Get real, and get clear, about how to talk to yourself. 

Many self-help books and therapists tell us to mind how we talk to ourselves. They correctly point out that how we talk to ourselves becomes our programming.

Just like slogans concocted by advertisers and repeated day in and day out on TV and radio and social media become embedded in our brains, what we say to ourselves, about ourselves— about our abilities, about our worthiness, about our futures— become embedded in our brains, too. 

So we’re told to talk to ourselves in ways that empower ourselves. 

We’re told to come up with positive affirmations and confident declarations that have a chance to counter-program all the negativity and pessimism about there. 

I was told this again and again in books I read and seminars I attended and lectures I listened to. Affirmations are important. Positive self-dialogue was key. 

All of which made it very frustrating that, whenever I tried to come up with positive affirmations or constructive self-dialogue to say and repeat to myself, it felt completely idiotic. 

I tried, hard, to mimic the affirmations and positive statements I found in the self-help literature. I even went through a phase where I was writing affirming statements, over and over again, hoping that they’d sink into my unconscious and take root. 

It all felt very forced. 

Only now do I understand why: I wasn’t talking to myself in a way that I could hear and understand. 

We all have our own languages we speak. I’m not talking about English versus Spanish versus Russian. 

I’m talking about how we speak whatever language we speak. 

I’m talking about the metaphors we use and respond to. 

I’m even talking about the cadences and vocabulary we use in our own heads. 

The affirmations I was copying out of books didn’t work for me, because they didn’t sound like things I’d say. It wasn’t just the content of the affirmations; it was that they were phrased in ways that sounded awkward and pompous to my ears and my brain. 

If you’re gong to talk to yourself in a way that can change how you think, feel, and behave, you have to talk to yourself in a way that you can hear, process, and derive value from. 

Don’t assume that anybody else’s affirmations or scripts or slogans will necessarily resonate with you. 

Pay attention to how you talk to yourself— or even better, how those people who seem to be able to reach you and influence you talk. 

Get clear on what kinds of language, metaphors, colloquialisms, and statements speak to YOU. 

Otherwise, you can waste a lot of time trying to make other people’s words and ideas fit into your brain. 

One of the reasons why 12 step programs are so successful (when they are successful, anyway) is because so much of their wisdom is easily reducible to short, catchy slogans. 

For many addicts, the concise, colloquial 12-step slogans— “easy does it,” “one day at a time,” “stinkin’ thinkin’ leads to drinkin,”, “live life on life’s terms”— speak to how they talk, listen, hear, and understand, more easily and naturally than the jargon of professional therapists. There’s a reason why a subset of addicts do better in 12-step than in therapy. 

You are constantly deluged with a lot of people— including me!— telling you how you can think, feel, and behave better. Many of these people have very specific ideas about what you should say to yourself, how you should say it, and what sorts of responses all of this should elicit from you. 

Don’t worry so much about what they think you should say to yourself. 

Get interested in what works for you. 

Keep track of quotes and slogans that particularly speak to you. 

Maybe music speaks to you more than spoken words. 

Maybe it’s poetry. 

Whatever it is, pay attention to what moves you, what gets your attention, what you can understand and process. 

Learn what “language” you speak when it comes to impacting your feelings and behavior. 

Speaking the language is crucial if you want to truly communicate with anyone— including (especially!) yourself. 


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One thought on “How to speak your own (emotional) language.

  1. I will start calling you Doc Wise. Great read and i absolutely agree with you 100%. Its what works for us – no one else. I am a firm believer in being oneself There are times of course when you are sitting at a big meeting and perhaps discussing your work development, that i have to bite my tongue! Lol. What a great experience it would be if you could simply speak your mind in ALL circumstances! Think i would be “cast out”!.
    Thanks Doc.


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