For an introduction to this section on stress management, see Day 9.
Self-talk is the constant internal conversation going on in our minds.
Everyone has self-talk, but there are huge individual variations in both quantity and quality.
Sometimes we have inner quietness, which is experienced when we are “in the zone” or totally immersed in an activity. Other times our thoughts are racing, and we can hardly pay attention to the things going on around us.
Similarly, there is a continuum of positivity or negativity for our thoughts.
Sometimes our self-talk is extremely negative, and our inner voice is constantly berating us for something we have done, or making us worry about the future.
On the other hand, positive self-talk helps us to appreciate our lives and have more optimistic views about the future.
Although you may think that our self-talk is something that just kind of “happens” to us, or that thoughts appear out of nowhere and are not under our control, this is not the case.
Ultimately, we are in control of all the thoughts that seem to “pop” into our heads, though some of us are more aware of this control than others.
Most of our thoughts are involuntary, though we do have the power to stop them.
Today, our goal is to become more aware of the control we have over our thoughts.
For anyone who wants to go more in depth into this topic (and you should, it’s very important/awesome), I recommend reading books by Eckhart Tolle. In the meantime, I will give you the basics right here!
The first thing to realize is that “you” and the “thinker” are not the same entity.
In other words, it isn’t “you” who is thinking. You are not your thoughts, and you must stop identifying with them.
The voice in your head is constantly labeling, judging, comparing, complaining about something, etc. That voice is not who you are, and when you realize this, you have the power to “listen in” on what you are thinking.
Here is a warm-up exercise to help you get a feel for what I’m talking about.
First take a few deep breaths. Relax.
Now I want you to sit back and take note of the first thought that pops into your head.
When you do this, you will notice that it usually takes at least a few seconds before you have a thought. This is almost certainly a longer length of time than you usually go without thinking, and it probably felt pretty good!
The point of the previous exercise was to highlight the disconnect between yourself and your thoughts, and to show that you do in fact have the power to control your thoughts.
This is huge, because negative self-talk is, in my opinion, the number one cause of anxieties, depressive states, guilt, and many other negative emotions we can experience.
So, now that we know it is possible to exert some control over our thoughts, let’s try to apply this to our lives more universally.
What you should do from now on is what Tolle calls “watching the thinker”. The previous exercise gave you the opportunity to do that for a few seconds. Now you want to do that as much as you can.
If you have never tried to consciously “watch the thinker” before, this of course sounds like an intimidating task.
It would be unreasonable to expect you to suddenly be able to do this perfectly and at all times.
This is fine. Even if just once or twice a day to start you take note of something you thought as the thought occurred, you will be on the right path.
It is important to emphasize that you shouldn’t judge or analyze your thoughts; that just increases the amount of thought and therefore clutter in our minds.
It’s much better to simply observe the thought, and then let it go.
Quickly, you will realize that there is a separate voice in your head, but you are the one listening to the thought, and not the thought itself.
Over time you will get used to watching the thinker on a more regular basis, but for now it could help to set an alarm or in some way put into your schedule, twice a day for the next week, a reminder to immediately do the above exercise.
It is really easy, pleasant, and over time will lead to a change in habits that gives you much more conscious control over your thoughts.
Continue on to Day 11: Learn to Reframe Experiences.