Many years ago, I would berate myself when things did not go my way. Even a simple mishap like spilling water would ignite an expletive ridden tirade of self-deprecation, spoken aloud and internally. I’d weave countless negative cause-effect scenarios about the reasons why I was not a success, why I lived alone, why I wouldn’t amount to anything etc., all from a broken cup! Little did I realise that this destructive self-talk was seeping into my interactions with others, unwittingly projecting an aura of “stay away” or “not worthy”.
At the time, I remained unaware of the harm caused by my own thoughts. In some ways, it didn’t hinder my achievements, but looking back, I see how my wellbeing suffered greatly and how it has exponentially improved. When I learned to deliberately focus on changing my self-talk, it transformed me and, in turn began to transform my inner dialogue. Self-talk can manifest as fleeting thoughts, just popping into your head, or deliberate inner monologues. For the sake of this discussion, let us assume that you are not going to deliberately tell yourself something negative and derogatory; therefore, the negative self-talk we are discussing is a thought. Thoughts, good and bad, just come and go.
Now, this is not about judgeing or battling these thoughts; what we resist, persists. When I first delved into Vipassana meditation, a dozen years ago, I received valuable advice-to acknowledge these thoughts. No judgement, just acknowledgement. There is little point fighting with yourself (yes, yourself) about thinking a specific thought, all that does is continue the thought and potentially deepen it. You cannot not think about something by trying not to think about it. Go ahead and try to not think about baked beans; what happened? Thoughts, including self-talk, whether good or bad, come and go as they please.
“You cannot not think about something by trying not to think about it.”
When I began my meditation journey, I noticed that by merely acknowledging a thought, it would naturally dissipate, allowing me to return to my chosen focus. Of course, thoughts pop up all of the time, it’s part of the richness of life as a human being; one thought surfaces and another sweeps it away. But, can we expedite the process and even reduce the negative thoughts? I believe we can. As we have just experienced with baked beans, trying not to think of something doesn’t work, and nor does ‘thinking of nothing’. Have you tried thinking of nothing? You are likely to get the same result as the Ghostbuster, Ray. When trying to ‘empty his mind’, what pops up? The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man!
The advice is to redirect your focus. Choose something to think about-a favourite activity, perhaps a leisurely walk in nature. Imagine paddling barefoot on a beach, feeling the water lap over your toes as they bury in the sand with each footstep, notice the soothing sound of the sea as it rhythmically rushes in and runs away again. I’m sure you get the picture, as you make the picture. The more you use your imagination to develop the situation, the more your thoughts become immersive and begin to influence your emotional state. Focussing on your breath serves as a proven technique for becoming more mindful. You can choose to change your breathing pattern in order to change your emotional state and calm your thinking. Breathing is one of those rare human functions that will happen automatically without thought and also a function that we can directly control and use to our advantage. Being able to control one’s breath in even the most unexpected circumstances is the first step to sound decision making.
Being more in control of your emotional state will give you the time to acknowledge your thoughts and self-talk. With directed learning it is possible to go on to challenge negative self-talk beyond acknowledgment, searching for positive intent and deliberate agreement. This process serves to reduce the negativity, boost the positivity and improve wellbeing. In simple terms, it begins with an acceptance that the inner voice is still you and, although it may not seem like it at first, that dialogue has a positive intention behind it. Remember, your brain is overcoming millions of years of ingrained defensive, survival instinct. With deliberate practice you can develop a mind that’s on your side and up to date with your needs and aspirations. Look for our article on positive intention to dive deeper.
It is well worth considering, if you are in a position of responsibility, a leader (CEO, parent, teacher), be mindful of your external words, for they can become the internal words of others. The power of language extends beyond the surface, shaping the inner dialogue, not just of ourselves but also of those around us.
As a final thought, mastering your inner dialogue is a transformative journey. By acknowledging your thoughts and choosing your focus, you can shift your mindset. Empowering yourself to face life’s challenges with resilience and clarity. The journey to self-discovery begins with self-talk, for within it lies the key to unlocking the vast potential within you. Embrace the power of positive self-talk and witness the profound impact it can have on your wellbeing and personal growth.