It’s been estimated that we have about 50,000 thoughts a day. This is our “self talk.” It’s the soundtrack in our heads that we’re sometimes aware of, and sometimes, not so much. We make sense of ourselves and our world by the stories we repeat in our heads, over and over again.
Unfortunately, these “conversations” can be brutal at times. Much of what we say to ourselves can be negative, fearful, or self-limiting. Studies show that our performance tends to degrade the more stress, anxiety, or criticism is directed our way.
On the other hand, a number of studies also show that positive thoughts and an optimistic internal dialogue can improve the quality of our lives. Optimists tend to have better health, be more successful, and have greater resilience in responding to life’s challenges.
So, how can we turn our self talk to our advantage? Here are 8 steps I’ve found helpful.
(1) Be the author of your own story.
Much of what we say to ourselves we were taught by others: parents, relatives, and the culture we come from, even the neighborhood we grew up in. As children we had little choice in this; as adults it’s a whole new ball game.
Decide for yourself what is true, what makes sense for you and what doesn’t. Monitor what you say to yourself. Notice what you’re getting when you do.
Does what you’re saying to yourself make you feel better? More empowered? Happier?
Don’t be afraid to ask: “Did I choose this?’ “Is this true?” “Does this serve me?” “Is this the best ‘me’ I can be?” “Is this what I want to believe about myself, about others, about the world?”
You are who you choose to be from one moment to the next. As Peter O’Toole stated in the movie classic “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Nothing is written, UNTIL I WRITE IT!”
(2) Words have a power all their own.
Words can enslave us or set us free. Believing you “can’t” often suggests that you’re not capable of doing or changing something in your own life.
As an adult we either “didn’t” do something or we “won’t” do it. That means the choice, and the power to do, always reside with us; with our personal agency.
Always speak of yourself and to yourself as the person calling the shots. As Henry Ford put it, “If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right!”
(3) Give the negative “background noise” a clear voice.
To deal with negativity you have to call it out for what it is. Sometimes the most limiting, negative, disempowering things we were told, that we repeat to ourselves over and over, were peddled to us as being “helpful.”
Don’t buy it! Limiting beliefs are about as helpful as carrying an anvil is while you’re trying to run a 100 yard dash!
If something you say to yourself makes you feel badly about yourself, or less capable, or less lovable, it’s simply not helpful. To clear it out of your self talk, the first thing is to know it’s there. The second is to challenge it’s truthfulness.
A simple rule is that if the self talk is prefaced by something like: “I’ll never,” I couldn’t,” “I’m not” or some other limiting introduction, it’s not your friend and you can do without it.
When we talk about limits, we often create them.
(4) Beware the language of lack.
We see what we look for, in ourselves and in our world. If we believe the world lacks what we need, or we lack what we need to succeed in the world, we have taken the first step to a form of self induced paralysis.
You can think, believe, hope and dream whatever you want in any given moment. With those beliefs, hopes and dreams, you can change your world, and, perhaps, change the world for others.
That power resides in you. What if the truth you need to hear from yourself is that everything you will ever need is either already in you or just waiting for you to find it?
Let what you say to yourself broaden your horizons; not narrow them.
(5) Words work from the inside out.
It’s not the dictionary meaning of a word that matters; it’s its emotional content. We make meaning of words from the story of our life. Words like mistake, failure, loss, stupid, inadequate, all have power only because our life experience was negative around these words. We fear the words because we fear the feelings associated with them.
Use words with caution, with yourself and with others. Decide to redefine the emotional meaning of words so they serve you.
What if a so called “mistake” brings you one step closer to your goal? What if the only time you “fail” is if you don’t learn from something? What if the only thing that is “stupid” is a person who would call another person that? What if the person who decides whether something is “adequate” or not is, and always should be, you?
Know what words create positive feelings and use them a lot. Find a new meaning for words with a negative emotional connotation and then redefine them.
(6) The world talks to you the way you talk to yourself.
The way in which we talk to ourselves often sets the bar for how we allow others to speak to us. If our internal dialogue is harsh, blaming, judgmental, or disempowering, when other people speak to us that way it won’t feel out of the ordinary or inappropriate.
Speak to yourself with dignity and respect. Require that others speak to you in that way as well!
(7) Integration is ultimate power.
When what you feel on the inside is what you say to the outside world, we call that “congruence.” When we’re congruent we feel balanced; we can check in with how we feel inside of us and that helps us be clear on what’s going on outside of us.
Knowing how you feel, and then being able to choose to say it, is when we are most integrated; it’s when we’re most powerful. Consistency between what you feel and what you are able to say gives life clarity, and clarity is the parent of a well lived life.
(8) When in doubt, always speak kindly!
If you forget everything else, always remember to speak kindly to yourself. You are always doing the best that you know how to do. You’ll learn to do better with time.
Change always requires us to let go of the past we know so well, in order to create the opportunity for a better future. Change can often be scary.
Treat yourself like you would treat someone you love who needed reassurance. Words have often harmed in the past; make sure you always try to use them as a road to the best within you, now and in the future.