Our thought life, or what has become known as our self-talk, is to our life as a rudder is to a ship. It directs and controls our every conscious turn and action. And while we talk to ourselves at the rate of anywhere from 700 to 1300 words a minute, the mind can only dwell on one thought at a time, and that’s the thought that controls us. And the more we think about anything with feeling, the more likely we are to act on it. As others have pointed out, ‘What the mind dwells on, the body acts on.’
‘You are not what you think you are but what you think you are.’ Obviously a tongue-in-cheek statement. Better put: ‘You are not what you think you are, but what you think, you are!’ Or as the writer of Proverbs put it three thousand years ago, ‘As a man thinks in his heart, so is he!’
Think how temptation works. A thought comes to mind that tells us to want something. When we dwell on that thought, our emotions get hooked into it and the stronger our feelings are, the more we think about it, unless we dismiss the thought, we end up acting on it. In other words, if I consistently think good thoughts, I will act in a healthy and positive manner. Or, if I consistently think on unhealthy and negative thoughts, I will act in a harmful and negative manner.
The truth is, when I master my self-talk I am well on the way towards mastering my life. I can change my life by changing my self-talk. And, possibly, this is the one area of my life over which I can have total control. It may not be easy, but with growth, I can master it. To help, we need to understand where our self-talk comes originates.
For instance, if I have an unmet need, my thoughts are going to tap into that. I recall, for example, reading about members of the armed forces stationed for long months in New Guinea during World War II who had pictures pinned on the wall of their tents. No, they weren’t pin-up girls. They were of juicy steaks. What they hungered for, they kept thinking about.
If I have an unresolved problem, my thoughts will constantly be drawn to this. If for example, I have a toothache or have been hit by a Mack Trucks, telling myself I don’t have a problem is worse in the long run. That kind of self-talk isn’t positive thinking. It’s denial. True positive thinking will say. ‘I have a problem. I will get the help I need right away.’
Furthermore, if I have trouble with false guilt or feel that I am responsible when things go wrong, I’ll be forever jumping to wrong conclusions. Just this morning I heard about a three-year-old boy who was with his mother in a supermarket when a moderate earthquake hit. Shelves were shaking. Items were falling on the floor. Picking up her son in her arms, the mother ran out of the store. ‘What did I touch, Mummy?’ the child cried.
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Our self-talk is to our life as a rudder is to a ship.
Or if I have a poor self-image my thoughts will have their roots in my incorrect beliefs about myself. If I believe I am unlovable, I will tell myself that nobody loves me and I will set myself up to be rejected. If I feel I’m a failure, I’ll tell myself that and will set myself up to fail and so on. If I’m in love, with my head in ‘La-la Land’, my self-talk can be irrational when I choose to see only the good and ignore the warnings, and alas, too late, I discover that my thinking deceived me! If ever there is a time to guard my self-talk, it is when I am l in love!
If I am going to master my thought life, I need to face my problems realistically and get the help I need to resolve them. In the meantime, however, there are several steps I can take to improve my life by learning to direct my self-talk. None will be easy, but with practice, I can make them work for me.
Here are some helpful suggestions;
- Learn not to jump to conclusions before getting the facts. Remember, we don’t know until we know
- Because someone feels something is so, they tell themselves that it is so.
Not necessarily. For although feelings are always valid, they tell what is going on inside of us, not necessarily what is outside. I can always trust my feelings, but I often can’t trust my interpretation of them. To improve my self-talk, I need to learn how to understand my emotions and where they are coming from. If I don’t, they will often cloud my self-talk causing me to become confused
- To change negative self-talk from a poor self-image, I need to seek wise counsel or get into a healthy growth group where I feel safe to be open and honest and be fully accepted as I am. As I see that others love and accept me when I take the risk of lowering my masks and become fully known, little by little, I learn to love and accept myself. There is nothing like having a healthy self-concept to promote healthy self-talk. With a poor self-concept, all the help in the world won’t change my negative thinking. ‘What the mind dwells on, the body acts on.’
- We need to realise that ‘we are as sick as our secrets’ and cannot think clearly if we don’t have a clear conscience. To think right we need to do right.
As the Bible teaches, ‘Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard of me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.’
- To maintain positive self-talk we also need to exercise good old-fashioned discipline of thinking. The truth is that we can change our lives for the better or for, the worse depending on the quality of our self-talk. To change it for the better we need also to do as the Bible says: ‘Take captive every thought to make it obedient to God.’
By: Dick Innes