“Your mind is the garden, your thoughts are the seeds, the harvest can either be flowers or weeds.” William Wordsworth Longfellow
Words can Change your Brain by Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman
Mark Robert Waldman is a therapist and an Associate Fellow at the Center for Spirituality and the Mind, University of Pennsylvania
Out of approx. 500,000 words in the English language, how many do you use habitually?Although our working language may be 2000 words, what about our use of words? Research says its something like 200 (habitual) words. If we pay attention to our thoughts, there are some we repeat all the time. My 10 yr old nephew recently asked me why he had to learn some English words for his spelling test such as “exhilarated” when most people speak like 5 yr olds. Ouch, but true, Out of the mouth of babes. Although we know many words, we may not use them.
How many thoughts do we process a day? Possibly 50,000 to 90,000 thoughts a day. How may of these thoughts are the same every day? Do we think the same thoughts? [Oft used quote: Insanity is doing the same thing every day, and expecting different results. I’m guilty as charged.]
Some self-help gurus may advise us to listen to our inner voice. But do we confuse our inner voice for inner chatter? How do we differentiate the two? For some of us, our inner voice sounds more like a negative inner speech.
The authors examine the evolution of our brains and through experiments have isolated that the thalamus helps us in performing adaptive decision making to abrupt changes in the environment. However, the thalamus relates outside information as real. It doesn’t distinguish inner and outer reality. If we ruminate on imaginary fears, the brain interprets them as real.
Consciousness shapes the world we live in.
However, often our consciousness is interpreted through cultural lenses. People relate to a word differently, depending on the background they were raised, e.g. “You were beautiful” may be taken as an insult, even when we are using the same words.
Secondly, our everyday consciousness is a snapshot of reality. It does not reflect the entire reality simply because the average listener can only pay attention to a limited amount of information. Average of 3-4 chunks. Chunks of information can only be held for 20 sec, then it gets dumped. Our consciousness acts as a sieve, sifting out what we want to hear.
Thirdly, our consciousness amplifies. Our Inner speech preoccupies. It gives voice to the world around us, helps us assert self control of our impulse. Higher frequencies of inner speech lower levels of psychological distress. In 1926, Jean Piaget noticed that children between 3-5 yrs old verbalise their actions, what he calls “ego-centric speech”. Language dominates our daily lives. Inner speech helps us rehearse what we’re about to say. This begins in the first few years of life, and occurs in the left side of our brain and helps us orientate us towards other people. Each emotional state, anger, joy, contentment has its own voice.
Severe trauma can activate these inner voices. We can become self-critical – “Its not good enough, the boss is going to complain”. We see a piece of dress. “You can’t afford it”. “But I deserve it”. Sometimes, our negative inner dialogue can be destructive…
Change your inner speech, you change your behavior.
1. Close your eyes, and cease thinking.
If you’re new to this, your mind can cease thinking but not before mental chatter kicks in.
2. Become aware of continuous mind shifts, judgments, opinions. Be aware of how the inner chatter shuts off other insights, e.g. comments such as “This is stupid”.
3. Bring it to inner silence.
Inner dialogue never seems to stop. Your job is not to stop it, but to be aware of it. Learn to stay in the state of awareness – you might even act with greater generosity to others.
4. Observe your inner speech. Listen with your inner ear.
Get a sheet of paper, take a few deep breaths, yawn and stretch for 20 sec. Relax. Remain silent. Try not to think of anything.
[Immediately, fragmentary thoughts drifting in and out. write them down, and the feelings or sensations. Let it float away like a cloud. Remain neutral. Note and let go.
5. Transform negative inner speech. Inner speech helps modify social behaviour.
Mindful observation + Optimistic Thinking = Add two years of life
6. Intuitional insight – we live in a world of language driven experience.
7. Learn to value silence
If you don’t pause in between, listeners cannot catch up. Great speakers know value of silent pause, it creates deeper connection. Let the other person talk.