Self Improvement

The Unexpected Power of Self Talk

In a world where we have no agency, things happen to us. In a world where we do have agency, our thoughts cause our feelings and our feelings determine our actions. Around here, we choose the latter.

You might not realise you’re already talking to yourself. You do it all the time. We all do. We tell ourselves stories about whatever is happening constantly, every day, every moment. What you may not know however is that we humans have agency in the way we formulate the thoughts that make up the stories we tell ourselves. Learning how to be more intentional about my thoughts has started to transform the way that I am able to show up for the outcomes that I want. This week I want to share with you what I've learned so far in the hopes that there'll be something you can use to bring you closer to getting the outcomes you want.  

It Starts With Our Brains

Unsuprisingly, this all starts with a very rudimentary understanding of how the human brain is set up. Despite only being 2% of the body's weight, the brain uses 20% of the oxygen (and in turn the calories) that we consume in order to power the more than 10,000 connections each of the 100 billion cells are making between each other. This is why our brains love patterns and shortcuts so much, they save energy and time. Where this energy saving functionality stops serving us is when the outcomes we're getting aren't the outcomes that we want.

Let's look at a scenario where something has happened. Something that is objectively factual, can't be disagreed with by any reasonable person, and could be proven in court i.e. it is raining, words were spoken to you, your human body exists, letters appear on a mobile phone screen, there is an article in a newspaper. These are circumstances and circumstances are neutral because thoughts haven't been applied to them yet. A thought is what determines if a circumstance is good or bad and right or wrong.

Our thoughts usually the product of our background, our upbringing, our past experiences, the influences of the company we keep, the content we consume, the cultures and religions we subscribe to, and of course a generous dose of societal pillars like the infamous patriarchy.

Once the brain has processed the objective circumstance, it relays it back to us in story form using the energy saving shortcuts it's put in place to make sense of the world. We react to this relayed story by having feelings. Those feelings then dictate the actions we take and those actions result in our outcome.

What This Looks Like IRL

I’ll give you an example. Boss sends a message out of the blue saying “we need to talk” (words appeared on a screen, objective circumstance). Mind immediately jump to “oh no, this must be bad, I'm probably in trouble” (subjective thought perhaps stemming from past experiences, low self esteem, socialisation, etc). Anxiety/fear/sadness sets in (feelings caused by the thought "this is bad I'm in trouble") and you probably increase your chances of producing poor work because you are working from feelings of anxiety and fear and sadness. You may think your boss causes your anxiety but really, it's the thoughts you have about your boss that are the root cause. This is also why so many people will go from job to job thinking that will fix how they feel not realising that you will continue to feel the same until you address your thoughts.

What if instead of "I'm in trouble" you were able to choose a more neutral thought like "I'll find out why my boss wants to talk to me when we talk". How does that new thought affect how you feel and what impact would that new feeling have on how you show up at work?

Another example close to my own heart. A human driving a car sees a human riding a bicycle in the middle of a narrow lane (objective circumstance). Human driver's mind immediately jumps to "this cyclist is selfishly disrespecting me because they think they're better than me" (subjective thought perhaps stemming from the media's attempts to monetise outrage (drivers vs cyclists) and our human desire for tribal belonging, or whatever I'm fine). Frustration/anger sets in (feelings caused by the thought "I'm being disrespected"). Actions are taken (honk, close pass, verbal abuse, etc) which increase the chances of a hostile encounter because our feelings dictate our actions.

What if instead of "I'm being disrespected" human driving a car was able to choose a more neutral thought like "A human on a bike is one of the many elements of normal traffic flow that I must navigate my car around safely". How would that thought feel for them and what impact do you think that would have on the actions they take?

How To Get Started

Thoughts are sneaky too because they sound like just like you. “I should be doing more with my life” sounds like it’s coming from you. It’s your voice and it’s from your brain so it must be true right? Somewhere along the line, we picked up a selection of narratives that shaped our thinking and now our thoughts (which stemmed from those narratives) are telling us stories based on these thoughts which are causing all of our feelings.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not about “positive” thinking. Positive/negative are judgements and true sustainable growth cannot happen when we're being judged be it by ourselves or by others. It’s about intentionally and tirelessly examining the “default” thoughts and stories your brain feeds you and then (eventually) beginning to question them before starting to refine them. It's a ginormous task that requires consistency and the will to feel better than you currently do. You don't have to do it alone, get in touch and I can definitely help you.

Your feelings are the key to understanding your default stories so the next time you have a feeling that is not helpful, take a beat and sit with it. Describe and name the feeling(s). Then find a pen and paper and write down every single thought you’re having about what is OBJECTIVELY happening. Once you have them, you can one by one start to dismantle the thoughts that do not serve you. This is where great coaching comes in and it's what I will be offering very very soon.

In a world where we have no agency, things happen to us and we are completely at their mercy powerless to choose our experience of the world or get a say in the consequent outcomes. In a world where we do have agency, our thoughts cause our feelings and our feelings determine our actions therefore we can access whatever feeling we want and influence our outcomes. Around here, we choose the latter.

No pressure, no commitment.

Just 20 minutes to share what’s on your mind

I sat down about an hour ago to write this week’s post on motivation (LOL) and in that hour, I’ve customised a PAX wardrobe on the IKEA website.

Book your free session