Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Self Talk

     Everyone self talks, maybe not aloud, but at least in their minds. I can't even imagine life without it. Such talk may include (as it often enough does for me) what day it is or things to be done, past or future conversations, or exclaimed thoughts that would never be said aloud. Besides such everyday matters, they sometimes encompass our most private, guarded thoughts that if divulged would probably alienate many others from us.
     I can imagine how self-righteously indignant we'd feel if we could read the thoughts of others. ”What?” I can't believe it! You just said... Liar!” Of course, if others could read our thoughts we'd fare no better. “That's what you think of me? The heck with you! I thought I could trust you.”
     I bet even dogs, chimps, dolphins and other higher animals also do it on their own levels. “Food! Rover. That's me, Rover!” (wag, wag, wag) “Get off, mine! Oh yeah, take that!” (shove) “Mate! Mate! Mate! Now, she's ready!” (swim, swim swim)
     So I find it odd when someone calls someone “weird” for vocalizing his self talk while unloading his stress or as a means to concentrate. We've all heard it before: “You're talking to yourself? Weird!”
     What's wrong with it, I wonder? That someone engaged in a most human activity? Or that it's not considered socially acceptable while others are present—sort of like walking around the house in one's underclothes. Yet when people hum, sing, or whistle to themselves, they seldom get branded “weird” so vehemently—perhaps because they're more aware of what they're doing at the time. And I'm not talking about people with chronic mental illnesses who walk down the street muttering obscenities, scolding, or expounding on who knows what. I'm talking about college students who, lost in thought (and muddled from sleep deprivation and mental and physical exhaustion), mutter, “What day is it? Wednesday. Chem exam—gotta study after lunch.”
     I used to say such things in college, in the safety of my own room or that of my sister. I think now in hindsight I did it to ingrain certain thoughts, sort of like repeating a phone number or name to better remember it—nothing clinically abnormal about that, I'm sure. Or perhaps I did it to refocus my attention to more positive or productive thoughts.
     Everyday self talk is one of the few areas in our lives over which we have supreme control, yet few seem to apply such power to best advantage. Although visualization is not a form of self-talk, I think that what we say to ourselves goes hand-in-hand with what we see in our mind's eye. It's hard to think positive thoughts—“Praise you, God, for blessing us with a wonderful place to live, for healing my illnesses, and watching over Braden as he walks home from the bus stops everyday,” or “Wow, homemade spaghetti for dinner, made with whole grain pasta and meat balls, I can't believe how blessed I am to get to eat all I want—tasty and nutritious—all in the comfort of my own home. Or that I have unlimited clean running water, lots or hot bath water every night, a large bed to sleep in, a car to drive, a wardrobe full or clothes, a safe neighborhood to live in...” and at the same time visualize a jerk boss, bad traffic, disobedient kids, or an unsupportive wife. The two just don't coincide. And there is ample evidence that suggests that thinking and saying positive or negative thoughts can become self fulfilling.
     We have a choice then via self talk (and visualization) to shape our general dispositions: positive or negative, and our futures: hopeful and productive or fearful and withdrawn. This is especially true in human interactions where attitude, intentions, and non-verbal communication can have profound effects on outcomes. See positive attributes in another—“He means well, he has a good heart, he's been though a lot,” and positive interactions are more probable. Assign negative attributes—“What a jerk, he's out to get me, I'll never trust him again,” and it'll be that much tougher to deal with.
     One thing that I recommend avoiding, though, is self delusional or destructive self talk. “I'm the best. I'm gonna make him eat his words and look like a fool. I'll be a millionaire in no time”—just sets the braggart up for disappointment and failure. I much prefer humble and hopeful self talk. “I'm okay, I've got so much to be thankful for, just do my best—things are fine and always turn out for the best in the end. I've got everything I could ever need or want to survive and more. There's always hope. Just do the right thing and leave the results to God.”
     Although a person's actions usually count for more (and rightfully so), I think a person's thoughts—especially his self talk—defines to a large degree who he is—kind and gentle, or rude and judgmental—and shows in his actions. While unthinking kind or callous acts can lead to corresponding thoughts, how much more so can conscious thought lead to revealing acts. For people don't hide well who they truly are; it all comes out in time—through a frown, grin, smirk, giggle, hug, kiss, letter, or fist. 

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