Interesting Self-Talk Tip via Journalling

“Self-talk” is the way we talk to ourselves in our head, which is one of our main interfaces between outside stimulus and inside emotion. Self-talk is your interpreter of sensory-emotional experience. So, how you describe how you feel, and how you talk about your experience of the world, inside your own mind, has the potential to drastically alter the way in which those things are experienced and the meanings you assign to them.

But self-talk is not just the words you use — it is also tonality, pace, self-honesty (making the most use of ALL available information in order to escape self-deceit and “story-writing”) — and also bringing in other faculties such as visual representations, memories of past experiences in order to give a broader, more accurate scope to your interpretation of events, and assigning possible (non-delusional) future paths to provide continuity and choice so you know you still have options and don’t get “stuck”.

Journalling

Before I started keeping a daily journal, my self-talk was highly reactive. Emotions would quickly become snap statements such as: “I hate it!” or “I love her :)” or “It’s too hard.” It was Koanic who insisted I started keeping a journal. It was while reading back over previous entries that I realized “truth” to me was largely whatever emotion was hitting me at the time, extrapolated forward for eternity. I was not bringing the full picture into view. I admit it took me by surprise quite how reactive I was. I still am in many ways, but improvement has been huge — it is very hard to write sweeping, all-encompassing statements about life and self such as “It is always like this” when you have incontrovertible journal entries from the previous days showing you it has been completely different.

After a couple of months I started to find that I was taking a LOT longer over writing each sentence in the journal. I found I was now pulling in memories of past experiences to put my feelings of the moment into a bigger context. I was also drilling deeper into each word choice to find the words that best fitted how I was feeling. So rather that using blanket words and phrases such as “I don’t like X”, I might pause over that statement, drill down into it a lot more, and find it more accurate to write “X makes me feel insecure because…” And I began trying to find reasons for each feeling, also accepting that for many of them I didn’t really know why, in which case I would simply write “I don’t know why.” This set up my brain to automatically figure out possible reasons over the next few days (this is the power of unconscious suggestion), and some answers would invariably arrive a couple of journal entries later, which could then be improved upon with new experiences going forward. Journalling made me a lot more self-honest.

I also started putting possible courses of action at the end of entries, to provide myself with continuity. This tells your brain that there is something for it to keep moving towards or looking out for, and avoids that “stuck”, “life’s not fair” trap. The action can even be something like “Wait and see” if the possible paths are really not clear at that time.

I started to find that my new journalling style was bleeding over into my self-talk in real life, too. I began taking a lot more time over my thoughts about things and coming to more truthful, actionable conclusions. This is an ever-developing process and is never finished — we are always updating our views as new experience demands. Developing this style however means your conclusions are more accurate and you also get to “mine” each experience to get a lot more usable data from it. You are bringing more of your brain to each experience, rather than letting the outdated reptilian brain or limbic system take over and make your conclusions for you.

I use the excellent software The Journal to write my entries.

The Tip: Mental Journalling

So here’s the new tip. Sometimes you are going to want to do a reliable self-talk process but won’t be at a computer. I made a lot of progress with this via slow, honest auditory work (slowing your thoughts down in the moment by speaking them verrrrry slowwwwly in your mind, and making them as accurate and self-honest as possible). Recently however, I took it one step further: I started to imagine I was typing out the current feelings or situation on the journalling software itself, in my mind. This is bizarre in how quickly it can pull you out of the emotional pressures of the immediate moment and inject time and distance into your thinking.

I ask myself, “How would I describe this situation if I was writing a self-honest journal entry?” A blank screen appears with the flashing cursor. Of course there’s no text there yet — I’m still in the reptilian brain and limbic system at this point. I start writing slowly to initialize the neocortex. I say the words in my mind and let them type on the screen very slowly as I say them. I pause over each statement to make sure it’s accurate. I ask “why?” I imagine the previous experiences relevant to this situation, to pull in all the facts. I write out a conclusion to end the process, and a course of action if required. This has the general effect of very quickly satisfying the concern, thus alleviating anxiety by “closing the loop”. Whereas I used to compulsively return to those thoughts again and again, I now find they have the feeling of being “filed away” and aren’t needed.

I believe this method is even more powerful than just working with the auditory system (just the “inner voice”) because it also recruits the visual cortex in imagining the typing. You are pulling in more brain areas, spreading your locus of consciousness around the whole brain rather than having it centred in the reactive emotional basal centres (whence most bad decisions come, with this being humanity’s continued central failing). Brain areas activated in this exercise might include:

  • Frontal lobes — injecting time and necessary distance into your perceptions.
  • Temporal lobes — weaving together a unifying meaning from all available relevant past experiences stored in the hippocampi.
  • Parietal lobes — to provide symbolic interpretation of events, particularly relating to social maps and hierarchy (“Where do I fit into all this?”).
  • Occipital lobes — to give unambiguous visual truth to your rational analysis (“seeing is believing”).
  • Left hemisphere linear temporal continuity (then, now, what next? — a plan of action so it can stop cycling).
  • Right hemisphere bigger-picture sensing and context identification (What is the relationship between now and everything else?”).

This method means you can take the benefits of journalling out on the road with you. Give it a go.

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