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Turn off These 6 Dangerous Inner Dialogues That Kills Your Brain Power

Turn off These 6 Dangerous Inner Dialogues That Kills Your Brain Power

Have you ever had an internal dialogue playing on loop in your brain? Your mind seems to be always working even when things are quiet. We don’t only use this dialogue to solve problems, we also spend part of our time having an internal conversation with ourselves.

We have a world happening inside our heads replete with catch phrases and mantras. Most of us don’t even realize that we’re having this conversation. Michael Singer, author of The Untethered Soul, likens this mental chatter to our “inner roommate.”

Your inner roommate is the voice in the back of your head narrating your life for you. This voice might be offering you positive affirmations such as, “I am strong and capable,” or “I can handle change.” This voice could also have catch phrases like, “I’m not good enough,” or “I don’t belong,” or “I can’t.” We have these conversations with ourselves so often that we hardly realize they’re happening.

These thoughts have more power than we recognize. The words that we tell ourselves can manifest incredible possibilities, or they can fill us with negativity. As harmless as it can seem, what we tell ourselves can lead to self-actualization or self-sabotage.

These silent conversations can affect how your brain works

The silent conversations you’ve been having with yourself can have a profound impact on how you view the world. What we say to ourselves can temper our experience.

We process speech that we hear in the temporal and parietal lobes of the brain. The process is complex, but our brains not only determine what sounds are being made but also what those combinations of sounds mean together.[1] When our inner voice starts talking to us, many of the same areas in the brain used for hearing speech are activated.[2]

Our words are more than just idle chatter. The power of ideas transmitted by language is further reinforced by physiological responses that we have to words, whether we speak them aloud or hear them from our inner roommate. Negative words increase cortisol, a stress hormone which can wreak havoc on your body and have an impact on how you handle tough situations.[3]

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The more you hear something, the more you’ll believe it

Even though our inner voice is telling us things in our minds, our brain still treats inner speech just like words spoken aloud. Broca’s area, the region in the frontal lobe responsible for processing speech is active in both cases.[4]

Hearing yourself say something in your mind carries the same weight as hearing yourself say something aloud. The more you repeat it, that thought will carry more weight because you’ve accepted it as the truth.

This is why repeatedly telling yourself that you are fine can make you feel better when you are nervous. Your brain hears you saying it, and then you have a physiological and hormonal response to that mantra. Unfortunately, the things we tell ourselves can also elicit stress responses.

Are any of these internal catch phrases sabotaging you?

There are loads of great things that you might be telling yourself, but many of us also face negative internal dialogue loops. If you can catch them, then you can correct them.

1. Okay.

It is fine to say “That’s okay.” when you truly agree with something. The problem is that we tell ourselves that things are okay even when they aren’t. Telling yourself that something is okay when it isn’t can perpetuate a state of discomfort.

When someone asks you what you think about something, how often have you said that it was okay just to appease the other person. You may not feel right about the situation, but you choose not to say anything.

Imagine that your coworker has just asked you to cover a shift for them this weekend on short notice because their friend is in town. Even though you already have tickets to see a show with your partner, you agree to do this because you don’t want to make waves at work.

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When you tell yourself that this is okay in your mind, your brain stops looking for alternatives. Instead of asserting yourself, you commit to sacrificing a date with your partner. In your mind, you come up with many reasons why it is fine to take on this extra work instead of taking the time to communicate what you need.

Avoid simply agreeing to things if they don’t feel right to you. If you can interrupt the loop of, “That’s okay,” you might be able to come up with a better solution. At the very least you will make it possible to be honest with yourself.

2. It’s easy.

Viewing a task as extremely difficult can make it intimidating, but you can underestimate something by proclaiming that it’s easy. When you think that something is easy, you have the requisite skills and sufficient knowledge to tackle the problem. If you don’t possess those things, then labeling something as “easy” could cause you to take an over-simplified view of it.

