The Big Idea
Imagine you had a friend, colleague or family member who regularly said to you things like “You’re such an idiot!” or “You will never be able to do that!”, “No one really cares about you” or “You look terrible today”….? Chances are you’d be really affronted and try to spend a bit less time around them right? A bit like a bad smell or a Mood Hoover (#Tip28) they would be someone you’d avoid if at all possible.
But what about the person you spend most of your time with? You’d never put up with them speaking to you this way right?
Well, unfortunately you do, every day – because that person is YOU!
We all speak to ourselves every day with an inner dialogue we call ‘self-talk’ , which we usually barely notice unless we start deliberately paying attention. And for most of us, that inner voice isn’t really offering the kind words that our best friend might or that we would offer our friends… In fact research suggest that most of the inner self-talk, especially about ourselves, is negative. The National Science Foundation (USA) published an article in 2005 that summarised research on human thoughts, which proposed that most of us have about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts over the course of each day. Of those thousands of thoughts, about 80% were negative, and about 95% were the same repetitive thoughts as the day before. In other words your mind, left to it’s own devices, tends to get stuck in a loop like a glitching recording. Worse of all, whether you are consciously aware (‘listening’) or not, this is not even bigging you up – rather keeping you down.
Think back to yesterday – or even this morning. Did you look in the mirror first thing and tell yourself “Wow, you look amazing!” or did you face your own face and have an inner voice saying “You look such a mess…”?
The last time you got something wrong, if you could listen back to your inner voice would you have been more likely to say to yourself:
A) “You are such an idiot”, OR “
B) Hey, don’t worry – The 52 Project last week told us that we optimise our learning when we fail 15% of the time – what could I learn from this?” ?
At The52Project we live and breathe this stuff and we still have to work hard to keep it B)
How about “You will never be able to do that?” – Have you ever told yourself that, but perhaps didn’t realise until now? And what about “No one really cares about you…” ?
Our brains pay attention when someone else tells us something negative – in fact there is some pretty robust science around negativity bias that says we pay particular attention to someone telling us something negative. Alas we almost can’t fail to notice when someone puts us down. We would certainly ruminate on it – and we might even go out of our way to prove them wrong or put them right by pointing out “Erm, I’m not an idiot or clearly I wouldn’t have achieved X Y and Z so far in my life” or “Do you know what, I know I can’t do that yet but I reckon I could with a bit of time and practise” or “I have a lot of people who care about me thank you very much”. Or even get a bit shirty with a “You know what, for my age, I actually don’t look that bad – you might want to look at yourself in a mirror!” (Well our Dulcie does as she does have a bit of sassiness!)
Our guest today Gabor is such an inspiration to us. By day he is the general manager of the wonderful Las Iguanas in York (we are going to treat ourselves to a visit for a meal with some gorgeous red wine, and habit stack #Tip42 and #Tip13 very soon). He has been positively practising morning and evening affirmations every day for years – and has such great personal evidence that it really makes a difference to himself and the people around him. He literally radiates positivity and his team love working for him as a result. Gabor reminded us of the simple truth that what we say to ourselves can have a huge impact on how we feel and act – and therefore every day we have a choice about how we turn up to work and live our lives.
Choosing to actively tell ourselves something positive in the morning and reflecting on the positive things we have done and creating an affirmation for that such as “I always deliver more than expected” or “I add value to the lives of the people around me” don’t just make us feel better in the moment – they actually become more true. As Dr Iain is fond of saying: “where the attention goes, the energy flows”. Saying something positive will mean that your brain is much more likely to look for opportunities for that positive thing to happen and find evidence that the positive thing is already true. Especially if you can bookend the day this way (#Tip35).
The problem with the brain – and our lives – is that all too often, the reverse is true. We tell ourselves something negative, we don’t notice – and away in the background our brain looks for evidence the negative thing is true and finds opportunities to the negative self-talk is right.
We literally have the power to change what happens to us and how we feel about it, starting with intentionally challenging the default negative pattern.
Got it…What’s the Science
A good place to start with this one is that we all construct our own realities all of the time. Each of our own world’s is perceived. Perception is relative, subjective and unique to each of us. Part of this perception for you is formed through wiring (thought patterns) that have gotten laid down through the interaction of your past experiences with the physical as well as internal world (your mind). This means we all have different ‘glasses’ that we see the world through. Dr Stephen Covey referred to these as ‘paradigms’ – these include the context by which we evaluate and judge what we are sensing. This helps our brains to provide meaning to information that they are receiving – they also help us to filter information for that which deemed from experience to be most relevant (salient).
