Self-Talk for Smart People

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smarter self-talk

You can be very mean to yourself, right?

Your mind loves to talk. And it never stops.

That mental chatter can definitely stand in your way. And when you pay attention to it, you say some mean things that you would never say to a friend or a loved one.

Here are a few tips for smarter self-talk, so you can change your perspective, get unstuck, and fulfill your potential.

1. Two words that cut you some slack

The evil voice usually pops up when you embark on:

  • Any creative endeavour (writing a book, producing a song, etc)
  • Any quest of personal improvement (trying a new diet, creating a personal vision, etc.)
  • Any challenge where you’re stepping outside your comfort zone (moving abroad, starting a new job, etc.)

When you hear that evil voice, say this: “Not now”. 

This mental trick works because you’re acknowledging the inner critic, but you’re also telling him that you don’t require his services right now, thank you very much.

These words cut you some slack and free up your mind to brainstorm and think differently.

Being kinder to yourself is the key behind smarter self-talk. To do that, you need to challenge the autopilot and its assumptions. Let’s look at that next.

Rule #1 for smarter self-talk: Say “not now” to your inner critic.

2. Challenge the autopilot

When I say “fat”, you say _____?

Take the first word that pops up. My guess is that you said something like ugly, lazy, skinny or something similar.

That’s because your brain solves puzzles and often acts on autopilot. It’s looking for patterns that you are familiar with.

Many of those patterns come from social norms, the media, and our friends and family. Sometimes, the autopilot serves us well, but it can also get us into trouble by making snap judgments about who we are.

Rule #2 for smarter self-talk: Challenge the autopilot and its assumptions.

3. Choose your response

Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl has observed that:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

I can only agree with his observation. Consider the following scenarios, and how you’d respond to them:

  • You’re holding an important presentation, and one of the attendants yawns.
  • You didn’t get the job you were applying for.
  • You’ve had a crap day, and you’re spouse is mad at you.  

None of those scenarios is particularly pleasant. But the way you choose your response will make a major difference. Smarter self-talk involves choosing your response more carefully.

For example, when someone yawns during your presentation, you can say to yourself:

  • Response #1: I must be a really bad presenter!
  • Response #2: She must be tired. Maybe she didn’t get a good night’s sleep.

Do you see the difference?

Rule #3 for smarter self-talk: Choose your response carefully.

4. Change your perspective

Imagine the following scene:

A man boards a train with his two children. They behave rude, and you decide to tell the father to discipline his children better.

“I’m so sorry,” the man replies. “We’ve just come from the hospital, and they’ve lost their mother.”

Now, you didn’t expect that response at all. It’s a paradigm shift, and with this new information, you feel rather stupid for thinking such bad things about the father.

Smarter self-talk is about the ability to change your perspective. Psychologists suggest that you come up with four different reasons to explain an event. So, for every thought you have, try to come up with four other reasons.

Give yourself a little game, and come up with four different reasons to why:

Rule #4 for smarter self-talk: Change your perspective by coming up with different reasons.

Winning the battle of your mind

The way you talk to yourself can greatly influence your confidence, wellbeing and the overall quality of your life.

Remember these four rules for smarter self-talk:

  1. Say “not now” to your inner critic.
  2. Challenge the autopilot.
  3. Choose a different response.
  4. Change your perspective by coming up with different reasons.

I’m not saying it’s easy to do this, but it’s worth it. As one of my readers told me:

It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not.

So, what’s stopping you from taking that next step on your journey? Let us know in the comments.

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2 responses to “Self-Talk for Smart People”

  1. Virginia Reeves Avatar

    Say “not now” to your inner critic.
    Challenge the autopilot.
    Choose a different response.
    Change your perspective by coming up with different reasons.

    Great reminders Olle. It’s a little scary when we notice ourselves reacting and responding without paying attention as to whether it is appropriate for the situation or not. Those old scripts can trip us up if we aren’t alert.

    1. Olle Lindholm Avatar

      Thanks for your comment, Virginia! I agree: those old scripts can really stop us moving forward. I guess we’re good at making life difficult for ourselves, which is why we need reminders to help us become mindful of our inner monologue. By changing what we tell ourselves – or at least offering a different interpretation – we can alter the story and, more importantly, our actions.

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