Thursday, June 11, 2015

Why Talking To Yourself is Good For You

Do you talk to yourself?  Do you talk to yourself out loud or just inside your head?  Have you ever paid attention to the words you use when you do?  Are they words that lift you up or put you down?  It turns out, your self-talk has a great impact on your daily life.  In fact, recent studies have shown that how you talk to yourself has an enormous impact on how successful you are.

When you talk to yourself, do you use pronouns or your own name?  Well, it turns out that talking to yourself in the third person can have major benefits.  Using the third person can free your brain to perform at its best.  It does this by allowing you to put some distance between yourself and the activities you want to perform.  It can even act like a switch to turn off anxiety and fear.

Self-talk starts when we're children.  It's how we learn.  Have you ever watched a 5-year-old playing with a complicated toy?  Have you noticed how the child will talk him or herself through their game? Those are the beginnings of a person's internal voice.  When we hear words of encouragement, we can internalize them and then use them on ourselves.  Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky believed that self-talk "transforms tasks" and "allows us to put to use the knowledge gained from our elders."  The words we learn in childhood influence more than just the language centers of our brains.  Words also influence our emotional development and our memories.

This can be a positive or negative turn of events for us.  When we are encouraged and praised, we incorporate the positive words we hear into our beings and act accordingly.  The same goes for negative experiences.  When a child is put down or insulted, those words are also internalized and can become the seeds for a lifetime of negative self-talk - influencing that child's life for years to come.

The good news is there is an easy work around to that problem.  It turns out that when we replace the pronouns "I" and "me" in our self-talk, our brains respond and become calmer and more efficient - and so do we.  In her article The Voice of Reason in Psychology Today, Pamela Weintraub noted that first-name self-talk shifts the focus away from the self and allows people to transcend their inherent egocentrism.  In other words, it helps us take ourselves out of the problem.  It allows us to see the bigger picture.  In conclusion, change a word and you can change your brain.

For EMDR therapists like myself, this information is not surprising.  It is the reason that when we ask a person to recall a negative memory we also ask them to tell us the negative belief they have that goes with the memory.  In essence, we're asking about your self-talk.  These beliefs are essential to identifying memories that need to undergo reprocessing, because they lead back to those early childhood events that created the negative self-talk in the first place.

And you will notice that after your EMDR therapist requests your negative belief, they follow it up by asking what positive belief you would rather have.  This positive statement is then installed through eye movements so that it will become your positive self-talk in the future.  It primes your brain to access positive statements when a similar event presents itself to you in the future.  So, change your words, and change your brain.