When we think something is easy, we might stop looking for better solutions, and we may fail to notice small details that could determine success or failure. At the least, we make things more difficult for ourselves because we aren’t willing to look for other ways of tackling the problem.

Internalize that something is too easy make it tough for the people around us. If someone asks you for help, you could make them feel foolish by offering a response like, “That’s super easy.” Even if you think it’s simple, you may not be able to explain it in a way that makes it easy for others to grasp.

I took a yoga class in which the teacher cued us into complex posture. She not only made it look easy, but she also told us that the posture was simple to achieve. She had been practicing yoga for many years, and as a result, she had forgotten how hard she had to work to learn the posture. The catch phrase that she told herself had made its way into her class, and we all felt foolish when we couldn’t do what she asked right away.

3. It has always been like this.

Tradition is great, but inefficiency isn’t. When you rely on a historical precedent for your actions, you may be unable to look at issues from new perspectives. You will never progress or learn new things if you stay stuck in the past.

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If people refused to try mobile phones because phones had always had cords and tied to a land line, we wouldn’t have smart phones today. We certainly couldn’t have imagined a phone that could serve as a camera and a mini-computer if someone hadn’t decided that we needed to try new things.

4. I don’t know.

This is probably the worst of the mental catch phrases. When we tell ourselves that we don’t know, we’ve tossed our hands up in defeat. We set ourselves up so that we can’t come up with a solution. This is the mental equivalent of being a person who complains all the time but never does anything about it.

Teachers have to battle the “I-don’t-know” monster in the classroom all the time. Kids who exclaim that they don’t know how to do something have given up on trying. Think of times when you have said to someone, “I don’t know.” Chances are, it froze all activity as you waited for someone to give you a hint or put you on course.

Knowing that you don’t know something can empower you to seek answers, but if your internal dialogue stays stuck on, “I don’t know,” you are going to spend more time seeking help from others instead of figuring things out for yourself. You can’t grow this way because you are always waiting for other people.

5. I just don’t feel right about it.

This catch phrase works similarly to saying, “It’s easy,” because it makes us stop looking for solutions. The main difference is that when you say this one, you feel miserable.

If something doesn’t feel okay to you, then there is probably a reason, but by saying. “It just doesn’t feel right,” you stop yourself from figuring out what you don’t like.

Imagine you’ve been in the middle of a grueling job search, and you just got an offer. You decline the offer because it “just doesn’t feel right.” In this situation, you need to figure out what was wrong. Did you simply dislike the company’s values? Did the interviewer make you uncomfortable? Was the salary offer too low? Knowing this can help you refine your search and save you the stress of doing more interviews for jobs that don’t meet your standards.

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6. That’s impossible.

If you can imagine it, then it is possible. Regardless of whether you need luck or you have to put in lots of effort, the realm of possibility is vast. When you say that something is impossible, you allow that negative thought pattern to dominate your perspective.

Your brain, only looking to make things easier for you, hears, “That’s impossible,” and works to corroborate that statement. You have a confirmation bias, which causes you to find evidence to support what you already believe .

If you try to do something new and think that it’s impossible, then you’ll keep yourself from finding ways to make it possible. Instead of telling yourself that you are doing something impossible, try to set us a list of “maybes.” Identify challenges that could prevent you from reaching your goals. You can get around obstacles, but you’ll never get around a generalized belief of impossibility.

Perhaps your struggle seems too great to overcome. For example, many people struggle with student loan debt. If a person has done everything in their power to get out of debt, he or she might seek help from a financial counselor. Calling on outside help is a great idea in this case because it can be hard to think of things from an objective perspective when you already think the obstacle is insurmountable.

It’s time to pause change your internal dialogue

For many of us, our internal dialogue plays without us thinking. Our catch phrases are handy because they enable us to operate on autopilot. It is critical to disrupt these negative and self-defeating thought patterns.

