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The War in Your Head...

Positive Psychology and Internal Dialogue

Have you ever had days when your negative voices in your head outweigh the positive about everything? You think that you aren’t deserving of anything, your body is the most poorly designed shape known to mankind and you think you’re not good at anything.

Where do these internal messages come from? And why do we let this internal dialogue be so influential that it sabotages our feelings, thoughts and actions?

The grandparents of psychological research, practice and experience, Aristotle, Freud and Jung, all suggest a similar theme – that our childhood shapes our life. They claim that by the time we are seven years old we have made a million decisions about how we are going to live our life. You often hear this being called having a life story, a life script or a life plan. This plan comes from these early decisions which are based on how we interpret and experience childhood events. It is thought that what grown-ups tell us in our childhood greatly influences how we perceive ourselves. If we were told often enough that we were stupid, would amount to nothing, were beautiful, a good helper, or like a particular relative, it is likely we accepted this labelling and decided how we would live this out. This may sound outlandish however, but think what it’s like for a child. They have a lack of power relative to grown-ups, they are physiologically unable to handle stress, they have an immature thinking ability and capacity, they lack information and options; no matter how bad the circumstances, children cannot leave.

When I was a child the decisions I made and messages I received were in the context of being a child. Then how come I still pay so much attention to these messages now I am a ‘rational’ adult and can supposedly see them for what they really are?

As adults (sometimes in early adulthood or as adolescents) we begin to realise that some (if not many) of the messages of our inner dialogue are quite unfounded. Sometimes people wake-up to this and change the message. Others encounter a life crisis in the form of health, financial, relationship or loss that forces a re-evaluation of life purpose and attitudes. You have probably experienced this yourself to some extent or at least come across someone who has told you their story about how and what they changed.

Our inner dialogue lives in our past childhood experiences. Here we host the positive and negative dialogue and for some reason where we over emphasise self-limiting beliefs like:

  • I’m not good enough

  • Girls must be...

  • Boys are supposed to...

  • Don’t be successful, bright, funny, intelligent, worthy, make money etc...

  • Work hard then play

  • Don’t make it, don’t win, don’t be happy

  • Love belongs in books

A useful exercise for exploring where your self-limiting beliefs came from is to ask yourself these questions:

  • What were the negative messages you heard?

  • What limiting and negative things were said to you?

  • What did they say about money, your body, your gender?

  • About love and relationships?

  • What were the messages from relatives, teachers, friends and authority figures?

Look at these objectively so you gain realisations and “ah ha” moments of; “So that’s where that belief came from, perhaps that is why I feel not good enough at times.”

Louise Hay, author of ‘You can heal your life’ said, “We are all here to transcend our early limitations, whatever they are. We’re here to recognise our own magnificence and divinity no matter what they told us.”

Daniel Stern, author of ‘The Present Moment’ says that the “present experience must be able to alter the past, by diminishing its influence...” He considers that our memories in the present moment alter depending on our here and now experience. Stern’s work tells us that we do have the ability to change our thinking and our experience so that our inner dialogue today (now) is creating our destiny.

So, there is hope and the possibility of changing our inner dialogue, if we want to.

Sound like a strange concept? Well, there’s no time like the present to rise to the challenge of integrating “positive emotions” into our lives.

You will hear about this phenomenon more and more, it is a revolution happening worldwide and in some places it is called “positive psychology”. In the most general terms this uses psychological theory and research along with application to understand the impact of positive emotions on human behaviour. Being in positive environments and around positive people is highly energising. And I am sure you know how draining it is to be around negative people!

Research is taking place everywhere on the effects on individuals and groups who apply ‘positive psychology’ to themselves, their work environments and people they come in contact with.

The value of positive emotions cannot be overlooked as evidence tells us that an overall balance of positive to negative emotions has been shown to contribute to people’s own wellness, effectiveness and happiness.

Studies have been undertaken using video observations of people interacting to determine how much positivity is needed to counterbalance negativity. Results showed that high-performing teams had the highest ratio of positivity to negativity. This demonstrates to us the importance of positive recognition and regard in the workplace. In the course of your work (and in your life, I am sure) you would have found that the most satisfying experiences have included being acknowledged positively.

Clinical research has focused on behaviour, communication, motivation and conflict- solving in work situations. This highlighted early warning signals that indicated when someone was moving from being co-operative, supportive and having safe practice to becoming a problem to themselves, others and the organisation. This research demonstrated clearly that by applying positive interventions people can be motivated to return to safe, productive and friendly working modes.

Are you beginning to think that humans need a pop-up button like when the chicken is cooked so we can see when we are heading into the negative zone? It would greatly help us stop repeating those patterns, I’m sure.

The upside of all this is more workplaces, teams and individuals are working with their strengths and creativity, and using positive emotional interventions. Why? Because it works at all levels in organisations plus it positively influences the financial bottom line. Audits of sick leave are just one marker that are linked to financial losses because they indicate people are unhappy at work and a negative working environment.

This is the new wellness approach and it is transformational. Of course, we need to start with ourselves first as this is the only real place capable of lasting change.

Donald Neale Walsch sheds illumination on the notion that “it is your current reality that creates your next perspective”. In his latest book “When everything changes – change everything “ he commences with two evocative statements:

  • The changes in your life are not going to stop

  • What can be changed is the way you deal with change, and the way you’re changed by change.

Read those statements again and give yourself some breathing space to really contemplate them.

The challenge is to pay attention and listen to your current inner dialogue and change the negative messages, because you can. Buddha taught: “All that we are is the result of what we have thought.”

‘The Power of Now’ author Eckhart Tolle gives this practical advice: “Whenever you feel negativity arising within you, whether caused by an external factor, a thought, or even nothing in particular you are aware of, look on it as a voice saying, ‘Attention. Here and Now. Wake up. Get out of your mind. Be present.”

Go easy and be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself and others. We are our own worst critics and we need to be our own best supporter. Become curious about your inner dialogue and know that it is from the past, taking up space in the here and now, being influenced by your present. You can refuse to accept it, understand its distortion and sabotage, release it and reframe it with positive thinking and emotions. To create a supportive inner dialogue, follow these steps:

  • Listen and change the negative to positive

  • Everyone has an inner voice connected to their instinct and heart

  • Become your own best friend

  • Bring forward the part of you that believes in you

  • Be kind to yourself

  • Let humour, inspiration and love flow

It takes practice for this to become habit and it can be hard work. Ask any sportsperson and they will tell you that it takes plenty of continuous practice and visualisation.

Once you begin you will notice your inner dialogue changing and you will notice many other aspects of your life changing too. Surround yourself with people who are positive and will support the positive changes you are making.

Originally published in NZ Beauty

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