Learning from what you tell yourself

The LONI (Laboratory of Neuro Imaging) website states that the average person has about 70,000 thoughts per day. That becomes 2,917 thought per hour, or 48.6 thoughts per minute.

The source of these thoughts seems to have an opinion or even wants to tell you what to do based on things that have happened to you or you read about long ago that your mind has maybe even forgotten about. Psychologists call this “self-talk”. It tends to worry a lot and cause us stress. Some of this talk is pure fiction, and some is accepted by many. Certain groups have their own set of beliefs that leads to their unique self talk.

Here are examples:

– I’ve had so much good luck that bad luck is bound to find me soon.

– I can’t do it.

– The devil made me do it.

– Everything I eat turns to fat.

– You can’t trust people.

– This is just the way I am.

– I can’t handle this.

– And the universal (unless you’re Donald Trump) “I’m not good enough.”

Let’s bust a few, starting with the last one. We’ll turn it around and make it helpful. First of all, where does it come from? In transactional analysis, and in other personality theories scientists have found that many people don’t think that they are OK, but that others are. It could start with the fact that when we’re babies people have to do everything for us. It’s not our fault, but we’re not doing much for ourselves. Our little brains might form the idea that other people must be better than we are because they can take care of themselves and even take care of us. Begin to think of yourself as OK now.

When we’re children adults try to shape our behavior. Some do it really well, and some are hurtful, especially to little guys who already feel like they can’t do much. A helpful adult provides structure, guidance, and feedback. They create situations where children can’t fail, or if they do, they have a lot of chances to succeed as well. They make sure that children know what is expected of them, and may model what they want them to do. They also tell them what the consequences are if they don’t do what they are supposed to do, and follow through with them.

Follow through is huge. When parents don’t follow through, they give a mixed message to their children. What seemed to be important enough for consequences, really isn’t that big a deal. Parents who don’t follow through may see themselves as being nice to their kids, but if they keep doing the negative behavior they sometimes blow up, and there is a much greater consequence or punishment that the original.

Jean Piaget, a famous child psychologist said that children learn more by praise for what they do right, than criticism for what they did wrong. If I get praised for doing the right thing, I know what I’m supposed to do. I have a clear direction. If I just get punished for doing the wrong thing, I still may not know what is expected of me.

Criticizing, or punishing a child in an unkind or embarrassing way is the negative side of parenting. If you have parents that do that, maybe that’s the way their parents taught them. Maybe the self-talk is pretty negative in their heads too. I hope that they can learn some good parenting skills, but for now you’ll have to be the one to say, “Please tell (or show) me what you want me to do, and how to do it. I’ll do my best.”

Perhaps at one time you might be able to say, “I really learn better when you are clear about what you want or need, and ask for it nicely.” You might try complimenting them when they do something right. The trouble is that by the time we are old enough to be able to speak up for ourselves, the patterns have been set. But things can change. So start soon.

That should bust the self-talk that says, “This is just the way I am.” We can all change, but never change to become something that goes against your values. Stay true to yourself, and if something feels inadequate, research it. We’ve all seen pictures of people who have changed their looks to suit their personalities. That’s one way. We’ve heard stories of people who taught themselves amazing things. Turn it around to “I can learn how to become the me that I want to be in this world.”

Émile Coué de la Châtaigneraie, a French psychologist who lived from 1857-1926 encouraged his patients to say, “Every day, in every way, I get better and better.” If your self-talk starts putting you down, counter with that thought. A website that has many inspiring, empowering quotations is: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/empowerment You may want to go there and find something that speaks to you.

Regarding “I can’t handle it.”: I remember going to a sermon one Sunday where the topic was. “Don’t say you can’t handle it, because you will.” The Rev. Keller went on to say that we might handle it well or handle it poorly, but we would handle it in some way. And he told us not to be afraid to ask for help. Wow! It was powerful. Whenever I found myself saying, “I can’t handle this.” I could hear him say, “You will handle it!” and I flipped it to “I will handle this well.” That became an inner guiding goal for what I wanted to do, and science has proven that these goals have a power in creating an outcome.

Isn’t saying, “The devil made me do that,” a way of copping out of taking responsibility for doing what you know is right? Wouldn’t it be more helpful to own it and learn from the situation when you’ve made a mistake? When my son was young, I co-housed with a couple of other parents and their kids. One time, a mother did something that caused hardship for me, and I kindly told her about it. She was very apologetic and assured me that she wouldn’t do such a thing again. That made me happy and it never did happen again. Sometimes when we live in groups, or are in groups, we have to let others know what is troublesome to us, because it might not be something that they’re even aware of.

Saying that you can’t trust people just isn’t true. There are many people that you trust all the time without even thinking about it. Where would this thought come from? Track it down. Are you with people that haven’t been honest to you? Were you clear in the beginning? For example, if you get upset with a friend you thought was going to pick you up, because you asked him to and he said, “If I can,” you can’t really say you can’t trust him. He was honest, and just couldn’t do what you asked.

If a friend tells another what you thought she’d understand was a secret, but you didn’t tell her not to tell anyone, then she didn’t really break your trust. You weren’t clear. However, there are people who make promises they can’t keep. I had a good friend like that, and I just learned that she’d say things she wanted to do, but didn’t have the follow through. So I didn’t put myself in situations where I needed her to follow though on anything important. But to say “You can’t trust anyone,” just isn’t true.

Now about the good luck and bad luck? That may have a lot to do with whether you are an optimist or pessimist. I remember a teacher who talked about the optimist and pessimist kids at Christmas. The parents of the optimist were mad at the optimist so gave him a wheelbarrow of horse manure. The parents of the pessimist were trying to cheer him up, so gave him a pony. When the optimist got his “present” he jumped up and down saying, “Oh boy, with all this manure there must be a pony somewhere!” The pessimist said, “Good grief, having a pony will mean there will be so much more work to do.” Which was the good luck, or bad?

More often than not, good luck follows good preparation and good attitude. X gets the job because he had a great resume, dressed well and had a good attitude for his job interview. It’s not that God awards some people good luck and others bad. As our Declaration of Independence reflects, “all men are created equal,” we know that “equality” refers to our spiritual selves because our minds and bodies are obviously different. If there is One loving Creator that created us, would that loving Creator show favoritism?

It may be, however, that a good attitude attracts goodness to us. Sounds like positive self-talk to me.

Regarding “Everything I eat turns to fat.” Those are just words, unless you have a very rare illness. I learned a boatload about my eating habits when I kept a journal of what I ate for a week. Pay attention and see what you learn. In the meantime, bless and direct all the food that you eat to give your body all the nutrition it needs to create the body that serves your mind and spirit with grace and ease.

You deserve to live the best life you can, so let your self-talk be a good friend to you.


Hale Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org For more information about Hale Opio Kauai, please go to www.haleopio.org


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