When I was a kid, it was always so thrilling to catch people talking to themselves. I remember on road trips, my sisters and I would always spot solitary people in cars who were deep in conversation. Of course, when that happens now, people are talking on their cell phones.
Whether we do it out loud, in the privacy of our cars, or silently, all of us are talking to ourselves. We’re often judging ourselves, parroting the critical voices we’ve heard in our lives. Or we’re worrying about the future, using our past stories to tell us why we won’t measure up. We speak to ourselves harshly, in ways in which we would never speak to others.
Self-talk isn’t harmless. Every time we repeat an incrimination (“you were so stupid to do that!”), a judgment (“you’re so fat!”) or bind ourselves into a fixed story (“you’ll never get a better job because you can’t follow through on anything!”), a few things happen. First of all, we have an emotional response, and the words hurt. We react to these thoughts all day, and that wears us out. It’s fatiguing.
We also limit our sense of possibility. When we get a big idea or an exciting prospect, we rush in to shut it down fast, based on these stories. We never give ourselves the chance to change and flourish, and to disprove these stories. The negative stuff takes up so much space that there’s no room for us to change. We get stuck.
Here is one solution to changing the way you talk to yourself in present tense. Just work on this one and it can change things dramatically.
Skill set vs. character weakness.
I believe that human beings have this incredible ability to cultivate any quality we want to have. Here's an example: a number of years ago, I noticed that my friend, Anne, always, always looked me in the eyes and never interrupted when I talked to her. It felt so amazing to be treated that way, because so few people do it. I decided that I wanted to make people feel the way that Anne made me feel. I deliberately looked people in the eyes and forced myself to wait until people finished speaking before I talked. It was hard, but I changed the habit over time.