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" Friendship is a sheltering tree "

Coleridge

The Inner Bard: The Value of Understanding Self-Talk

March 5th, 2018

You may not think you are a storyteller. You may think no one listens to you. You may think you exert no influence over anything. But you are wrong on all counts. You’ve been telling stories all your life, you’ve always had an audience, and your stories have often had an impact.

Regardless of whether or not you consider yourself a professional or amateur storyteller, you have always been telling stories – if only to yourself. But these stories have had an impact on your life.

When you sit still and close your eyes, you may enter a blissful state of calm and inner silence. But it’s more likely you will experience ‘mind-chatter’ – thoughts and feelings that pass through your consciousness which will vary in its degree of coherence and in the conscious control you have over it. And you will notice that some of your thoughts will be presented in the form of a monologue to yourself, or in the form of conversation between different parts of yourself. An extreme example of this kind of internal dialogue can be seen in the film version of The Lord of the Rings, when the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parts of Gollum argue dramatically with each other.

In psychology this process is termed intrapersonal communication, or more popularly ‘self-talk’. Negative self-talk may well develop from our internalising criticism when we were young, while positive self-talk is likely to derive from the praise and positive feedback we experienced.

However self-talk evolves, we tend to develop ‘scripts’ – familiar story-lines we repeat to ourselves, and the more this occurs, the easier it is for these scripts to be replayed. Neuroscience tells us ‘neurons that fire together wire together’ – that we physically create pathways in our brains that facilitate repetition. Like ham actors who have been in the same play for ages we are hardly conscious we are saying our lines.

How can we take this understanding and use it to our advantage?

  1. The first step is to become aware of the stories we tell ourselves. Simply bringing semi-conscious thoughts into full consciousness can have the effect of changing the impact they might have on us. To do this, use the therapeutic tool of ‘journaling’ and write them down. In doing this you are beginning to fulfil the first injunction of the Mystery School, or spiritual way, to ‘Know Thyself’.
  2. Look at each story, and accept it’s one you tell yourself. In psych jargon this is ‘owning your story’ – ie not being in denial about the fact that a part of you thinks and feels this way. Sharing your stories with a friend or therapist can help, because negative stories often come with feelings of shame, and shame thrives in the dark and in secrecy. Share the story and you discover others have similar stories and the sense of shame often starts to diminish.
  3. Name the stories. If you can recognise an inner script or rant and say to yourself “Oh there goes my ‘Poor Little Me’ script again,” it will help you get some objectivity. This helps you to fulfil the step you need to take after you have ‘owned’ your story, which is to ‘get off the story-line’. This is short-hand for the necessity to eventually stop being ruled by these stories, so that we can relate to life instead from our ‘true centre’ or soul.
  4. Fully welcome all your characters on stage – even the most unattractive, and let each have the floor. Give them the attention they have been seeking. Offer them tea and cake. ‘What you resist persists’ and here you are trying to resist nothing. Some of the rowdy characters may well calm down if you just listen to them respectfully.
  5. Try reframing negative stories and perspectives. By changing highly charged words in your self-talk to milder ones, their impact changes. You can have fun with this. For decades I told myself I hated shopping. The result was that spending time in shops was an unpleasant experience for me. Recently I had to start doing regular shopping. I started telling myself I love shopping. In my self-talk I accentuated the word love: “I LOVE shopping!” The result? I love shopping!
  6. Identify how you can ‘talk yourself up,’ and ‘talk yourself down’. Choose to run the former script whenever you catch yourself running the latter.
  7. Research suggests that second-person positive self-talk may be more effective than affirmations stated in the first-person, if you want to encourage a certain behaviour or performance. This means if you find you are saying to yourself: “You are (rather than I am) great at tennis (or public speaking or whatever)” that’s fine.

Given the fact that we all tell stories, it makes sense to hone our story-telling skills. Rather than being at the mercy of a story-teller who is not fully aware of what they are doing, it makes sense to awaken the Bard Within.

10 Responses to “The Inner Bard: The Value of Understanding Self-Talk”

  1. Haha, I’m too much of a pirate to have space for a devil on my shoulder. That’s the spot where one of my parrots—a red-throated conure named Sydney—prefers to sit. She can easily out-squawk anything that tries to knock her off her favorite perch!

    But Philip, I have to tell you that I’ve done something similar with cycling that you’ve done with shopping, and it worked for me, too. I used to groan whenever I had to pedal up even small hills. Then one day, at the base of yet another little hill, I shouted defiantly: “I LOVE hills. Hills make me strooong!” That got a good-natured chuckle from my riding partner, but it really helped. Now I sometimes also like to sing the line, “The hills are alive with the sound of music,” right as I begin to tackle a hill. Alas, I inevitably sing it badly, since I’m tone-deaf (possibly due to the squawking parrots).

    I’m also not really much faster or stronger on the hills than I was before, but at least I feel better about ’em. So, I’d like to add that endorsement for your method. 🙂

  2. I’m so glad to have read this today! Very informative. I’ve just started on my bardic journey and often have doubts that I’m not any good at story telling or poetry. This will help me change that nagging inner negative chatter to something more positive x

  3. Ha, if I were to write down some of the stories I tell myself when trying to survive walking through Boston (Massachsetts) traffic, it’ll sound like Quentin Tarantino directing a Game of Thrones episode.

  4. I found your mantra “I love shopping” on yesterday’s Tea with Philip very interesting. Serendipitously, twenty-five years ago when I was at the University having a challenge in my medicinal chemistry class I had the same sense of dread. My mantra was “I love med chem” when I opened my notebook, while I was in class and I was astounded when I got a 90 on the exam. Unbelievable! The crazy thing is this does work! It’s how I get through my most challenging days. 🙂

  5. This was so lovely! I fully enjoyed and benefited from the Spring in the Forest. Interestingly, half my forest was ‘waiting for spring’ as the leaves were not out yet, nor any undergrowth!

  6. This is a powerful too… I remember starting to work out and dreading it… and at the end of a particularly rough workout, I was walking home really sore, and I found myself about to say “I can’t believe I have to do this”… but I switched it up and said “I can’t believe I GET to do this”… and I saw that I had two healthy legs to walk home with, on a beautiful day, that I had the time and money to go to a gym, and that I cared enough about myself to be working out… and it was transformative!

  7. This is so very helpful! Gaining distance and objectivity to our negative self-take makes it so much easier to disassociate and then start to encourage and look more positively on what we can do and feel stronger and happier about ourselves and our actions. Thank you so much.

  8. Thankyou so much for a wonderful meditation.i loved your comments about the ugly little child,definitely something i can work with.😊

  9. What a life…synchronicities allow me to trust the process of evolution more and more….and like little thunderbolts of love, i create new “synaptic” paths for me to overcome the old outdated thought patterns. Facing my heart to understand, if i was satisfied or not with the “screen” recitals i was giving out to the world.
    The seeds of contentment have always been there, i reckon today…it was just a question to acknowledge them in truth and light.
    Today i am free to co-create with life, a new story….I may not excell at it…but at least…i reached a milestone….which is solid….no coming back to self pity nor mistrust…
    I embodied my new story and i am so pleased about it, that it feels like i am like a kid again…wandering about with awe..;in this gentle and ever changing world……
    …The sun always rises but the day it unfolds….is a mystery….. to be rediscover every moment…with every breath….in gratefull serenity…that All is Well…..

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