Linda: In the positive psychology movement, the researchers claim that our level of happiness is made up of three parts, 50% genetics, 10% the circumstances of our life and 40% our beliefs and attitudes. 40% is a large portion of influence, that part that is under our control. One way of identifying those beliefs and attitudes that limit our happiness is to ease-drop on our own mind. For many people, much of this running commentary is threats, judgments, criticisms, etc. from our dark shadow figures, critic, judge, worrier, aggressor, manipulator, controller, and catastrophizer. Lots of this inner talk is negative takes the form of fear, shame, and threats.
By turning up the volume to listen more carefully, we can become aware of what is being said, that can be holding us back from living the life we want to live. In Robert Gerzon’s book, Finding Serenity in the Age of Anxiety, he makes reference to the research about the inner dialogue that we all have going on in the recesses of our mind. He claims that for those people who have a real chatterbox of a mind, there can be a velocity of up to 400 words per minute. I believe that for that overwhelming amount of words in a single minute, there must be more than one inner voice speaking.
We can listen in to the way we speak to ourselves and sometimes even speak out loud, with an intention to observe if we are using friendly, supportive, encouraging language or not. We may find that the self-talk is suggesting that we are not up to the task by using negative words or a fearful tone of voice. It can be shocking to find excessive negative, disempowering speaking going on. Through awareness, and then through behavioral change through practice, we can change these patterns to ones that are more life affirming.
Consider the story of Serafina and Troy:
Serafina: “During the time my marriage with Troy was in trouble, there were times when my mind sunk into pessimism, with thoughts like ‘we can’t possibly make it through this. Troy is so disappointed in me; I’m such a mess; I’m not strong enough to endure. He must not love me anymore. I can’t do this anymore.’ On other days my self-talk was more optimistic, but the majority of time, my mind was filled with hopelessness. It was awful to live with such discouraging thoughts, but at first I didn’t realize that I had a choice in the matter. In counseling, I learned that I didn’t have to follow in the footsteps of my doom and gloom family style.”
Troy: “When Serafina entered counseling and started her mindfulness practice, things got a lot better between us. I no longer had persistent thoughts that I had to get away from her because she was such a negative downer. When she started to work with her beliefs and attitudes to change them, she wasn’t so worn out, exhausted and gloomy. Of course we still have occasional problems, but we both have more energy to deal with our challenges. She isn’t waiting for me to fix the trouble. She is making efforts to be genuinely pleasant to be around. It is a big shift in the right direction and slowly our relationship is improving. We are starting to have some fun once again and enjoy each other the way we used to.”
Here are the shifts that Serafina made to work with her negativity to become more effective in being present with her partner. In the left had column are the kinds of things we may discover, as Serafian did, that may be holding us back. In the right hand column are choices with which we can replace the disempowering messages with more affirming ones.
I hope I’m committed
I can’t I choose not to
I have no choice I have choices
I should I can and I will
I’m too damaged I am healing
It’s my fault I take responsibility
I don’t know how I can learn
It’s a terrible problem It’s a big growth opportunity
I’m never satisfied I want to learn and grow
I always screw up I learn from my mistakes
Life is hard Life is an adventure
I’m overwhelmed I can break it down into bits
I can’t handle it I can handle it.
Changing the way we speak to ourselves has an enormous impact on our life. If we continue to reinforce a sense of ourselves as limited and lacking, it’s as if we are brainwashing ourselves to believe all those ideas about how small, weak, and insignificant we are. When we change our language, even if it is a bit of a reach to affirm our abilities and potential, there is a shift to experience our more powerful self. We are consistently reinforcing our goodness as we begin to make choices that arise out of that evolving sense of adequacy.
Paying attention to the disparaging ways we speak to ourselves and making consistent choices to replace the negative language with positive self-talk absolutely transforms our life. The voice of the inner critic becomes less of a bully over time. And the voice of the inner sweetheart grows. Don’t take my word for it. Look to your own experience to find out what is true.