So just what is this thing called “self-talk?” Psychologists refer to it as that conversation you are having with yourself all day long. And a lot is being said. In fact, while I am talking to you, you are talking to yourself more than three times faster. When I stop talking, you are talking to yourself six times faster. (The reason we can do this is that we think mainly in pictures and feelings…more on that in a future column.) The research suggests that although we usually speak out loud at the rate of one hundred fifty to two hundred words per minute, we can therefore talk privately to ourselves at the rate of approximately thirteen hundred words per minute.
And the brain is recording everything you are saying, whether it is true or not or good for you or not. No questions asked. It was for this reason that I had so much trouble with math in elementary school, not for the reason that I was unintelligent, but it was due to when I exclaimed to those around me, “I’m stupid at math”.
My brain accepted it as absolutely true, and it made sure I was “stupid at math”.
This leads to our first brain principle today: Your brain is not recording what is happening, it is recording your version of what is happening.
Did you know that your eyes do not perceive? That is not their job. Their job is to simply take in light reflecting off objects, and it is your brain that then goes to work. It records what it thinks you are seeing based on what it has learned in the past. So, it is simply recording your version of what you are seeing, hearing, or smelling, and not the actual event itself.
This leads to one of the most important brain principles I teach. “You must agree with the opinion of another about you before it becomes a part of your own self-images.”
When a professional tutor was hired to help me with elementary school math, I remember him exclaiming in exasperation one time, “You really can’t understand this, can you?” Now, when he said that, my brain recorded it as a new “truth” that was then added to the other “truths” in my self-images in the area of math. Why? Because he was a “professional tutor” so he must know I cannot understand math.
Now, if I had known my future, I could have said to him, “Who are you to tell me that? I can understand math. In fact, forty years from now I’ll be teaching university math, and write two college text books that will include a lot of math” But at the age of eight, that was not really an option for me. He was, after all, the “expert”.
In other words, people might be your greatest critics, or give you their opinions of your abilities or character, but you must agree with them before their opinions or statements become a part of your self-images. Psychologists refer to this as “giving sanction.”
Suppose someone says unkind things about you behind your back, or snubs you to your face. These are all words…and no word or gesture, can in itself, hurt you unless you agree with it. And changing this is deceptively simple. You simply quit automatically agreeing with what people say to you about you, especially if their opinions do not fit the person that you want to become.
And this leads us to the last brain principle today. “Your own self-talk has as much an effect on your self-image as what others say to you.”
When we do something stupid, we exclaim, “How could I have been so stupid?” But we don’t stop there. The conversation goes something like this:
“How could I have been so stupid?” “Well that’s not hard to answer. Don’t you remember what you did last week?” “Oh Yeah…I remember that!” “And last year, that was really stupid too!” “And… you were the slowest reader in the second grade. You remember that, don’t you?” “Oh yeah… I had almost forgotten!”
I have seen that kind of self-talk can go on in my students for hours, some for weeks, months years, some for their entire lives.
But here is the clincher. The brain is recording these memories and beliefs as if they were brand new, as if they had just happened. And those are a lot of memories and beliefs: about twelve thousand to fifty thousand per day according to the National Science Foundation, depending upon how deeply you think.
So, when you make your first mistake today, think differently than you have in the past by first making a mental note of your mistake and learning from it. Then feel really bad for no more than 15 seconds and use three wonderful words that have helped so many people. Those are “The Next Time, I intend to…” and create a picture in your mind of how you will do it differently the next time.
The phrase, “the next time”, has three wonderful qualities.
1.) There will always be another Next Time
When I ask my students how many “next times” they have, there is an inevitable silence in the classroom, along with some very puzzled looks. In time, one or two students exclaim, “There are no limits!” Correct! As long as we are alive, there is always a next time. This is a mindset that great leaders use, and most of them had to learn it.
2.) I am still learning.
I have not yet learned it all. I am still making mistakes…but then…the rest of the world is also. Simply read the front page of any morning newspaper on any day of the week to see the proof.
3.) I will never give up.
And finally, when you say, “The Next Time…” you are also saying that you will never…give…up!
There is always a Next Time!
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Steven R. Campbell, MSIS
Mr. Campbell is an award-winning author, speaker and mentor to individuals and organizations. Known as “the Brain Whisperer,” he teaches how your mind can be your greatest adversary and, when understood, can be transformed into your greatest friend and ally. He wants to help shift the mindset of Chopsticks Alley readers. He holds a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Zoology from San Diego State University and a Masters in Information Systems from the University of San Francisco and has been exploring and teaching the discoveries of cognitive psychology in various universities and colleges for over 25 years.