If we could attach a megaphone to your mind and so your thoughts blast out to the world, what would we hear? Honestly now. What would we hear? Would we hear negative and undermining statements? Unkind or harsh words? I can't do this, I can't do that, I am too afraid of this, too afraid of that? Or are the words defensive and boastful? Or are they truly positive and beneficial to yourself and others?
There is a great deal of research on the relationship between inner self talk and emotional functioning and well-being, the quality of love relationships, physical health, perseverance in the face of difficulty, overall life stress, and finally the key concept of optimism. Our inner self talk matters!
"Talking to yourself" has gotten a bad wrap in our culture. It carries a connotation of mental illness or disorder. But inner self talk is innate to all humans once we become verbal in our native language sometime around the age of 3. Then developmentally over the ensuing many years our inner talk takes shape and becomes an integral part of our human personality.
In order to learn to live a healthier, more balanced, and indeed happier life, you need to develop an understanding of what your inner dialogue sounds like and how to alter its words.
When is self talk occurring? All the time! Driving to work, cutting up cucumbers, brushing your teeth, while exercising, eating that pint of chocolate ice cream, shall I go on? Getting dressed to go out, walking from the car to the office, watching your child push another child, having a glass of wine with friends. Throughout your waking hours, you are reminiscing about the past, you are planning for the future, you are thinking about what was just said and how to respond, how you just came across to another, what you should be doing versus what you want to be doing and on it goes. For us all! No matter our language, our place in history, or little spot on this Earth.
Our thoughts, which is your inner dialogue or self talk, have the qualities of daydreams or fantasies where you use your mind’s eye or imagination and truly can see pictures. You think about how a conversation will go, what you will wear, what you should eat, how yesterday went and how today will go, how you can get your way with someone, how things would be easier if you lost 20 pounds, and so forth. You think about that fight with your lover, the frustration you have with your kids, what it would feel like to have a bigger house, and how your life will really start once you graduate or get married.
But more importantly, our thoughts are simply statements or a conversation with oneself and essentially your body, your motor system knows little difference between spoken words and thought words. If your mind had a megaphone what would we all be hearing? Would you want us to hear it? Using this picture of a megaphone out the side of your head and my sitting here typing our your words, you can start to develop a mindfulness about your inner talk. No one can make positive shifts in their behavior without first addressing the thoughts which precede that behavior.
When you use the megaphone imagery it allows you to turn up the volume of your inner talk to first hear what it sounds like. And then with diligent practice you can learn truly to turn down the volume on the negative and turn up the volume on the positive. Open up any magazine and you will find all sorts of advice on how to think in more positive ways. These will work if and only if you understand what your self talk already sounds like.
I am taking an educated guess that the most common and important negative self statement is the variation on: "I can't handle this!" “I don’t know what to do!” Once you say this to yourself you come to fulfill it. It is hard at first but you can learn to reframe that into "I can handle this!" or “An idea will come to me!” and when you say that to yourself you start to see more clearly ways in which you actually can.
The goal is not to be wholly absent of any negative thinking. That is unrealistic. We are constantly being presented with images of things we do not have, things we cannot do, things we need to do but do not like nor want to do, and so forth. What is realistic, however, is training yourself to think in more positive terms and doing so will absolutely transform your life! Remember the megaphone, write down your thoughts, then find a way to reframe them in a more positive way!
By Heidi S. Lepper, Ph.D. © 2012, All Rights Reserved.
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