You talk to yourself almost constantly,
so learn to talk in the most effective way possible.
It makes a difference!
—A. R. Taylor
“We need you to settle an argument for us.” The middle-aged female was very attractive and very defiant. I glanced at the handsome man sitting beside her and raised my eyebrow. He shrugged and looked away.
“Perhaps you need to hire an arbitrator,” I suggested, loathe to step into the center of a domestic spat.
“Oh, you can do it,” the woman said. “I know you can. And my name is Florida, by the way. I forgot to tell you that. You know, Florida, like the state.”
“I believe you’re the first person I’ve ever met named Florida,” I said. “I like unusual names.”
She smiled and continued. “We don’t really need an arbitrator. We just need a brain opinion. You see, Frank here says he thinks something is the matter with my brain. When I have a problem to solve, I tend to talk out loud. He’s always saying, ‘Don’t talk out loud. People will think you’re a nut case!’”
“Well, I don’t talk out loud when I’m problem solving,” her husband said. He glanced at me and then locked his eyes on the floor. “I grew up being told that talking to yourself was bad enough. Answering yourself could get you locked up.”
“My guess is that there are several areas of confusion going on here,” I said. “Let me give you a few bottom lines—the male brain likes the bottom line—and then I can enlarge on them.” I proceeded with an explanation that seemed to interest Florida and Frank alike.
- Male and female brains are different in both wiring structure and processing function.
- Males tend to talk to themselves silently and internally. The more stressed a man is, the more likely he is to clam up. Males come to a conclusion silently and only state it if and when they are ready.
- Females are more likely to talk to themselves verbally and out loud. In fact, the more stressed a woman is, the more likely she is to talk almost nonstop. Females come to a conclusion most effectively by speaking aloud.
Frank and Florida looked at each other.
“All human beings talk to themselves. Period. Some are unaware of that, however. Self-talk is just a label for what you tell yourself.
“In fact,” I told the pair, “you’re talking to yourselves right now—holding a private conversation, if you will. Just sit quietly for a minute, perhaps close your eyes and listen. Pay attention. You’ll soon pick up on your self-talk, although you may not want to disclose what you are saying.”
Frank burst out laughing. “You’re absolutely right. I was saying, ‘How in the world did I end up in your office?’ and ‘She’s probably going to side with my wife!’”
“That’s what thoughts are,” I said. “They’re private internal conversations. Fortunately, most of us have some type of governor that prevents us from blurting out every private internal conversation, every thought that crosses our minds. When that governor fails momentarily...” I decided not to finish that sentence.
Florida squirmed in her chair, so much so that I pondered what the last thing had been that she had blurted out unintentionally.
“It’s a given that human beings talk to themselves. The bigger concern for me is that many people talk to themselves in unhelpful ways, speaking negatively instead of positively. It’s important to learn to listen in on your own conversations and develop a communication style that helps program your brain for success.”
“Tell me more about self-talk styles,” said Frank.
“You could have said please,” Florida murmured.
“Male speech is very direct and uses the fewest words necessary to get the message across,” I said, looking at Florida. “Female speech is much more indirect and tends to use many more words to get across the same message. I understand male speech—am working on becoming gender bilingual—and did not consider Frank’s request in the least rude.”
“Sorry,” said Florida, her face coloring. “Obviously this is a whole new area I need to investigate.”
“Think of your brain as divided into three functional layers, much like gears in a transmission. They work together and yet in a sense they are separate. Your self-talk—thoughts and words—create internal mental pictures in the 3rd brain layer, the portion of your brain that contains conscious thought. Think of this process as creating a map for your brain to follow. The subconscious 1st and 2nd brain layers do not use language, but they can perceive the pictures that filter down to them. Your subconscious mind follows the pictures and usually does its best to push you toward behaviors that help in what they perceive you want to accomplish.
“Moreover, the brain deals easily with positives, a one-step process. What you say and think is the picture you get. Negatives are a greater challenge—a two-step process. Your brain creates a picture, but the word don’t indicates that you actually want something else to happen. Now the brain has to guess, in a sense, how to alter the picture. It may or may not alter the picture accurately, or the subconscious layers may miss the don’t altogether and just follow the first picture.”
“Oh, my!” exclaimed Florida. “When I told the kids, ‘Don’t run into the street’ their brains first created a picture of running into the street. Sometimes their brain altered the picture in time and sometimes it failed to do so.”
“You’re a fast learner, Florida,” I said, smiling. “How could you give them that directive in a more brain-helpful way?”
“Let me see...” she began.
“She’s doing it again!” said Frank.
I nodded. “Remember, the female brain processes most effectively aloud. I’m glad to know her brain is thinking. Women often come to a conclusion only after they have talked it out aloud. One lady even told me, ‘I don’t know what I’m thinking until I hear myself say it.’”
Frank burst out laughing. Florida laughed, too, and then continued. “Maybe I could say something like, ‘Play on the driveway,’ or ‘Stop at the curb,’ or ‘Stay in the yard.’”
“Exactly,” I said. “That gives their brains a one-step picture to follow. There is no need for their brain to convert anything. The same thing goes for adults. Avoid thinking about, talking about, or picturing what you do not want to have happen. Picture in your mind’s eye exactly what you want to achieve and what that looks like. Once the picture is in place, focus on what you want to have happen and always use positive self-talk.”
Dr. Daniel Wegner calls this the white bear phenomenon. When you think or say, “Don’t think about the white bear!” a representation of a white bear goes into working memory and that’s all you think about. And that instruction certainly doesn’t tell you what to do; just what not to do. When you are talking with yourself, it may also be more helpful to use the pronouns you and your.”
Frank’s head snapped up. “What’s this you and your business? Wouldn’t saying I be better?”
“You can use the word I. In that case you would need to say, ‘I, Frank’ or ‘I, Florida’ to make sure your brain knows exactly whom you are talking to or about.”
“The word you depersonalizes things slightly and emphasizes that you are collaborating with your brain and giving it directions, which can be very helpful. You are the only person on this planet who can change the way you think or the way in which you communicate with yourself and others. In general, human beings tend to communicate with others in the style they use with themselves. When I hear individuals speaking negatively to others, I know that’s the style they use with themselves. I imagine their brains must become very tired and discouraged from being spoken to so negatively.”
Florida showed a positive reaction to this new information. “Seems to me now that there really was no argument for you to settle. Thank you very much for taking time to talk with us. I just needed a new brain-based perspective!” The couple rose to go.
“Make that two,” said Frank, smiling and extending his hand.
For a split second I thought Florida might say, “You could have said thank you,” but she didn’t. Yes, indeed, she was a fast learner.
And as she practically applies what she just learned—on a daily basis—I believe that not only will her self-talk improve but also her communication with Frank and her children. That’s a win-win.