776th Week: Programming Ourselves for More Gentle Self-Talk

One of the things that always touches me is listening to the critical ways in which so many of us talk to ourselves. It’s as though we culturally tune into a particular channel of self-awareness and are taught to give ourselves a hard time, weighing ourselves down with “shoulds”, comparing ourselves negatively to others, and making sure we jump on ourselves immediately if there is any hint that we might not be measuring up to whatever judgments we may carry.

For many of us, there is also the underlying anxiety, uncertainty, and downright fear that arose during times of trauma when we may have experienced verbal or physical abuse. With abuse tends to come an internal dialogue of self-blame which then grows into an internal litany of what’s wrong with us and why we, or our lives, will never be okay.

Recently, I watched a Tedx Talk by Andrew Newman, the creator of the Conscious Bedtime Story Club and the author of many children’s books. The talk is entitled, “Why the Last 20 Minutes of the Day Matter” and I was captivated by what Andrew had to say. Here’s a link to his talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfcZhlK-FAU

Basically, Andrew is saying that the way we spend the last 20 minutes of the day before going to sleep orients the brain to reinforce whatever track we were on before sleeping. What I took from what he said is that, in order to have a gentler and more positive awakening in the morning, and as a way to prime our brain in the direction of greater ease and self-compassion, consciously choosing how to spend the 20 minutes before bed can make a big difference.

For this week’s practice, I invite you to watch the video and apply the practice for the coming week. Notice what happens when you orient yourself in a positive, loving direction before sleep. Do you wake up in a more comfortable and positive state of being? Do you notice that your self-talk may soften and become more supportive of yourself? There aren’t any right answers. It’s a matter of tracking how this practice affects you and playing with what makes the biggest difference, in terms of what you do before bedtime, an awareness of where you have focused your attention before going to sleep.

A companion to this practice is to also pay attention to your judgments and self-talk. Each week, I invite you to “pat gently on the head any judgments that may arise”. You may have noticed that this invitation offers a gentle intervention to acknowledge, but not do anything with, your judgments rather than an invitation to fight or wrestle with them. Track your judgments and self-talk as you do this week’s practice and notice what it’s like if you interrupt any that may be negative and “pat them gently on the head”, allowing them to continue to move on through without your having to do anything more with or to them. As Jack Kornfield, the meditation teacher, says—we can’t not have judgments. It’s what our brains do. What we can do is change our relationship and responses to them.

Since most of us have also developed a habit of self-criticism, one of the ways to help ourselves is through this process of interruption. When our awareness allows us to notice what we’re doing, an immediate “stop” can help our brain learn that we don’t want to go down that track. With enough gentle but firm interruptions, the brain begins to learn to choose another, hopefully more positive, self-talk option.

As with all these practices, please bring along curiosity as your constant companion. It can be useful to remember that curiosity orients outward, toward experience and discovery and helps us be more open to the experiences that come our way.

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