Every time you catch yourself repeating a negative mantra, hit the internal pause button, and try to come up with a better solution. If you’re guilty of saying, “I don’t know,” then try saying something like, “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.” By flipping your negative statements into positive ones, you can allow your brain to live up to its full problem-solving potential.

Reference

More by this author

Brian Lee

Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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Last Updated on October 30, 2019

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

Change is tough, there’s no doubt about it. Old habits are hard to shift, and adopting a new lifestyle can feel like an uphill battle!

In this article, you will learn about a simple yet powerful model:

Stages of change model, that explains the science behind personal transformation.

You’ll discover how and why some changes stick whereas others don’t last, and how long it takes to build new habits.

What is the Stages of Change Model?

Developed by researchers J.O. Prochaska and Carlo C. DiClemente over 30 years ago[1] and outlined in their book Changing For Good, the Stages of Change Model, also known as the Transtheoretical Model, was formed as a result of the authors’ research with smokers.

Prochaska and DiClemente were originally interested in the question of why some smokers were able to quit on their own, whereas others required professional help. Their key conclusion was that smokers (or anyone else with a bad habit) quits only when they are ready to do so.

Here’s an illustration done by cartoonist and illustrator Simon Kneebone about the different stages a smoker experiences when they try to quit smoking:

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    The Stages of Change Model looks at how these conscious decisions are made. It emphasizes that change isn’t easy. People can spend a long time stuck in a stage, and some may never reach their goals.[2]

    The model has been applied in the treatment of smoking, alcoholism, and drugs. It is also a useful way of thinking about any bad habit. Social workers, therapists, and psychologists draw on the model to understand their patients’ behaviors, and to explain the change process to the patients themselves.

    The key advantages to the model is that it is simple to understand, is backed by extensive research, and can be applied in many situations.

    The Stages of Change Model is a well-established psychological model that outlines six stages of personal change:

    1. Precontemplation
    2. Contemplation
    3. Determination
    4. Action
    5. Maintenance
    6. Termination

    How are these stages relevant to changing habits?

    To help you visualize the stages of change and how each progresses to the next one, please take a look at this wheel:[3]

      Let’s look at the six stages of change,[4] together with an example that will show you how the model works in practice:

      Stage 1: Precontemplation

      At this stage, an individual does not plan to make any positive changes in the next six months. This may because they are in denial about their problem, feel too overwhelmed to deal with it, or are too discouraged after multiple failed attempts to change.

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      For example, someone may be aware that they need to start exercising, but cannot find the motivation to do so. They might keep thinking about the last time they tried (and failed) to work out regularly. Only when they start to realize the advantages of making a change will they progress to the next stage.

      Stage 2: Contemplation

      At this stage, the individual starts to consider the advantages of changing. They start to acknowledge that altering their habits would probably benefit them, but they spend a lot of time thinking about the downside of doing so. This stage can last for a long time – possibly a year or more.

      You can think of this as the procrastinating stage. For example, an individual begins to seriously consider the benefits of regular exercise, but feels resistant when they think about the time and effort involved. When the person starts putting together a concrete plan for change, they move to the next stage.

      The key to moving from this stage to the next is the transformation of an abstract idea to a belief (e.g. from “Exercise is a good, sensible thing to do” to “I personally value exercise and need to do it.)[5]

      Stage 3: Preparation

      At this point, the person starts to put a plan in place. This stage is brief, lasting a few weeks. For example, they may book a session with a personal trainer and enrol on a nutrition course.

      Someone who drinks to excess may make an appointment with a drug and alcohol counsellor; someone with a tendency to overwork themselves might start planning ways to devise a more realistic schedule.

      Stage 4: Action

      When they have decided on a plan, the individual must then put it into action. This stage typically lasts for several months. In our example, the person would begin attending the gym regularly and overhauling their diet.

      Stage 4 is the stage at which the person’s desire for change becomes noticeable to family and friends. However, in truth, the change process began a long time ago. If someone you know seems to have suddenly changed their habits, it’s probably not so sudden after all! They will have progressed through Stages 1-3 first – you probably just didn’t know about it.

