Creating a Culture of Gratitude


Volunteering is a wonderful way to give back to your community and make a difference in the lives of others. Unfortunately, many people find it difficult to attract volunteers. This may be due, in part, to the way you talk to yourself.

Your internal monologue has a huge impact on your thoughts and emotions, which in turn affect your behavior. By understanding how self-dialog shapes your actions, you can work on making changes for the better.

In this article, you will discover how self-dialog influences volunteerism and learn tips for attracting more volunteers!

Self-dialogue is the internal verbalization of what you tell yourself. This can be positive or negative, but it is usually the latter. Studies have shown that self-dialogue plays a significant role in your decision-making process. You often listen to yourself more than you do others, and you take your innermost thoughts and feelings more seriously than you take the thoughts and feelings of others. This is because you believe that your self-talk is an accurate representation of reality.

Negative self-talk can lead to a number of problems, including anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. It can also prevent you from taking action. For example, if you tell yourself that you're not good enough to lead a group of volunteers, then you're likely to believe it and never take the first step.

Manz and Neck (1991), and Neck and Manz (1992) maintain that self-dialogue is a significant avenue for self-influence. We tend to believe those closest to us (that we trust). If our self-talk is negative, we will likely believe it and act accordingly. On the other hand, if our self-talk is positive, we're more likely to take action.

For example, if you wear a shirt on a workday and a stranger on a city street says, “that’s an ugly shirt,” you will probably discount that comment.

However, if you continue down the street, pull out your phone, and post to social media a selfie of yourself wearing your shirt proudly, only to get no likes or comments, you may give the negative notion about your shirt a little more weight.

If you then arrive at your makerspace and meet a good acquaintance, but that acquaintance avoids giving you honest feedback when you ask them about your shirt, you may give the negative notion about your shirt even more weight than before.

Still, you may dismiss the notion. After all, maybe your acquaintance does not have good taste in shirts.

After leaving, if you arrive home and a family member makes a negative statement about the shirt, you may then look in the mirror and tell yourself the same negative statement about the shirt, thus further reinforcing the negative notion more permanently into your psyche.

"I'm wearing an ugly shirt," you finally convince yourself.

In this sequence of dialogue from a stranger, to social media, to an acquaintance, to a family member, to yourself, who has the most influence on your thoughts?

You do.

You can control or self-influence your thoughts by utilizing the cognitive strategy of self-dialog.

The final word on the matter comes from you. If you tell yourself something often enough, you will eventually believe it. This is why it is so important to be aware of your self-talk and to make sure that it is positive.

Research supports that self-dialogue (inner speech) when used for self-influence can lead to personal effectiveness. For example, if you want to increase your volunteerism, you can use self-dialogue to talk yourself into taking action. You can start by saying things like, "I'm capable of making a difference," or "I have the time to volunteer."

These benefits include a positive impact on quality of life (e.g., Butler 1983) and improvements in individual performance in communication (Boice 1985), goal setting (Godwin et al. 1999; Neck et al. 2003), sports psychology (Kendall et al. 1990; Mahoney and Avener 1977), clinical psychology (Bonadies and Bass 1984), counseling psychology (Kurpius et al. 1985), and education (Swanson and Kozleski 1985).

Research also supports the link with emotional states (Harrell et al. 1981). For example, if you want to reduce anxiety, you can use self-dialogue to talk yourself down from panic mode by saying things like, "I can handle this," or "I'm not in danger."

So, how can you use this knowledge to attract more volunteers? By working on your self-dialog! Below are some tips for using self-dialog to improve volunteerism:

  • Pay attention to your self-talk: What are you saying to yourself? Is it positive or negative?

  • Make a conscious effort to use positive self-talk: When you catch yourself using negative self-talk, stop and replace those thoughts with positive ones.

  • Use affirmative statements: When you make statements like, "I am capable of making a difference," or "I have the time to volunteer," you are more likely to believe them and take action.

  • Be aware of your emotional state: If you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed, take a step back and use self-dialog to talk yourself down.

  • Practice, practice, practice: The more you work on your self-talk, the better you will get at it. Just like anything else, it takes practice to get good at it.

  • Seek support: If you find it difficult to change your self-talk on your own, seek out the help of a therapist or counselor. They can help you identify negative self-talk and work on replacing it with positive thoughts.

  • Be patient: Change takes time. Don't get discouraged if you don't see results immediately. Just keep working at it and eventually, you will see a difference.

  • Reward yourself: When you do see a change in your behavior, make sure to celebrate it! This will help motivate you to keep going.

  • Keep at it: Just like anything else, self-leadership requires effort and commitment. If you want to see results, you have to be willing to put in the work.

Self-dialog is a powerful tool that you can use to influence your thoughts and behavior. By understanding how it works and making a conscious effort to use it, you can make positive changes in your life.

So, the next time you find yourself thinking, "I should really volunteer more," stop and ask yourself, "What am I saying to myself?" If the answer is anything other than, "I am capable of making a difference," then it's time to start working on your self-talk. With a little effort, you can make a big difference in your community.

If you found this article helpful, please share it with others who might benefit from it. And if you have any tips for using self-dialog to improve volunteerism, we would love to hear them. Leave a comment with us on Facebook or Twitter!

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


This page is an edited adaptation of an excerpt from the paper Utilizing Self-Leadership to Enhance Gratitude Thought Patterns. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

Godwin, Jeffrey L., and Susan M. Hershelman. 2021. Utilizing Self-Leadership to Enhance Gratitude Thought Patterns. Administrative Sciences 11: 40.