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Self-talk. Inner monologue. Mind autopilot. These are all different terms referring to one practice – how we communicate with our own self. Because saying, is believing. What we tell ourselves is what we become. Think about it. If a consistent message you’re giving yourself is that you’re not going to succeed in that investor pitch, would you feel your most confident when making it?

Given the surge in the self-help trend, the idea of self-talk has manifested in some popular ways – the use of affirmations to motivate ourselves or looking at our mirror reflections to give ourselves a pep talk. But is it just a trend? Not really.

The connection between our mindset and our action has been explored since 1911. Dr. Henry Head and Dr. Gordon Morgan Holmes published a series of papers about this. They observed women who wore hats in vogue (the big hats with feathers on top), and noticed that when they walked through doors, they ducked — even when not wearing the hat. The mental image they had of themselves was different from the actual physical image, but the former prompted their behavior. Fascinating right? The same was found to be true for women who considered themselves obese – they would try to squeeze through doorways or walk sideways, even when there was ample space for them to just walk through straight. What do you think the women were telling themselves?

Looking at the above studies, you may think self-talk is more than just a confidence booster then. And you’re right. It actually has the ability to shape our perceptions. It is an internal remodeling, or what has come to be known as neuroplasticity – the ability of our brain to rewire its neural connections. By communicating with ourselves in constructive ways and reframing the long-standing negative or non-realistic ideas/ messages, we can pretty much reshape our identities or outlook.

Wondering how? Let’s explore:

  1. Meditating to change the mental narrative. How you use your mind, changes your brain for the better or the worse – this is the key foundation of self-talk when it comes to neuroplasticity. The brain is constantly wiring itself, but it tends to hold on to negative experiences which in turn shape the negative or critical talk we have with our self. But, we can change it. A tool – meditation.
    Research suggests that meditation alters the structure and function of the brain. Tibetan Monks show powerful gamma activity, unlike anything researchers, had ever seen. Of course, we don’t have to meditate like monks. But being still and watching your breath for 5 mins every day can show exponential results in 8 weeks. Try it.
  2. Talking to yourself in the third person. When LeBron James talked about his decision to leave Cleveland for the Miami Heat back in 2010, James created distance from himself in his use of language. “I wanted to do what was best for LeBron James,” the star athlete said, “and what LeBron James was going to do to make him happy.” Why did he do this? Studies show that this helps create emotional distance from anxiety, and allows room for observation, thus reducing stress. So, if you find yourself distressed, write out your thoughts in the third person or say it out loud.
  3. Reframing to the positive. Using affirmations – positive statements framed in the present tense – goes a long way in changing old patterns of negative self-communication. Example: if you want to feel celebrated at work but don’t believe you have what it takes, try “I am appreciated and recognized at my office for the hard work and initiative I have shown in building a successful team.”

How do they help? Says Dr. Christopher Cascio, “Affirmation takes advantage of our brain’s reward circuits. Many studies have shown that these circuits can do things like dampen pain and help us maintain balance in the face of threats.” It acts as an emotional buffer to any painful, negative, or threatening experience/ thought. So, consider thoughts that are difficult for you, and reframe them into the positive.

How we communicate with our self reflects in how we interact with others. This, in turn, influences how others view/ experience us. Quite the feedback loop, right? How about we nip the potential interpersonal challenges in the bud. What would you do to change your self-talk?


Photo by Vignesh Moorthy on Unsplash