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      Stage 5: Maintenance

      After a few months in the Action stage, the individual will start to think about how they can maintain their changes, and make lifestyle adjustments accordingly. For instance, someone who has adopted the habit of regular workouts and a better diet will be vigilant against old triggers (such as eating junk food during a stressful time at work) and make a conscious decision to protect their new habits.

      Unless someone actively engages with Stage 5, their new habits are liable to come unstuck. Someone who has stuck to their new habits for many months – perhaps a year or longer – may enter Stage 6.

      Maintenance can be challenging because it entails coming up with a new set of habits to lock change in place. For instance, someone who is maintaining their new gym-going habit may have to start improving their budgeting skills in order to continue to afford their gym membership.

      Stage 6: Termination

      Not many people reach this stage, which is characterized by a complete commitment to the new habit and a certainty that they will never go back to their old ways. For example, someone may find it hard to imagine giving up their gym routine, and feel ill at the thought of eating junk food on a regular basis.

      However, for the majority of people, it’s normal to stay in the Maintenance period indefinitely. This is because it takes a long time for a new habit to become so automatic and natural that it sticks forever, with little effort. To use another example, an ex-smoker will often find it hard to resist the temptation to have “just one” cigarette even a year or so after quitting. It can take years for them to truly reach the Termination stage, at which point they are no more likely to smoke than a lifelong non-smoker.

      How long does each stage take?

      You should be aware that some people remain in the same stage for months or even years at a time. Understanding this model will help you be more patient with yourself when making a change. If you try to force yourself to jump from Contemplation to Maintenance, you’ll just end up frustrated. On the other hand, if you take a moment to assess where you are in the change process, you can adapt your approach.

      So if you need to make changes quickly and you are finding it hard to progress to the next stage, it’s probably time to get some professional help or adopt a new approach to forming habits.

      The limitations of this model

      The model is best applied when you decide in advance precisely what you want to achieve, and know exactly how you will measure it (e.g. number of times per week you go to the gym, or number of cigarettes smoked per day). Although the model has proven useful for many people, it does have limitations.

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      Require the ability to set a realistic goal

      For a start, there are no surefire ways of assessing whereabouts in the process you are – you just have to be honest with yourself and use your own judgement. Second, it assumes that you are physically capable of making a change, whereas in fact you might either need to adjust your goals or seek professional help.

      If your goal isn’t realistic, it doesn’t matter whether you follow the stages – you still won’t get results. You need to decide for yourself whether your aims are reasonable.[6]

      Difficult to judge your progress

      The model also assumes that you are able to objectively measure your own successes and failures, which may not always be the case.[7] For instance, let’s suppose that you are trying to get into the habit of counting calories as part of your weight-loss efforts. However, even though you may think that you are recording your intake properly, you might be over or under-estimating.

      Research shows that most people think they are getting enough exercise and eating well, but in actual fact aren’t as healthy as they believe. The model doesn’t take this possibility into account, meaning that you could believe yourself to be in the Action stage yet aren’t seeing results. Therefore, if you are serious about making changes, it may be best to get some expert advice so that you can be sure the changes you are making really will make a positive difference.

      Conclusion

      The Stages Of Change Model can be a wonderful way to understand change in both yourself and others.

      While there’re some limitations in it, the Stages of Change Model helps to visualize how you go through changes so you know what to expect when you’re trying to change a habit or make some great changes in life.

      Start by identifying one of your bad habits. Where are you in the process? What could you do next to move forwards?

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Psych Central: Stages Of Change
      [2] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [3] Empowering Change: Stages of Change
      [4] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [5] Psychology Today: 5 Steps To Changing Any Behavior
      [6] The Transtheoretical Model: Limitations Of The Transtheoretical Model
      [7] Health Education Research: Transtheoretical Model & Stages Of Change: A Critique

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