Saturday, April 09, 2011

Self Talk

Do you know what self talk is?  It is the internal messages we send and give to ourselves, about our selves, that impacts our self esteem, self worth, self image, and general self. 

But in my way of thinking, it is more. It is also the gathering in of messages from other people, messages that we internalize to describe ourselves: What my boss says about me; what my lover says about me; what my family says about me; what my friends say about me.  This internal messaging system helps to create our self image and helps to develop the person we become.

Many of us grow up with negative, or at best, neutral self talk: we are quick to hear about our mistakes, failures, how we disappoint people, what we have done wrong. When we do okay, average, mediocre or as expected, we seldom get positive feedback. We are fortunate when we are recognized for very good effort, accomplishments and activities.

But positive input and feedback are very important to who we are. With positive input, we develop confidence, the desire to achieve more, strive harder, stretch our comfort zones and try new things.

Some thirty years ago, I attended a workshop and learned that what I thought was positive self talk was not: we often give ourselves negative messages, thinking they are positive.  For example, I start to have a conflict with someone, and I decide "it's not worth it."  Well that is really negative self talk. What I can positively decide is that I am worth more than belittling myself by getting into a conflict with this person over a petty argument. Or, if the argument is over a power issue, I can decide that I am worth more than trying to prove my dominance over that person by behaving in a socially unacceptable way.

So, self talk can help us to behave in a more pro-social manner.

Additionally, it is important to remember that when we use self talk, the brain does not process the word "not."  "Not" is not a concrete. The brain processes the concrete.  So, if I say to myself "I am not going to overeat,", my brain processes the overeat part of the statement.  This is weird, but true.   So, if I want to eat less, my self talk needs to be "I eat small portions." 

The example I use with my patients at work is a bowling example:  I can stand at the bowling lane, and tell myself I want to throw a strike.  I can do this one of several ways:  I can tell myself I do not want to throw a gutter ball, but the likelihood of doing so is great.  My mind is in the gutter. Or, I can tell myself I want to throw a strike, or throw the ball down the middle. The likelihood of success has just increased. I have taken my mind out of the gutter.

This is a very good graphic way to teach about negative self talk:  we can have self talk that is in the gutter, or we can have self talk that is straight up the middle.  

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