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Sep 18

How to Direct Your Own Internal Dialog


By Christy Matta, MA
Are you stuck in negative thinking patterns? Or are you not paying attention to what you are thinking and are unaware of how your thoughts impact your emotions?

When we think, we often act as if we’re actors, rather than directors or writers. Our thoughts, those things that occur inside our heads that we don’t give voice to, often occur automatically without consciousness. When this happens, we can respond to them as if they are our lines to be read. Instead of thinking like an actor, responding to lines your mind had given to you, try thinking like a director or a writer. Ask yourself “is this thought helpful?” Or “do I really want to be thinking in this way?”

Part of our mind is constantly comparing our experiences with others we’ve had or holding them up to some expectations we’ve created. These judgments happen in our minds, can trigger intense emotions and distract us from the moment.

In order to change your thinking, you must focus attention on your thoughts. Think of your thoughts as internal dialog in a movie. A sort of conversation you’re having with yourself. Usually when we experience our thoughts, we experience them as if we’re one of the characters in the movie.

In this exercise, try instead to watch the movie. Pretend you are the director or screenwriter. Notice your internal dialog. What do you say to yourself during the course of the day? How do you analyze or interpret different situations? When you’re stuck in traffic, do you tell yourself “this is unbearable?” If you make a mistake, do you call yourself an “idiot?”

Now notice which dialog makes the actors (in this case, you), the most emotional. As you bring your awareness to the content of your thoughts, observe it’s connection to your emotions.

To change your internal dialog and tone down the intensity of emotion, try to describe the situation in your mind, rather than interpret it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. In traffic, you might say to yourself “I’m moving very slowly.” You can acknowledge whether something was helpful or harmful for you, for example, you might acknowledge that the traffic will make you late to work. You can also acknowledge how it made you feel, continuing with the example of traffic, you might acknowledge that being late makes you anxious.

Changing the content of your thoughts won’t eradicate emotion, but saying to yourself that you feel anxious will typically result in a lower intensity of emotion than the thought “this is unbearable” or “I can’t stand it.”

It’s very hard to think in non-judgmental terms, but it’s an important skill to learn. Judgments have a significant effect on the way we feel. They also can cloud our perceptions and leave us responding not to a situation as it is, but to a situation as we’ve judged it to be.

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