The Voices in Our Head

We all talk to ourselves. Period. In fact, the way we think is often in conversation with ourselves or the people we think about. It is a concept that arises in various domains, emphasizing the importance of paying attention to our thoughts and thought processes. While changing physical habits, such as flossing or exercising, can be measured through tangible behaviors, measuring mental habits or changes in our thinking is more complex.

The answer to measuring mental habits and changes in thinking lies in observing our behavior and the outcomes of our actions. Often, when we change our behavior, it forces us to think differently. This approach can be seen as a bottom-up strategy in therapy, where outward actions, like yoga, exercise, diet, or meditation, influence our brain and lead to different thought patterns. On the other hand, top-down strategies, such as talk therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), or religious devotionals, focus on changing our understanding, perspective, and thought processes, which then influence our behavior.

Effective and healthy approaches to self-change involve a combination of both top-down and bottom-up practices, rather than relying solely on one approach. Many individuals who are healthy and fulfilled engage in these practices almost instinctively. They may have grown up in environments that provided the right conditions and stimuli to naturally learn how to live in a way that aligns with their desires. This can sometimes be frustrating for those of us who have had to learn to live a fulfilled and serene life through making painful mistakes.

Another effective practice is self-talk, and there is solid research and evidence supporting its benefits. Self-talk is a topic I frequently discuss with others, highlighting its presence in various aspects of our lives. It may seem surprising that something as simple as talking to ourselves can be effective. Personally, I sometimes find it silly because it feels like a straightforward practice, and I might feel childish when telling myself things like “I like riding my bike instead of driving” or “It feels good to take care of responsibilities like hanging my clothes.”

Part of the reason self-talk can feel silly is the belief that we shouldn’t have to talk to ourselves as if we were young athletes in need of a coach to boost our self-esteem. This feeling of self-consciousness about talking to oneself is quite common and often hinders people from practicing and consistently engaging in self-talk. However, it is important to recognize that what may seem “stupid” or unnecessary is actually a powerful tool for personal growth. By neglecting to utilize something that works, we can remain discontented with aspects of ourselves that have the potential for change. It may appear simple, mundane, or unnecessary, but in reality, self-talk can have profound effects on our well-being and self-improvement.

However, once again, the evidence from numerous sources is indisputable. The way we talk to ourselves and the messages we convey are incredibly significant because self-talk is an ongoing process in which we constantly engage. By attentively observing our thoughts, we will discover that our minds are filled with conversations, both with ourselves and with others. We invest a substantial amount of time and energy in these inner dialogues, and their impact extends to our tangible existence. This is evident in how we react to situations, including our interactions with former partners.

When it comes to the voices in our heads, there are several noteworthy aspects, but two have particularly transformative effects, based on my personal experience and observations of others. During a conversation about this topic with a friend, I posed the question, “How do you feel when you engage in self-talk?” Without hesitation, they responded, “Guilt.” This feeling of guilt and shame associated with self-talk often becomes a barrier that traps us in repetitive patterns of thinking and behavior, preventing us from living the life we truly desire. If we can learn to engage in self-talk without harboring negative emotions, we can alleviate the additional burden that weighs us down in our already challenging lives.

By adopting a compassionate and non-judgmental approach to our inner conversations, we can transform the way we talk to ourselves. Instead of allowing guilt and shame to dominate our self-talk, we can cultivate self-acceptance and understanding. This shift in perspective opens up the possibility of exploring new thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that align with our desires and values. It empowers us to break free from self-limiting patterns and embrace a more fulfilling and authentic life.

The impact of self-talk is profound, and by recognizing the role it plays in our lives, we can actively shape our internal dialogue to create positive change. Letting go of guilt and shame associated with self-talk is key to unlocking our potential for personal growth and living a life aligned with our aspirations.

Secondly, when we become aware of our tendency to engage in internal dialogue about others and consciously redirect our focus solely to ourselves (within the context of the other person or people involved), we can start challenging the false assumptions of being victims of other people’s choices or circumstances. By assuming the role of our own coach, we can guide ourselves to stop fixating on others and instead address our own actions and priorities. This subtle shift in perspective can lead to significant benefits, both in the long term and in immediate ways.

By releasing the weight of guilt and shame from our inner conversations and shifting our attention from external factors to our internal thoughts, we can navigate the complexities of life more effectively, particularly when interacting with others who are also grappling with their own challenges. We have experienced the truth of this principle in genuine conversations we have had with real people: changing the tone and focus of the conversation (shifting from self-defense to understanding) completely transforms the dynamic and subsequent outcomes. Similarly, if we allow ourselves to acknowledge and process our existing thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in negative patterns, we can observe our inner conversation, detach from it, and develop a reflective understanding of our thoughts.

Moreover, by intentionally interrupting our own conversations with a different internal voice (still our own), we can challenge and guide our thought processes by redirecting our attention from external circumstances and uncontrollable factors to what we can think and do differently. Through practice and consistency, these self-conversations about our internal dialogues gradually transform into a new and evolving normal. It is important to recognize that self-talk matters. It has the power to bring about change. No one is too old, mature, smart, or strong to engage in it. In fact, individuals who are weak, fragile, and insecure often deceive themselves by refusing to acknowledge the significance of self-talk, thus becoming their own gaslighters and abusers.

By harnessing the potential of self-talk as a tool for personal growth and self-empowerment, we can cultivate a healthier and more positive internal dialogue. It enables us to take ownership of our thoughts, emotions, and actions, empowering us to break free from self-imposed limitations and create a life aligned with our values and aspirations. Embracing self-talk as a transformative practice allows us to foster self-awareness, build resilience, and cultivate a greater sense of well-being. We stop being our own distractions and gas-lighters. We become coaches and thereapist for ourselves. We change the relationship we have with ourselves. And, I promise you, that’s a big deal.

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