At a glance the phrase ‘positive self talk’ might be getting you thinking in the wrong direction and you would be forgiven for that. It usually summons up the idea of talking loud to yourself when you are at the brink of losing your sanity. Yet the concept of positive self talk implied in the title is nothing of the sort…at least not the part where you are talking to yourself loudly!
In reality, we talk to ourselves all the time. We do not usually realize this because it is well hidden behind what we assume to be our normal thinking and mind chatter. Adding to that, we seldom do some real spot checks in self-awareness, so what goes in our head is for most of the time ‘unsupervised’.
The idea of positive self talk is simple in as much as it can be deep and far-reaching. It has to do with our sub-conscious mind or to put it in another way, what happens beneath the hood of our normal waking consciousness.
The ruler undercover
Every adult is (to some extent) aware of the power of his or her own subconscious mind. Some people like myself will always wake up at a certain time, precise to the minute without fail. That’s a tiny bit of the subconscious mind at work. If you journal your dreams and read through the intricate story lines, imagery, and metaphors you also get a glimpse of the vast untapped genius in the subconscious domain.
To put it simply, things like public talks, interviews, success in a particular endeavor, etc., are all affected by whether our subconscious mind helps us or sabotages us. When the subconscious mind is your ally, you have an enormous amount of power in your hands.
The point is that much of our life is ruled by our subconscious mind whether we are aware of this or not.
The mind movie theater
The subconscious mind, as hinted above, is a very big chink of our total consciousness and even though we are not conscious of its operations (hence it being sub-conscious), it is all the time receiving and giving information.
When you think, feel, believe, talk, write, etc., you are imprinting that information to your subconscious mind. What’s important is that the subconscious mind does not make a distinction between what is real or not.
Imagine yourself at the movies watching a spectacular musical or a horror movie. In both cases, your mind and body will be thrilled, moved and affected just as if the whole thing was real. In fact for your subconscious mind, it is very real.
By the same reasoning, what you think and say to yourself is like that movie. It imprints the information on to your subconscious. This is why we add the positive in positive self talk.
Are you talking negatively to yourself?
When we are not conscious of our internal chatter and communications, we do not realize how often we talk negatively to ourselves. Many times in fact we can be very hard on ourselves or criticize ourselves liberally as if it doesn’t really matter because we have the freedom to be as kind or brutal to ourselves as we please. We do not realize that this negative self-talk has much more effect on us than we think. It is not trivial.
When, for example, you constantly say to yourself “I am not good enough” that negative self talk becomes a chant, a mantra or a clear instruction to your subconscious to act on it. Soon enough if you constantly repeat it, it starts becoming your reality―and a very solid one at that.
This is because our reality is vastly shaped by our subconscious beliefs and dispositions. In the same way that a horror movie made your heart race and your palms sweaty even though it is just an act, your mind and body will react to your negative self talk (and therefore obviously your positive self talk) just as though it is real.
There is a positive flip-side to it!
The real good news is that it works both ways really. As I mentioned above, just as much as you can affect yourself by negative self talk, you can as much reap a lot of benefit by positive self talk as well. Does this makes sense to you? I know it does, because it has worked for you before even though you dismissed it as chance, trivialized it, or completely forgot about it.
Positive self talk can take many forms. Some people just talk about positive thinking but I believe this to be too general and overarching. Others refer to positive self talk as positive affirmations which, in a way, it is.
Affirmations are a form of positive self talk but one that is more linguistically-structured, specific, and intentional, whereas positive self talk can be less structured and more flowing in your day-to-day thoughts. One can use affirmations everyday and they are a very powerful use of positive self talk.
However, in this article I want to keep the subject at a broader level. So, while using affirmations needs to be planned and practiced routinely, general positive self talk is more spontaneous and natural and hence there is no limit or structure on how it can be used.
More importantly, it is something that is built up gradually. You may well feel excited after reading this article and go on to apply positive self talk for the rest of the day and then you forget all about it the next day. So what’s important is that it is built up slowly until it permeates more and more into your normal frame of thinking. There is a key secret in doing this that I will explain below.
Conscious practice & mindfulness
Perhaps the only thing that you need to do in positive self talk, and in most personal growth practices for that matter, is to start becoming more conscious of your inner workings. This thing cannot be emphasized enough.
Why is being more conscious of our thoughts and actions important? It’s because the only way to reroute negative self talk into positive self talk is to first catch yourself doing it. As I said most of our negative self talk goes under the radar of our conscious attention.
Hence, if we start becoming more aware of our thinking, we start turning the knobs and control an unruly subconscious behavior. Conscious attention is like a search light in the dark. It brings in the foreground something that was before working in the dark—the dark ops of the mind if you will. Try to do this as often as you can.
For example, you are chatting with a friend or colleague in a relaxed setting (good idea to start from relaxed environments first) and start noticing the thoughts that rush through your head: judgment, negative thoughts, feelings such as insecurity and inadequacy are some of the many examples.
The idea is to be more vigilant and catch yourself in the process. Eavesdrop on your internal communication so to speak.
Over time you will start seeing big positive changes. First of all, you become more conscious of your thoughts and more in touch with your feelings. Secondly you will realize that the negative self talk starts becoming less and less.
Enter positive self talk
Even by just being more conscious and aware of your inner life, you will realize that you are becoming much more positive and life-affirming in general. However there is also more you can do.
You can intentionally talk positively to yourself. No, it’s not foolish at all. It’s extremely helpful and life-changing. You can be on a bus or in a shopping mall or wherever and say something affirming, positive, kind and reassuring to yourself. Reinforce and amplify your positive feelings about yourself or something.
This is not like boasting or pretending. It is like amplifying a positive signal and attenuating a negative one. After all this is what living in a positive way really means. It is like changing the frequency on the radio receiver but you first need to be aware and conscious that the signals you were receiving were weak or noisy and then realize that you have control over the tuner knob or buttons.
You can change the frequency of your thoughts and change your life. Sounds too simple? Well, curiously it’s one of those few things that is easier in practice than in theory. Just try it and see for yourself. Enjoy the conversation!