In social psychology the patterns of thinking are often referred to schemas. These are mental constructs, wiring that encodes patterns of thinking, that help optimise and shape how you personally use, organise and express thinking which influences cognitive processing (internal thinking) as well as behaviour. Schemas and paradigms run in the background a bit like a computer operating system. We are not usually aware of it/them from the outside looking in (the monitor or screen) and yet they provide the architecture to the majority of our perceptive processing, projection and interaction with others. At best and in health, paradigms and schemas help you to predict and react faster to stimuli with behaviour and thought patterns that have served you well enough until now – i.e. you have thought this way until now and you are still (hopefully) alive – bonus! Unfortunately the thinking (paradigms and schemas) that have gotten you ‘here’ can really limit you getting ‘there’ – so they can really limit our belief and even capability of what is possible. As a result psychotherapists will often address rate limiting beliefs, phobias and destructive thoughts that have come from ‘corrupting’ schemas.
Our paradigms and schemas are influenced by the language that we and others use on us. They tend to confirm what has become the status quo for you. Now remember here how much of the self-talk we use for ourselves is negative – this is probably related to what is sometimes called ‘imposter syndrome’ (imposterism) which is incredibly prevalent, roughly 70% of the population at some point in their life. The positive intent of this kind or pattern of thinking is to try and keep you safe. Unfortunately this can also stop you really living.
Switching or ‘flipping’ (#Tip22 & #Tip23) this is a bit like trying to flip the perception of seeing a glass from half empty to half full. It doesn’t happen overnight and takes effort. Even if you are a cup half full here, it is prudent to keep it like this and there is also likely room for improvement i.e. make it more like this. This takes awareness, intent, deliberate practice and time. This is where positive words or words affirmation come in – the battle ground of the language you will now daily play out about yourself, which will have the power to shape your reality and possibility.
This approach in effect challenges, or rather flips biases like confirmation bias and observation selection bias to work to work for you rather than against you.
Want some physical brain evidence this is going on? Well another brain scanning (fMRI) study published in 2016 (see Links), added initial evidence of the neural circuits and brain regions that are thought to be involved with these self-affirmation tasks. The authors of this paper pointed to the roles of the Ventral Striatum (VS) and Ventral Medial Prefrontal Cortex (VMPFC). To neuroscientists this was perhaps expected as are regions that have been associated with expectation and receipt of positively valued or rewarding outcomes“1 – including both ‘base’ (e.g. food) and more abstract rewards. The authors of this went on to highlight the connection between VMPC activity in imagining positive rather than negative future events which maybe significant in the way they positive affirmations, including words of affirmation ‘play forwards’ in time to affect processing towards a goal – in other words it raises the likelihood that you will make internal aspirations a perceived as well as ‘real’ reality. The study, along with a bit of logic, suggest that the more thought out the goal or purpose of the word of affirmation are, the more likely they are to have the desired impact. It’s almost like, tell yourself and value enough, the more you’ll actually build, protect (give resilience to) and so predict your future reality. This goes with what our live guest Gabor has experienced.
One last thing, we’d also suggest to copy Gabor’s example of discipline in the focus. The clarity of the goal (what Simon Sinek would call ‘the why’, others might say vision) the greater the impact and likelihood of promoting the outcome. In other words, too many words of affirmation or at least for too many reasons, are likely to dilute the impact of this #Tip. So we suggest finding and regularly using phrases or sayings that really resonate with your well defined desired ‘why’ and purpose, that closely align with your your own core values, are most likely to give you the impact, resilience and reality that you want. This may mean having the bravery to dismiss or put down other people’s purposes and being bold in your own journey here. After all this is your life right?! So this means being picky, intentional, having some bravery (that’s going with the fear – even flipping it to excitement) and going for it to make it happen. After a while when you get evidence that this is working, like Gabor says, you will gain even more confidence (positive feedback) that you are on the right track for you, which will in turn give you a greater sense of purpose in this process (a positive feedback loop of affirmation and purpose). This is your brain consolidating the wiring for your success.
We also shared with you as part of #Tip46 that when we deliberately form optimistic thought patterns – and see setbacks as temporary and short lived – this becomes more your default setting / habit. You become a mood radiator that people want to be around. You become a beacon of positivity for yourself and others. In other words you can become an irresistible leader that doesn’t have to be pushy or shouty to realise their dreams – like our guest and friend Gabor.
Not bad for a few words or phrases that ring true for you!
Watch our #Tip47 on the Instagram Live Recording….
With Dulcie, Dr Iain and special guest Gabor.
1 Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation. Cascio et al., (2016) research paper.
At The 52 Project we loved the tip so much we decided to make it our advent calendar theme – we asked our Testing Partners (aka experimenters) to help us to find one positive affirmation for every day of December and to share them with their virtual and real worlds to spread a simple, powerful and hugely positive message. Slightly better for the waistline than the chocolate version and absolutely certain to raise you mood a little. We can all become mood radiators! Literally what is not to like?!
Tales from our Test Partners
We’d love to know if you catch yourself out telling yourself something that isn’t likely to make you feel any better – and what you did to reframe that to tell yourself something more positive. And if you have a positive affirmation that would fit well on our festive virtual advent calendar, we would love to hear from you!
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