One of the things I often share with others, and have no doubt written about in these practices a number of times, is how our ongoing flow of self-talk is a form of self-hypnosis. We program ourselves with our self-talk and it’s worthwhile to notice how it affects, if not shapes, the quality of our internal lives.
This week, I want to take a particular orientation to tracking and engaging self-talk. Because our self-talk so deeply reflects our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us, for this week’s practice I would like to focus on the impact of self-talk that focuses on kindness. And, in the same way, to invite you to notice the quality of your internal experience when your self-talk focuses on unkind statements about yourself and/or others.
For most of us, the flow of self-talk is automatic and pretty much unceasing. It moves along on the stream of consciousness that constantly flows by and, even though we may not pay particular attention to it, this flow of self-talk affects the quality of our body-mind being from moment to moment.
And so, for this week’s practice in conscious living, I invite you to track your self-talk around the theme of kindness. Notice when you become aware of thinking unkindly about yourself or someone else. Have you noticed that we will sometimes talk to ourselves in ways we would never think of doing with someone else? That’s a key self-talk habit to change, by gently refusing to talk to yourself in ways you wouldn’t talk to someone else. In addition, I invite you to notice what happens when you talk to yourself gently, with kindness and comfort or encouragement. If what you say doesn’t feel authentic at first, that’s normal. Keep it up and notice over time how, when your heart becomes involved, you discover that you actually care about how you treat yourself.
One of the useful ways to do this is to allow yourself to shift your attention when you notice an unkind thought you may be having about yourself and shift to self-talk that is more heart-oriented, more centered around being kind to yourself. Because self-talk flows along the ever-moving stream of consciousness, there’s no need to push away or struggle with anything. Just let the thought you don’t want to focus on to move on by as you replace it with a thought, with self-talk, that offers you kindness.
Also track how you talk to yourself about others and track that for kindness, as well. We’re in a time collectively where kindness doesn’t reveal itself often in our public discourse, so we may develop a habit of more easily thinking and speaking unkindly to ourselves and about others. You might notice that, when you’re in this kind of internal conversation with your self-talk, the quality of your internal life probably isn’t so comfortable.
A key in this process of tracking and changing self-talk is to notice what happens in your body and your emotions when you notice the impact of different qualities of self-talk. Another important element is bringing your heart perspective into the process. The other day, I was faced with a challenge that has a trauma history to it and I was surprised by how distressed I became. The self-talk I turned to, offered with kindness, was, “I’ll get through this and I’ll manage it.” It surprised me how much that helped. (Of course, it also helped to talk with friends!)
Again, this is not a process of struggle or an internal fight. It’s more about where you place your awareness and what you choose as the focus of your attention. If you’ve read these practices over time, you’ve seen me say countless times to pat any judgments gently on the head and allow them to move on by without your having to do anything with or about them. It’s the same here. You’re not fighting your thoughts. Instead, you’re choosing to ignore and not feed those that are unkind.
Please remember to bring along curiosity as your constant companion, as curiosity opens us to new discoveries. And, those judgments—nothing to fight with. Just the next thing arriving on the constant flow of your stream of consciousness.
Here’s an audio version of this practice, if you prefer to listen to it.