"Don't Believe Everything You Think"

20 July, 2008

.........that was actually a car bumper sticker - one of my clients told me about it and we had a bit of a laugh - it's like "don't believe everything you read"! Of course most of us these days know not to believe everything we read - if we did, not only would we be largely gullible but also in a state of real confusion most of the time with all the conflicting research and opinions in the media these days. So, we decide whether to believe what we read based on our existing interests, values, personalities. How the idea is presented and researched and what facts it is based on would be a basis for whether we "believe" the ideas or opinions presented. We may choose to believe something if it works for us, makes us feel good or improves our life in some way. Or we may choose not to believe it if it doesn't quite sit right with our existing beliefs, or if it is simply an outlandish claim not based on any factual evidence at all! We may dismiss it and not give it a second thought.

So, why is it that so many of us believe the thoughts that we can conjure up in our heads, even when those thoughts are perhaps outlandish, based on little or no factual evidence as such, and don't make us feel good at all? I am referring to what we call in NLP "internal dialogue" or "auditory digital" - or as most of us know it -as - Self Talk. The unique and special ability we have as human beings to think in the words of our language. Or quite simply - to talk to ourselves inside our own head.

Hands up those of you who DON'T talk to yourself....?

No - I didn't think so.

As we all do. Some of us more than others depending on how our brain has become wired over the years. And now I would like to share with you something quite alarming. You may already be aware of this, or it may come as a bit of a surprise to you, but here it goes:

It is extremely rare to come across someone who has good, positive functioning, supportive internal dialogue. For the majority of people - unless you have done a lot of work on yourself through reading, therapy, counselling, mental skills training etc - have very negative internal dialogue; translation: we talk to ourselves like shit. We criticise ourselves, beat ourselves up, doubt ourselves, tell ourselves we can't do something when we know we can. This is the little voice in your head that says one or more of the following:

    You could've done betterYou're not good enoughYou're such a loserI can't believe you did thatI can't believe you didn't know that!I look terribleHere we go again I can't even get that right!She wouldn't like someone like meAm I going to sleep tonight?There must be something wrong with meYou're so uglyYou're so fatI should've done it betterI should get it done todayYou'll never get it doneWhy can't I be as good as them?He's much better at this than meOh my God there's something wrong with me - I'm going to die

Need I go on? It's a pretty toxic list isn't it? This is no exaggeration either - this is the stuff I elicit from my clients and the kind of stuff I used to tell myself. Did you know - I spent many years studying for a psychology degree which I passed with high honours, and years working as an assistant psychologist to some of the most influential psychologists in the UK at the time, those who had done ground breaking research in various areas and were held in high regard in their respective fields. People who supposedly knew about the brain and about human change. Not once, in all of those years, did anyone mention the most significant reason people have next to no self-esteem and no confidence, the main reason people keep themselves in a severely depressed state, the main instigator in a panic attack and an eating disorder, and the easiest way of holding yourself back and not reaching your potential. I now know it to be, through my own personal experiences and through helping many, many people change it - negative self talk. It has a lot to answer for. And again, no exaggeration.

All those years in the psychology field and I didn't even realise I talked to myself inside my head! No one ever mentioned it, let alone the damage it can do and how responsible it is for some severe psychological issues. It was only when I started to learn NLP that I learnt about it and learnt a process to change it. You have to practise NLP processes you see, as part of your training. If you didn't, you wouldn't be very good at helping other people. So, I changed my internal dialogue and it was only AFTER I'd changed it for the better that I was able to look back and in retrospect, was able to identify how terribly I used to talk to myself. I mean, I was good at talking to myself badly! I was REALLY critical and really hard on myself - quite a lot of the time. I would tell myself all kinds of horrible things, and believe them! Once I experienced the change, and the absence of this negative self talk, I was able to see what it had been like for me and how much I had really been holding myself back in my life. Once I began to learn how to talk to myself better - it was like a pathway had opened up before me, a pathway of amazing possibility. What a difference it has made to me! I would never have achieved so much over the past 3.5 years if I talked to myself the way I used to - absolutely no way it would've been possible. Now I know how to talk to myself in an encouraging, supportive, affirming way, it makes my life so enjoyable and I am now achieving all that I ever dreamed of. And again, no exaggeration.

Let me ask you a question. Consider it carefully;

If you talked to a close friend the way you talk to yourself sometimes, would that person still want to be your friend?

The chances are, no, they would not. Imagine if every time a friend came to you with a problem, something they felt they hadn't done as well as they'd hoped or a worry they had, a "mistake" they'd made.... and you said to them "here we go again! You can't even get that right can you?" Imagine the affect it would have on them? Especially if you said it to them time and time again.

Let me ask you another question then. Again, consider it carefully;

If your internal self talk, at its most negative, was a radio station, would you choose to tune into it?

The chances are again, is no, you would not. Why would anyone listen to a constant stream of dialogue telling us off and criticising what we hadn't done well. You'd soon get sick of listening would you not? You would turn it over, turn it down or turn it off after a while and quite rightly so!

Yet, somehow, it is acceptable for us to be constantly tuning in to this radio station inside our heads and paying attention to it! Not only that, but BELIEVING it! This stream of dialogue that we wouldn't deem good enough to say to a good friend, yet it is acceptable to tell ourselves those things!

I am not sure how our unique human skill became mostly negative. How did it evolve this way? Do we internalise the way our parents spoke to us as a young child? Our teachers? Our hard task masters at school? Bullies in the playground? To be honest I am not sure how it gets to be such an ingrained habit and mostly one that we are largely unaware of. I feel as a health practitioner wanting to make a difference in the world that it is my responsibility to get more people aware what they are doing inside their head and more aware of how to change it if it doesn't feel good.

The point is is that you can change it and you can become your OWN best friend, your OWN internal coach, your OWN support person. You can be trusting yourself and supporting yourself to be learning and doing well, to recognise all those things that you have done well and all those things you can learn from in an encouraging supportive way, just like you would for a very close friend. If it's good enough for them, it's good enough for you, too.

Next time you notice yourself doing it - remember the bumper sticker - Don't Believe Everything You Think! Practise interrupting those thoughts with a little phrase like "Stop!" or "Hang on!" or "Not gonna go there!" and practise turning down the dial on your radio control. It's hard to listen to it if there is no volume. And remember, above everything else, this is YOUR brain, these are YOUR neurons connecting, these are YOUR thoughts. YOU and no one else but YOU have complete control over what you do in YOUR head. Begin to recognise this by practising the above. It is hard work sometimes and in my view something which although needs continuous practise throughout life, will get easier. You will find yourself needing to interrupt your thoughts less frequently. You will feel better about yourself and you will enjoy your life more. I encourage you to be aware and to begin to cancel out those old thoughts. They are just thoughts. You can choose to tell yourself something much more supportive, now.

I thoroughly recommend a book I have found insightful which is a good reminder of this; Stop Thinking Start Living by Richard Carlson - author of Don't Sweat The Small Stuff.

Wishing you all the best, as always, with loving (and supportive, encouraging) thoughts,

http://www.charlottehinksman.com/ for NLP services in Wellington.

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