How do you talk to yourself? What do you do, for example, when you make a mistake? If you accidentally buy the wrong item at the grocery store, do you tell yourself, “I’m so stupid,” get angry and repeatedly tell yourself how stupid you are? Or, do you say, “I made a mistake; next time I will make sure to pay more attention to what I’m buying.”
When teens and adolescents go through something they don’t want to, they might say, “I want to kill myself,” or “I’m dying.” They say these words casually, but what kind of effect is this self-talk having on our own mind and overall wellbeing?
Self-talk is a lot more important than most people think. We constantly are programming ourselves at an unconscious level by how we talk to, and about, ourselves. What are you putting into your own mind? Are you setting yourself up for success or failure? Are you supportive and kind, or are you harsh and judgmental?
Self-talk is the little voice in our head that always has something to say. When we are young this voice was not confined to just the mind. We can see this in young children when they talk to themselves. They are utilizing self-talk but it’s not just in their mind. In adolescents this voice has its big debut, and it’s around this age that we realize there is a little voice in our head. Most people are aware of that voice, but what people are not aware of is that they can control that voice instead of it controlling you. Self-talk has a direct relationship with self-esteem and confidence. Our brain hears every word we say and think and uses those words, thoughts, feelings and emotions as templates as to how we think and behave.
We can be our own worst critic if we only see the mistakes of our past, or we can be our best advocate if see the immense potential of the future. We become the words we use. We can learn how to use our words to overcome our subtle unconscious limitations. These unconscious behavior patterns begin to dominate our life. This kind of thinking carries over everywhere in our life and eventually becomes the theme of our life. Is this the story of your life you want to tell yourself?
So, how do we train our mind to think in the way we want it to? Some of the thinking patterns we use are very strong because we constantly use and reinforce that way of thinking. Others are weak because we rarely use them. The thinking patterns in our mind can be thought of as muscles. The more we use them, the stronger they get. The opposite is also true. If you always have used a certain thinking pattern for many years, then it will be “dominant,” and you naturally will try to use that, just like we use our dominant hand to reach for things without thinking about it. Retraining the brain takes time to build new, stronger thinking patterns and neural pathways. It also takes time to unlearn and train the brain to NOT use a certain thinking pattern that you naturally go to. Just like a muscle, it takes time and consistency to change and see measurable results.
So, where do we begin to change this self-talk? When you have the pen in your hand to write the story of your life, how do you choose to rewrite it? A good rule of thumb is to pay attention to your reality. Many people think, act, speak and behave on premises that actually have their roots in fantasy. Anyone who analyzes the thought, “I’m so stupid,” easily can see that the reality is far from that. You are not stupid; you simply made a mistake, and you have an opportunity to learn. That’s the reality. If you can think based on what’s actually real as opposed to what’s fantasy, then you will be ahead of the curve!
I first learned about this concept of matching thoughts to reality from a field called general semantics, which was developed in the 1930s by Alfred Korzybski, a Polish-American independent scholar. He believed that human knowledge of the world is limited by the human nervous system and the language that humans have developed. He proposed that the ability to turn sensory perception into meaningful events depends on, and is closely related to, the words we use to make sense of the information we are perceiving. He also suggested that if we are able to talk about our world and perceptions in a way that closely matches the reality of the event, we will be mentally, and even physically, healthier.
How do we begin the process of writing – and living – the story of our life that we want?
Start with awareness. We cannot fix a problem if we aren’t aware that it exists. Pay attention to the world in front of you, not the fantasy world you want to live in. Build awareness of how you speak to yourself. Listen to your self-talk. Recognize what you are saying internally and externally. Does it match reality? Does it match the life you want to build for yourself and live in?
Practice mindfulness. Slow down. Allow yourself time to separate yourself from your thought processes. You are not your thoughts. You are much more than that. Sometimes in our fast-paced world we don’t even realize there is that separation. When you are in a mindful state, you can gain deeper awareness of your thought processes and begin to see where you need to make a change.
Listen to how you talk to yourself (internally with self-talk) and about yourself (externally with other people). Does what you’re saying paint you as a victim or a survivor? Do you talk about life like it is being done to you or do you talk about life in terms of what you have overcome? Do you think to yourself that you are responsible for where you are in life? Do you say to yourself, “look at what life did to me?” Although it can be easy and tempting to play the victim, it’s a dead end in personal development because you can’t change what you are not responsible for. These are common themes that many people play into on a daily basis. Once you find a theme, follow the thread and see where else it leads. You may be surprised to find how many areas of your life are being run by ineffective, unconscious thought patterns.
Life isn’t what you look at. It’s what you see. It’s your perception, and perception is changeable. But be careful not to fool yourself. Don’t trade an inconvenient truth for a convenient lie. Sometimes we don’t want to look at the reality in front of us. Check to see if what you are telling yourself is true. Check with others. Sometimes other people can see things that we ourselves ignore. To adjust from a victim mindset to a survivor mindset, instead of saying to yourself, for example, “why does this always happen to me,” try saying, “let’s see if I can overcome this difficulty and figure out why this seems to happen to me so often, so it won’t happen again.”
You hold the pen to write the story of your life. What will you write? Fantasy or function? You are the storyteller. Will you be the victim or the survivor? Utilizing these simple ideas at first will make small changes, but over time, they can lead to immense development and growth.
Change does not happen overnight. Change is slow, and barely noticeable from a day-to-day perspective. You have to stick with it to see results. It requires a lifestyle change, and a change in how you see yourself. Through this, you will be able to live intentionally, not reactively. You will be able to analyze how you are thinking from a mature, rational perspective, addressing the past when it comes up but not allowing it to dictate your future. Believe in yourself, not in your thoughts. Just because we think it, does not mean it’s true.
When writing the story of your life, don’t let anyone else hold the pen. Whether it is a narrative you internalized from your parents or society, or the narrative as a 4-year-old, utilize the power of self-talk to be the author of your own story. This is an opportunity to re-examine your life, your relationships, your values, where you are, where you want to be, and the life you want to build for yourself. The opportunity is ripe to succeed in your personal, professional and spiritual endeavors.
Author George Khamis, therapist with The Center for Relationship and Sexual Health, will present an online webinar on how to live your best life and tell the story of your life you want to hear. This free webinar is an ideal time to re-evaluate your priorities, examine how your life has been changing, and how you would like to see your life in the future.
The free webinar will take place Friday, June 18, 2021 from Noon to 12:45 pm EST. To register for it, click HERE!