What Are You Saying To Yourself?

"In the flowing river there are so many things—fishes, leaves, dead animals—but it is always moving, and your mind is like that. It is everlastingly restless, flitting from one thing to another like a butterfly."

J. Krishnamurti in Think on These Things

"It is the mental processes of attaching meanings to perceptions, of associating memories with perceptions, of fitting perceptions into the traditions of one’s culture and education, of imagination, and a host of other manipulations the mind makes with its experiences and memories and imagination that endow particular things in one’s social environment with the qualities of stress."

Barbara Brown in Super-Mind: The Ultimate Energy

When you face a challenge, make a mistake, get up in the morning, do your work, or just sit there doing nothing, what is your internal commentary? All of us talk to ourselves as we go through the day. Most of us keep it quiet, internal, largely out of awareness. But the self-talk helps us frame our experience. It connects the immediate experience with our past. It fits the moment into our belief system. It also influences our response to situations.

When we are self critical and negative, we are less likely to succeed in our goals than if we are encouraging to ourselves and positive. The commentary influences the outcome of the episode. It shapes our experience.

When you trip over an obstacle, does your internal voice say, "I’m clumsy."
When you make a mistake, do you say to yourself, "I’m stupid."
When you face a challenge, do you tell yourself, "What if I fail? It’ll be a catastrophe."

Such thoughts will be accompanied by unpleasant emotion. They make us feel bad, and they reinforce negative beliefs about ourselves and the world.

Faced with the need to speak in public, you might feel a number of sensations in your body. You might say to yourself, "I’ll make a fool of myself. I must run away!" In this case you will interpret the body sensation as anxiety. If you embrace more positive beliefs about your public speaking, you may say to yourself, "I’m going to get my message across. This will be great!" You will then interpret what may be the same body sensations as excitement. Whether the next sensation is a sinking dread, a sense of panic, or a feeling of elation depends largely on what you are telling yourself about the situation and your place in it.

If you want a certain type of experience, a certain type of outcome in your life, you had best be aware of what you are saying to yourself. If you constantly berate yourself, or tell yourself to expect the worst, you can hardly expect to feel good.

To remedy our bad self-talk habits we must be aware of the chatter. We tune in. Then simply change the content of the monologue to something more loving, encouraging, optimistic.

This can be tricky, because we can pack a lot of emotion and meaning into a short word or phrase. When we tell ourselves we are stupid or unlovable or a failure, we likely have a long string of memory associations with the comment. The memories probably go back to early childhood when we started to form our beliefs about ourselves and the world. You may not be able to change the memory, but you can alter the associations. You can choose to develop the habit of using self-talk that doesn’t bring up your negative mental baggage. Instead you can encourage yourself and nurture yourself.


Right now, listen to your internal dialogue. Take a few moments to notice your thoughts. What is the commentary? What are the thoughts and what are the emotions that arise? When you notice a thought, notice the feeling in your body that goes with it.

Notice the patterns of self-talk. Are you mostly self critical, or are you encouraging? Does your self-talk feed your anxiety or your confidence?

When you observe your mental commentary, pay attention also to the chain of associations that goes with it. A single word may connect you with a complex pattern of memories and beliefs. What may have been true when you formed the connections as a child, may not be true now. Look out for out of date beliefs.

When you find yourself passing yourself critical or pessimistic messages, practice rephrasing them into self-talk that is more affirming, more optimistic, more loving.

Remember that the quality of your consciousness is a legacy of your past thoughts. The quality of your future consciousness is a product of the thoughts you nurture now. The thought you have now shapes your experience of the next moment. Practice shaping the moment.

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© 2002 Tom Barrett