Self-talk gets a bad rap.
And to be fair, we humans do have a habit of using our own thoughts and perspectives against ourselves.
Let's take a step back.
There are lots of practical uses for our inner dialogue. It helps us remember our grocery list, put the clothes in the dryer, where we parked the car, and feed the dog.
It also helps us sort through our reactions to life through introspection. We have the ability to think things through before we respond outwardly. What words we want to use in conversations, choices and their pros and cons, and what we want to eat for dinner.
And then there is time travel.
I am positive that every one of you has had the experience of being somewhere or doing something that you weren't entirely into. Maybe some super skilled, self-actualized person spends the vast majority of their time doing what they want to, but even our unicorn probably went through a life phase of life dissatisfaction.
And guess what our inner voice can help us do? Escape. We can think about what we want to do next, that vacation we want to plan, and what we are looking forward to. Or we can remember past events that we enjoyed as a distraction.
But this time traveling power we have- it's important to be careful how we use it.
Because what is anxiety and worry if not future thinking gone haywire?
And what is depression if not past reflection turned towards regret and self-reproach?
Remember, our thoughts precede our emotions, which in turn guide our actions.
We need to use our superpowers for our own good.
Use your future travel to become open to possibilities instead of thinking about what bad things may happen.
Reflect on past events you feel good about instead of ones you don't.
I understand that this takes a bit of discipline. One of the most useful skills a person can have is to be able to direct their thoughts when needed. I like to think of taking the same tone with my inner voice that I would with a small child that is about to touch a hot stove. Firm, but not mean. Just like the child with a hot stove, allowing our thoughts to mind themselves isn't always a good idea.
If we allow our thoughts to run around our minds all willy-nilly and let each thought create another associated one with no direction, well, that can be a problem. This can cause spirals into self-doubt and circular thinking.
It feels like you’re making progress because you’re giving the thought or the problem or the feeling a lot of airtime in your mind. You’re spending a lot of your inner resources on it. That should amount to something right? But then later you realize you’ve been worrying or thinking or analyzing something all day long and you still haven’t come to a conclusion or done anything about it.
It makes sense that we try to think out our problems because a lot of times it works. We are able to take all the sides into consideration, analyze our feelings, think about what we could or couldn’t do, and decide on something to move us forward.
And that’s why it’s so easy to get stuck in thought loops because it has worked before. But then sometimes that doesn’t happen. We think and we think and we think and we never get anywhere. That’s when it helps to be able to stop, step back and notice, "Oh this isn't working this time."
Thankfully, there are tools we can use. We can reframe the situation, we can bounce ideas off someone else, we can make a pro and con list, or we can work on our perspective by zooming out in time and checking on the real importance of what we are thinking about.
The next time you find yourself thinking about something repetitively and becoming anxious or depressed, see if you can take a step back and reconsider the direction you are allowing your thoughts to take you.