Friday 5 July 2013

Talking to myself

The other day a friend caught me talking to myself.  I am unrepentant.  Apart from Gandalf's observation about talking to the most intelligent person present, there are other good reasons to do so.

I am always particularly interested in notions I initially dismiss as bunkum, but eventually learn have some real value.

Positive self-talk is one of these.  It was my friend and colleague Ann Bowen-Jones who overcame my cynicism.  I was approaching a piano exam, as an adult learner, and confided to her that whilst my scales and pieces were OK, 'I am rubbish at sight reading.'

She picked me up on this, and pointed out that if I repeated that to myself often enough, it might not help...  The neural basis for that is the same as learning, say, times tables by rote.  As a child I said '3 times 4 makes 12' (and so on) so often that now if someone says 3 times 4, the answer 12 comes automatically to mind. Ann's point was that I was teaching myself to respond poorly to the words sight reading, so when the examiner said it was time for the sight reading test, my brain would instantly respond (internally only, if I was lucky!) 'I am rubbish at sight reading.'

So she got me to think of the most positive thing I could think of to say about my sight reading which I could actually believe (she was clear that lying to oneself is pointless), and then repeat that over and over to myself, in groups of 3 ('When relaxed, I am OK at sight reading.')  Three times on getting up , three times on getting into the shower, and so on.  And being a good friend she got me to do this despite my resistance and incredulity.

The result astonished me.  The examiner duly announced that it was time for the sight reading, and my brain told me 'When relaxed, I am OK at sight reading.' - and I played the piece OK; not perfectly, but it was very much better than the previous exam when my fingers had turned to jelly.

So I am a convert to affirmations.

Here's the content of a handout I sometimes give people explaining them:


Affirmations are a powerful psychological tool that we can use to help us to overcome habitual inner dialogue that inhibits or limits us.

For example, approaching a major presentation, you may find that a gremlin voice in your head starts to tell you, repeatedly: “I’m no good at presentations.  This will be a disaster.

Rationally, you may know this not to be true (or not wholly true..), but nevertheless, the persistent inner voice can be very debilitating, and can cause you anxiety that then sabotages your preparation and delivery.

Affirmations target this inner dialogue directly, by replacing the habitual negative message with a habitual positive one.  (There’s a lot of clever stuff about neurology that underpins this...)

How to use affirmations

1    Identify a future situation that causes you to feel weak in the stomach (eg a forthcoming presentation) or a recurrent and habitual negative thought that inhibits your performance.

2    Identify any negative inner dialogue that you are using to sustain that feeling (eg “I’m no good at presentations.”)

3    Write out the strongest positive statement, contradicting your negative inner voice, which you can believe to be true (eg “When well prepared, I present with confidence.”)

4    Repeat the affirmation to yourself, 3 times in a row, several times a day over the days leading up to the event.  If you notice your old habitual self criticism cutting in, laugh at it and interrupt it with the affirmation (Eg if you notice that you are beginning to think “I’m no good at presentations,” interrupt with: “Good try... however, when well prepared, I present with confidence!”)

5    Repeat the affirmation immediately before the event or in times of need, as appropriate.

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