Five ways we talk to ourselves
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By Steven Campbell  October 25, 2013 12:00 am

Did you know that while I’m talking to you right now, you are talking to yourself about three times faster? And when you’re alone, that speed goes up to six to eight times faster?

How can this be? Well…when I talk to you, I talk to you with words, and when you talk to yourself, you also use words; but you also use pictures and feelings. So when I think of Mary (my wife), I don’t think of her with simply words, I think of how I feel about her and how she looks to me. As you already know, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Let’s take this a bit deeper today. We now know there are five levels of self-talk. I’ll talk about the first four briefly, and discuss the last one in a bit more detail. 

No. 1 – Negative resignation

This simply says, “No way! I just can’t do this. I’m too old. I’m too young. I’ve never been able to!” When we use negative resignations, the right side of your brain reacts in three ways: 

• It agrees (“OK…if you say so.”).

• It takes away any energy you might have had to actually do it.

• It actually blocks out options you might have developed to do it.

So, be careful what you say…it usually will come true. I love Ford’s statement: “Whether you say you can, or you can’t, you’re usually right.”

No. 2 – But I’m trying…

A close cousin to “negative resignation” is “but I’m trying.” When a client protests that he is “really trying,” I put a stapler (or some other object that is close at hand) in front of him. I then instruct him to “try” and pick up the stapler. His face assumes a very quizzical look. He hesitates for a few seconds and invariably reaches out to pick up the stapler. 

“No!” I protest. Don’t pick up the stapler….try to pick up the stapler.”  He stands in front of me for a few more seconds, completely baffled. I then gently tell him that “trying” to do something is completely meaningless. 

You’ re either going to do it or you’re not. But saying that you are “trying” to do something is simply a cop-out.

No. 3 – The “shoulds”

I hear this frequently from people who are trying to break a habit. I hear them say, “I should weigh less,” or “I should be a non-smoker” or “I should be wealthy.”

What they don’t understand is that when they make these resolutions, their simple brain says, “Yeah, You’re right. You should. You’re just not!” The “shoulds” only recognize the problem and have no intention of changing it.

No. 4 – I quit

This fourth way usually occurs after a cataclysmic event has occurred in someone’s life, like a death because of cancer.  “From now on, I quit smoking!” 

Of these three, this one usually works best but is not by any means the way to truly change on the inside.

No. 5—Next time I intend to…

This fifth level of self-talk is one of the foundations of what I teach all around America. It is the way great leaders think, and it is a way you can learn to talk to yourself, especially when you make that next mistake or need to take a step backward. It is a way of taking what you want in the future, and putting it into the present, now.

It is based on a principle cognitive psychology called “creating the strongest picture,” which we’ll look at next and then learn how to apply it. 

Creating the strongest picture

Do you remember when you first learned to ride a bicycle without the training wheels? Your father, mother, brother or sister ran alongside while your hands desperately clung to the steering handles, the bike wobbling every which way.  

When they finally felt you were ready to ride without help, they pointed out a rock in the middle of the dirt road 50 feet ahead, and warned you, “Now don’t you run into that rock!”  They gave you a little shove and off you went. And to keep yourself from running into that rock, you kept your eyes fastened to it. You know what happened? Bam, right into the rock!

This illustrates a cognitive principle – our brains are teleological; they seek the strongest picture.

Our minds are like a guided missile. Just as a missile seeks objects, they seek pictures or ideas. Unlike a bullet which never veers from its path, our minds are continually correcting themselves to determine the target you are searching for. And what is that target? It is simply the ‘strongest picture that you have chosen for yourself. 


It’s all in what you choose

Now, all of this is accomplished through your self-talk. You give yourself an idea of what you are seeking. If you don’t, your mind simply keeps you the way you are, with no change.

This leads us to our final principle for today. We move toward and become like that which we think about, and our present thoughts determine our future. 

In other words, we move physically and emotionally toward that which we think about.

You move towards the negative, guess where you will end up?  But you decide to lock onto the positive, and your mind seeks the positive.  It is up to you.



Steven Campbell is the author of "Making Your Mind Magnificent" and conducts "The Winners Circle" every two months at Sonoma Mountain Village in RP. He can be contacted at 480-5007 or For more information, go to

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