Question: if you lived to be 100, how many of those years would be spent in private conversation with yourself?
a. 5 years
b. 15 years
c. 30 years
d. 70 years
Before I reveal the answer, I think this begs another important question, probably the question I should have asked first: do you talk to yourself?
Don’t fib. It’s yes. In fact scientists tell us this is exactly what separates us from animals: we think about how we think. We also think about how others think. Plus, we know that others think about our thinking. Basically all this internal debating is something animals just can’t do.
Whether it’s dreaming, or daydreaming or repeating lyrics or an interior monologue or writing, it’s all inside one’s head. Apparently, part of this is completely psychological. Humans fear sudden stillness. To freeze means there is danger so we avoid that fear, consciously or not, by initiating a barrage of inside thoughts in the form of conversations. Essentially, we are equipped with our own inner narrator and that can be comforting. (Plus he might like to hum 80s song lyrics too. Just sayin.)
Anyway, so here’s the next question: what exactly do you say to yourself?
That, in fact, is the most important question: is your self-talk helping or hindering? To whom have you permitted rental space inside your head? Someone you like? Or someone who needs an eviction notice?
We really do have the power to evict. We can learn something about this from athletes. They are taught a variety of strategies to change their negative self-talk such as thought-stopping, thought-replacement, focus on the present and turning a negative into a question. It’s not rocket science is it? But it does take practice. For example, the latter strategy would go like this...instead of saying, “I can’t handle this!” say “How can I handle this?”
(I must admit that the voice in my head just now remarked that everything I’ve written thus far is utter drivel so believe me, I know how hard this is for you. And by you I mean me too.)
Last question: what's the big ideal? According to writer Hugh Phillips, the answer to that opening question is a doozie: 70 years. Think about that. It really does matter how you talk to yourself. Is the conversation inside you a healthy one?