By Troy Headrick
I was raised in a very unusual way. I spent the first eight years of my life as an only child and resided in a rural area. In fact, for a good chunk of my formative years, I didn’t really have neighbors and certainly not any with kids I could play with.
Because I had no siblings or friends to converse with, I learned to spend a lot of time talking with myself, a technique that some psychologists call “self-talk.”
I very clearly remember many examples of engaging in self-talk even as a very young boy. For example, while waiting for the bus in first grade to take me from my beloved country home to town so that I could go to school, I often remember staring at the rising sun and giving myself a little pep talk. (Ironically, even though I eventually became an educator, I hated going to school as a youngster.) During these talks, I’d remind myself how short the school day would be and how soon I’d be able to return home, a place where I felt totally at peace. These daily talks with myself helped me remember that the trauma of going to school would soon pass, that I’d survive the ordeal perfectly well, and would eventually be back to the place I felt the happiest. Thus, these self-talks gave me the courage to get through the day.
(By the way, if that first link didn’t answer all the questions you have about self-talk, I’d suggest that you read this.)
Today, I still use pep talks of this sort when I’m feeling a little down or facing something I perceive to be a hassle. I use them in other ways too. For example, when walking outside for exercise, I’ll often find myself deep in thought about all sorts of things. The day may be an absolute gorgeous one, but I’ll be trapped in my head. When I finally become aware that I’m too much in my mind, I’ll say something like this, “Troy, wake up. Look around you. Notice how beautiful this day is. Look at the trees. Notice the lovely clouds. Feel the cool breeze on your skin. Get out of your head, open your eyes and ears, and pay attention to everything that’s going on around you. You’re missing everything!”
Because we live such stressful lives, it’s easy to think obsessively about all those things that are driving us crazy. Doing so deprives us of the opportunity to be “in the moment,” to see and appreciate ever-present beauty.
I also have this bad habit of exaggerating little personal setbacks and thinking that they’re an indication that I’ve failed in some grand way. When I become aware that I’m beginning to think of myself as a failure, I’ll have a little talk with myself. I’ll say, for example, “Troy, what happened was no big deal. You’re thinking it’s a big deal, but that has nothing to do with reality. You’re letting your imagination get the best of you. You know that you’ve long had a tendency to make mountains out of molehills. This is part of your personality. Why do you do this? Relax. Settle down, take a deep breath, stop overblowing things.”
It occurs to me that self-talk is essentially a self-corrective. When we’re feeling blue or too caught up in our thoughts, self-talk can be a method whereby one acknowledges that something is amiss. Once that acknowledgement takes place, the self-talker then actively reminds and cajoles herself to see things more realistically or optimistically. Self-talkers don’t turn to others for help, they turn inward for it. It can be an especially potent form of self-help because the self-talker knows herself better than anyone else does.
Have you ever had the opportunity to use self-talk? If so, how did it go? What form did it take? What advice would you give to others as they use self-talk to self-help?
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.