Hello! One of the main challenges of the human condition is how to handle the ups and downs in our lives and be unfazed by the variations. At the end of the day, life has to move on. During many of those times, a tool has helped me immensely — talking to myself.
Self-talk is the conversation that you have with yourself. It is the story you tell yourself about an external event that happened. It is the pep-talk you give yourself when you are down. It is the pat on the back you give yourself when you do something good. Self-talk is not only about positive stuff like pep talks and encouragements but also the uncomfortable negative stuff that you tell yourself, the criticism you give yourself, the negative things you believe about yourself, and the responsibility you take after making a mistake. Though self-talk has a positive and negative side, in my experience, it has always had a net-positive effect. Self-talk is how you materialize your self-awareness.
A Hopefully Relatable Example
For example, consider the situation where you got rejected during or after an interview. When viewed objectively, the situation is nothing but an incompatibility between the company and yourself regarding skills, cultural fit, or behavioral patterns. On paper, it is easy to understand. But it is complex in real life. We tend to tell ourselves a story after the rejection — "I'm not good enough for the job," "I don't know how I am going to face my next interview," or "I can't catch a break." Though these are examples of negative self-talk, it is part of the process.
In all fairness, being objective in those situations is tough, and we aren't Buddhas. However, as we keep giving interviews, our self-perception will change, our efforts will start to bear fruit, and we will notice that our self-talk has moved from negative to neutral. At this point, our self-talk is like, "I'm bad at communication; I need to improve on it," or "I'm happy with today's interview, but I need to work more on X to move further."
The Self-Talk Spectrum
Imagine a spectrum of thoughts, with negative ones on the left and positive ones on the right. Situations where you are disappointed with yourself, feel bad about yourself, be hard on yourself, etc., are on the extreme left. Situations where you are proud of yourself, are extremely happy, etc., are on the extreme right. Situations where you reflect on your mistakes, feel compassion for yourself, etc., are in the middle. It is essential to acknowledge that the whole spectrum is necessary and inevitable. Sometimes we need to be disappointed with ourselves as it helps us grow, and of course, we need to cherish and celebrate ourselves.
While all of this is necessary, the key idea to remember is that the event itself is neutral. The stories we tell ourselves decide our response to the event and hence, the event's outcome. That, right there, is one of the core ideas of Stoicism. Neutral self-talk is the sweet spot, as it removes judgment and delusions and keeps us level-headed. Frequent positivity is harmful as it pushes us into delusions and complacency, while frequent negativity is problematic. Being in the neutral zone makes us see things as they are.
It is very hard to have this self-talk at the moment. The presence of the mind is dependent on the individual. In my case, I'm mostly late for these things. I cannot count the instances where I've thought about why I didn't have the presence of mind during the situation. But with practice, it improves over time. Our alertness and reflexes improve, and nowadays, I'm "less late" for realizations, for lack of a better term. But guess what? Better late than never.
Irrespective of their place in the spectrum, I have found all kinds of self-talk equally crucial in my experience. Self-talk is how we deal with our thoughts and understand what is in our control and what is not. No matter the situation, you cannot get yourself in or out of it without talking to yourself and convincing yourself. All of the so-called good and bad things in our lives are self-inflicted. Good self-talk helps us take control and responsibility for our minds and actions. How do you talk to yourself? Pay attention to that; you will learn a lot about yourself. Thanks for reading. Cheers!