-Talk Institute, which teaches individuals to present self-talk training to groups and organizations. He also founded The Life Coach Institute, which trains and certifies life and business coaches in the U.S. and internationally. His most recent endeavor was creating and releasing the SelfTalkPlus app which helps people learn positive self-talk via self-talk sessions wherever they go. These sessions cover all key areas of life including stress and anxiety, weight loss, self-esteem, organization, relationships, finances, career goals, focus, dealing with negatives and staying focused, and much more. SelfTalkPlus is for all age groups – from younger children and teens to adults and seniors.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get interested in psychology and what was your journey in becoming a doctor like?
Dr. Shad Helmstetter (Dr.): I was highly interested in human behavior, and in particular, the question of “Why are some people successful in life, and others are not, even when they come from the same background?” I went back to school, as a working adult, to study psychology and motivational behavior, and it was there that I discovered that the field of neuroscience held the answers I was looking for.
MM: How did you come to focus on self-talk?
Dr.: I had begun my professional life as a foreign language interpreter for the U.S. Government in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Later, when I was studying motivation and success techniques, I began to notice that the people who excelled, or did well in general, actually used a different ‘language’ or vocabulary than people who did not do well. Because of my foreign language experience, I developed the hypothesis that you could change your attitudes and your actions by changing your thinking vocabulary—like learning a new language—which turned out to be true.
MM: What are the principles of self-talk and why is this practice so effective?
Dr.: We have learned from the field of neuroscience that thoughts are recorded in the brain, and that the thoughts or messages that are repeated frequently are permanently ‘wired in’ to the brain’s neural networks. The brain acts on the programs that are wired in most—which makes them the strongest programs—whether those programs are true or not. The concept of ‘positive self-talk,’ as it is used today, takes advantage of repeating healthier messages, and wiring those messages into the brain, exactly the way we learn to speak a new language. The case for positive self-talk is based on science. Research has shown that positive messages, like positive self-talk, are processed in the left prefrontal cortex of the brain. That’s a part of the brain that helps us seek alternatives, find solutions and take action—and positive messages actually wire that part of the brain to be stronger. Negative messages, like negative self-talk, are processed in the right prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that causes us to flee, do nothing, or hide—and negative messages wire that part of the brain to be stronger. So, in the brain, positive self-talk literally wires us for success, and negative self-talk wires us for failure.
MM: How did you start implementing studies in this field?
Dr.: In 1985, I founded the Self-Talk Institute to continue the study of self-talk on a broader scale, and to train individuals to teach self-talk principles and methods to classes, groups, and organizations. This allowed us to gain more experience with many individuals practicing self-talk throughout the U.S. and in foreign countries.
MM: What are some of the biggest breakthroughs you’ve seen people make when they engage in self-talk?
Dr.: My work has always focused on the most practical aspects of self-talk, such as learning self-talk for relationships, weight-loss, career growth, etc., and also teaching basic self-talk concepts such as self-esteem to children and young people. However, positive self-talk has also been responsible for stopping suicides and helping people make many life-changing choices, like addiction abatement and recovery, and dealing with OCD and PTSD. When I’m speaking to public audiences, it’s commonplace for attendees to greet me following my talk, and tell me that they started listening to positive self-talk after they read one of my books twenty-five or thirty years ago. And then, they introduce me to their grown son or daughter and a grandchild they’ve brought with them, and there, standing in front of me, are three generations of positive self-talkers, entire families who have learned or grown up on positive self-talk. You can see it in their eyes. They are remarkable people! It gives me great hope for the future.
MM: How did you get interested in publishing books on this topic and how did you find a publisher?
Dr.: I wrote my first book, What to Say When You Talk To Your Self to introduce my findings on self-talk to the general public. It was published by Simon and Schuster after its original, self-published release. Now, over 35 years later, that book has never been out of print, and is now published in an updated edition, and is published in many languages in over 74 countries. One of my books, “The Power of Neuroplasticity,” highlights the science behind self-talk, and my most recent book, “Negative Self-Talk and How to Change” It is a “One-Hour Book” that gives the busy reader an overview of self-talk and how it works in a very short reading time.
MM: What inspired you to create an app and how long did it take to develop?
Dr.: Teaching self-talk effectively has always relied on people listening to recorded self-talk sessions just as they would learn any new language, by listening to it. Listening to positive self-talk programs has followed a natural progression from cassette tapes, to CDs, to internet downloads, and finally to a self-talk app, SelfTalkPlus.com, that makes the listening sessions available everywhere.
MM: This practice works for both adults and children but do they react to self-talk any differently depending on their ages?
Dr.: There are actually self-talk programs designed for very young children, and also for older children. Many parents play self-talk sessions in the children’s bedroom when their kids are going to sleep at night. Children react to the self-talk very positively; they’re hearing some very good things about themselves, sometimes for the first time. And during their normal daily home life, those kids often begin to use and repeat the self-talk messages they’re learning, which is an early indication that the positive messages are beginning to stick.
MM: Are you currently working on any new programs or initiatives that you’re especially excited about?
Dr.: We hope to begin testing an in-person weekend program called “Self-Talk Boot Camp” for both younger and older kids. The program will assist parents in introducing kids to the concept of positive self-talk.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
Dr.: With more than thirty-five years of successfully expanding the study, teaching, and practice of positive self-talk, and extending the outreach into many countries worldwide, our goal is to make the principles of the new language of positive self-talk available to everyone. Today, with new technology and tools like the SelfTalkPlus app, we’re finally able to do that.