Internal Dialog: What Are You Really Saying to Yourself?
Most people aren’t aware of the fact that they talk to themselves. We have conversations with ourselves every hour of the day, and we have them quietly. We do this so much that we don’t even notice them happening. They become the background noise of our psyche. These conversations that we have with ourselves are better known as “thoughts”. These conversations are like breathing. Unnoticed and effortless, they become automatic.
Luckily, we have the ability to focus on our internal dialog and uncover it. What are we REALLY saying to ourselves every minute of the day? You would be surprised at how little you know about something that has such a constant, ubiquitous presence in your life. Conversations with ourselves may go undetected, but they affect our lives, and the decisions that we make everyday.
Are your hidden conversations with yourself causing you problems? Are they helping you succeed? Are they causing you to make bad decisions? Are they making you insecure about the way you look? Do they give you confidence? You’ll never know unless you PAY ATTENTION to them.
Here are some simple tips on how to become more aware of your internal dialog. Thoughout the day, ask yourself:
- What was my mind just thinking?
- What was just going through my head?
- Did I just say something to myself?
- What words just passed through my mind?
- What images just passed through my mind?
- Do I think more in images (pictures) or in words?
- What do I think about the MOST in one single day?
Once you get to know your own thoughts or conversations with yourself, you can begin to analyze them and see how they affect you on a daily basis. Then you can change them if you wish. You can challenge them. You can find out where they come from. You can hold on to the good, and get rid of the bad.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s silly to think that you can go around having happy conversations with yourself all the time. Life will not permit that, and stress happens as we all know. But sometimes people may find that their internal dialog is what’s really making them miserable, and NOT the world outside. Take, for an example, the following story.
The Story of A Depressed Girl
I met a girl once who was miserable. She cried all the time, and didn’t want to get out of bed. She was constantly anxious and had panic attacks. She was very depressed. After a long talk together she agreed to try and become more aware of the things she might be saying to herself that might be contributing to her misery.
Weeks later we talked again. She said that she noticed something interesting. The first thought in her head when anything bad happened in her life was “God, my life sucks!”. She knows the phrase well because she’s heard others say it, and she of course has used it. She just didn’t know how much she was saying it TO HERSELF. And the more she said it, the more true it became. You try it. Just keep saying over and over again for a second:
- God, my life sucks.
- God, my life sucks.
- God, my life sucks.
You’re probably just a little less happy now than you were 3 lines ago, or a little more miserable, however you want to think of it. Internal dialog affects your mood.
So, after she realized it, she tried to challenge it. She came home from a terrible day at work to her dark apartment. She had not paid the bill, so when she tried the lights they didn’t go on. Meanwhile, her back was hurting from sitting at her desk all day, and she hadn’t eaten lunch so she was starving. She finally sighed aloud, but said quietly in her head “GOD, my life…Oh.” She caught herself! “There I go again with that.” She then began to challenge the thought. “Well, ALL of it doesn’t suck. It’s just a little bad at this moment. I mean, there are good things about my life. I’m just a little bummed out right now.”
She found it amazing that it actually made her feel better to change just that one little thought. She caught herself saying “God, my life sucks” at least 10 more times in the upcoming week. She challenged it every single time. Her optimism increased and her depression decreased slightly everyday. She tuned in more to her internal dialog. She discovered other thoughts that were self-defeating, and challenged those as well. Soon she found she was actually happy, and her life followed becoming better and better. Setbacks happened, but they no longer made her feel like her life sucked, because she did not allow them to.
I think people generally have good intentions. They don’t TRY to make themselves unhappy. One might hear someone else say “God, my life sucks” and adopt it because the first few times they said it it felt good, and cathartic. When the phrase becomes internalized and said unconsciously over and over again, however, it starts to become a problem more than a catharsis. You’ve subconsciously create a mantra for yourself, a mantra that is self-defeating and harmful to you.
Thoughts can be addictive just like anything else that once served the purpose of making you feel better. Like cigarettes, French fries, or drugs. Thoughts can become bad habits. Some people are raised on fast food. Eating badly becomes a habit for them. Some people are raised on negative thoughts. Being depressed becomes a habit for them.
Negative thoughts that feed anxiety are usually extreme and unrealistic. For example:
“People just suck.”
- Really? ALL people? Everyone in the whole world sucks?
- Doubt it.
“Nobody likes me.”
Really? NOBODY, huh. Have you taken a survey? Could you possibly be wrong?
I’m almost 100% sure that SOMEBODY likes you.
“This place is horrible, and I hate it.”
Well, I’m sure its not entirely pleasant, and there may be some things about it that are horrible. There must be something good about it. Anything.
Challenge your thoughts. Are they really realistic? How long have you been thinking them? How might they affect your mood? You might be interested to know that the functioning of your brain can be affected by your thoughts. Yes, your actual brain! Think of your brain as a rock, and your thoughts as water. Rocks can be shaped by constant, repetitive water currents, like in the grand canyon. Apply the same concept to your brain. Another simplified way to put it: think of your mind as a bunch of muscles all in a bunch. If you keep working the parts of your brain that deal with negativity they become stronger and bigger than the rest of your brain. Meanwhile the positive parts become weak, and begin to atrophy.
Tuning in to your thoughts is a good way to begin on a new path. Changing the way you think is an important part of overcoming depression and anxiety. It is important to note here, however, that thoughts are only one aspect of the human experience. Emotions and Behaviors complete the triangle. The intricate and complex interplay between thought/feeling/behavior, experience, environment and biology is key to getting to know yourself, and varies for each individual.