Sunday, November 18, 2012

What Is Your Inner Dialogue Producing?

Inner dialogue is comprised of the constant stream of thoughts that goes through our mind on a daily basis.  It is how we think, what we think and what we tell ourselves about ourselves 24 hours a day.  Our inner dialogue has a huge impact on how we feel about ourselves, how high our confidence level is, how anxious we are or how hopeful we are.  That constant stream of thought often goes by unnoticed to the conscious mind, but it is highly noticeable to the unconscious mind.  It is always there, either encouraging us or discouraging us. 

I have a friend who decided to evaluate his inner dialogue, so over a specified period of time, he wrote down as much of what he thought as possible.  When he reviewed what he had written down, he was amazed at how negative it was.  Interestingly enough, my friend is a pretty positive person so this was surprising.  As a result, he decided to change the negativity and found it required some concentrated discipline.  Our thought processes are habitual and they come from pretty deep seated belief systems.  There is a portion of scripture that says, "out of the treasure of the heart, the mouth speaks."  What this means is, the way we speak has a lot to do with the way we think. 


Because I work with many clients who have anxiety issues, I often ask them to evaluate what is going through their minds when they get anxious.  Invariably, they report that their minds start racing with questions.....what if I don't get this done..... what if this happens..... what if that happens... how can I possibly... what will I do if....why did that can I prevent it from happening again...oh I'm so stupid....why did I do that...and on and on.  This kind of thought racing produces anxiety if you let your mind run away with you.  My best advice to these individuals is.....wait for it.....ANSWER THE QUESTIONS.  Yes, that's right, answer the questions.  What WILL happen if you don't get your project done, why DID you do that, what will you do if this DOES happen again?  If a person will take the time to answer the questions that are causing the anxiety, it moves them to a pro-active state.  They begin goal setting rather than sitting back, letting life happen to them. 

If you move into being pro-active, you move from a defensive position to an offensive position.  You begin to set goals, plan out what you will do in certain situations and that makes you feel more powerful.  Chip Conley, in his book Emotional Equations gives us a formula for anxiety.  It is: 
uncertainty x powerlessness = anxiety
If you remember your high school algebra when dealing with equations, changing one side of the equation also changes the other side of the equation.  As we look at this particular equation, answering the questions that race through our minds eliminates the uncertainty portion of the equation, which also tends to effect the level of powerlessness that we feel in any given situation.  Therefore, it changes the result, as in bringing down or eliminating the anxiety level. 
Self - Worth
Another way our inner dialogue can affect us is how our thoughts turn inward and either criticize or encourage us personally.  Imagine how your child would react if s/he consistently heard from you how they can't do anything right, how worthless they are, how stupid they are, how they don't measure up, how they will never amount to anything etc.  What kind of attitude do you believe that child would have by the time they reached adulthood?  Probably not very positive.  Yet, if your own thoughts consistently degrade and demean yourself personally, how do you think you will escape the same fate?  You listen to your thoughts 24/7/365 - there isn't any way you won't be effected by that amount of negativity. 
The field of Positive Psychology has proven that negativity steals from us.  Studies show that happy people, more positive people are more productive, healthier and live longer.  Proverbs 16:24 says, "pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones."  Sweetness to the soul would mean more peace and less anxiety, health to the bones refers to our physical health.  Our bones are the strength of our body, they also produce blood cells that circulate and nourish our bodies.  Imagine....thinking and speaking positively makes us happy and healthy!  How simple!
Evaluate what you are telling yourself, about yourself consistently.  Do you often call yourself stupid?  Do harshly criticize yourself?  If you do, it is time to re-evaluate.  It is time to develop a larger vocabulary and a more realistic response to yourself.  If you are just repeating what your parents told you all your life, you may want to evaluate your life and decide if you want to keep agreeing with their assessment.  More than likely it wasn't accurate to begin with, so why keep agreeing with it?  This requires discipline, but once you start to change that inner habit, you will find that it becomes easier over time. 
Challenge your thoughts as you are aware of them.  Determine whether they are accurate or if there may be another way of looking at yourself and at life.  Most of the time people are not stupid, they are either misinformed or uninformed.  If you tell yourself that you don't do things well, a better response might be to take a class or practice the behavior more so that you get better at what you want to do. You might also begin to evaluate if what you are doing is within your skill set.  Some people just aren't good at certain things.  Rather than criticize yourself for not doing something well, decide whether you have the skill set to accomplish it at all.  If it is important to you to become skilled at whatever you are doing, then improve your skills.  If it isn't, just admit it is something you are not good at and move on.  Social skills are the same way.  They can be practiced just like behavioral skills can be practiced.  If you don't have effective social skills, you may want to read some books or get around people who have good social skills and observe them.  If you find yourself without friends, or not invited to social events then you may need to evaluate what is going on and fix that, rather than remaining hyper-critical of yourself. 
We must begin to look at our quality of life and determine how we want to live.  Life is too short not to do that.  If you want a more peaceful existence, it is important to look at how you are thinking.  Do you focus more on what is true, or do you focus on things that are not true?  Do you tend to spend your life thinking about what is honorable and just or do you tend to focus on the injustices of the world and the negative things that people do?  Do you have a clean thought life or are you more prone to think thoughts that are less pure?  Is your speech gracious and praiseworthy or do you tend to use more colorful and negative language?  Your speech will tend to belie your thought processes.  Therefore, as you pay attention to your thoughts, also pay attention to your conversation.  What do you talk about?  Are you filled with fear and anxiety or do you tend to look at solutions to solve problems?  The more positive you are, the better effect that will have on your opinion of yourself and others. 
Now, here is the disclaimer -  In saying that we must become more positive, I don't mean to imply that we never look at the negative.  We must be wise when it comes to life and wisdom says that it is important to view ourselves, our neighbors and life with reality.  Negative thoughts and actions tend to cause something called "catastrophizing".  When we catastrophize, we blow things out of proportion.  We say, "everything is horrible" or "I can never please my spouse" or "he just totally destroyed me".  If we look at these situations in truth and reality, we can see that using extreme speech like always, never, everything and nothing....or...extreme words like horrible, total destruction etc. are not good descriptors of our situations.  This kind of language doesn't allow for change and it labels people or situations with inaccurate labels.  Living in truth means changing our language as well as the measures we use to describe ourselves and the situations we find ourselves in.  It is only when we accurately describe the problem that we can find the appropriate solutions. 
Determine today that you will begin to challenge and eradicate the inner critic.  Begin to look at your life in terms of what you do well, what strengths you have and what goes right.  Yes, it may be difficult because negative thought patterns may be very deeply ingrained.  However, you can just have to discipline yourself to do it.  The benefit of being positive is that people tend to like being around positive and encouraging people.  You may find that your social life improves, you think of yourself in a more positive and realistic light, and your family is happier.  Those are worthy goals to pursue.
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