By Srikumar Rao, PhD
You have a companion. One that never, ever leaves you. It sticks with you, staying even closer than your shadow. It is like a leech sucking your blood, and you cannot shake it loose.
This constant companion is your mental chatter.
Another name for it is your internal monologue. It begins the moment you open your eyes in the morning and carries on until you close your eyes at night. More often than you’d like, this chatter prevents you from drifting off to sleep. And when you finally do doze off, it may well make that rest fitful.
Think about what happens when you wake up. Does your mental chatter go something like this?…
“Drat! There’s that alarm again. I don’t want to get up. It’s going to be another horrible day.”
And does it continue throughout the day?…
“No toothpaste. I told him to get a new tube before he used this one up. If he cared for me, he would have done it.”…
“Now I have to go to the stupid meeting to interview the candidate for that new position in the department. Not that the boss will actually listen to me. He will listen to Todd. Todd’s so smooth — he’s going to be the next vice president for sure. Not me. I can’t do anything right around here.”…
“Lunchtime! Let’s get the hell out of here. Forget inviting Lorna, she’s been ignoring my e-mails all day. She probably doesn’t like me.”…
When you look at your mental chatter, you will notice that it is an unending stream of noise. But you will also discover that much of it is putting you down, either directly or, more subtly, by having you compare yourself unfavorably to others.
And it is exhausting you by telling you all the things you have to do that you probably will not be able to.
Over time, those negative judgments start to accumulate. Eventually, they form a huge barrier squarely in front of you on the path to your ideal life.
It is like a coral reef, a strong structure capable of ripping the bottom off the stoutest ship ever made.
Yet that structure is made up of the skeletons of tiny coral polyps. Each individual polyp is insignificant — and when it dies, its death is of little consequence. But when hundreds of thousands of them die, they bond into that awesome reef.
Your mental chatter works like that. Each individual negative thought is of no particular significance.
But it leaves a tiny mark — and those tiny marks accumulate. You have been enduring a constant stream of mental chatter for decades. And you’ve been building a “reef.”
That reef has imprisoned you — and you never even realized you were building it. Even if, at times, you were dimly aware of your tendency toward negativity, you probably dismissed your thoughts as unimportant or as well-deserved criticism.
And you were partially correct. Each individual coral polyp is unimportant. Each individual negative thought is inconsequential. But when taken together, they form a massive, nocuous structure.
That’s where you live now — in this “reality” you’ve created.
The good news is that once you become aware of what you have unconsciously allowed to happen, you can fix it!
In this case, you are both doctor and patient, so first you have to know how bad the “disease” is before you can treat it. Here’s how to do the diagnosis:
For the next two weeks, carry a journal or notebook with you.
Record your mental chatter — positive and negative — throughout the day.
Be as specific as possible. In particular, note the number of times you beat up on yourself and compare yourself unfavorably to others.
You might find that those negative thoughts fall into categories, such as “Criticism of Others,” “Running Myself Down,” and “Feeling Inadequate.”
As you record your mental chatter, pay close attention to how your emotional state is tied to it. You might feel sad, overwhelmed, fearful, or dissatisfied. But you might also feel confident, peaceful, or grateful.
Do those feelings change often — or is one dominant? Are they generally positive… or negative? How does your emotional state affect your behavior?
Jot it down.
If you tend to criticize yourself or blame others for your mistakes or frustrations, jot that down too.
Don’t berate yourself when you notice negative thinking. You are just recording it. And remember, you are also recording positive chatter and the emotions connected to it.
Eventually, you will get to the point where you are constantly aware of your mental chatter. And you will find that this awareness changes it — making it less able to take your thinking down a destructive path.
This gives you much needed control.
You get to decide for yourself whether you are going to build your reality on the foundation of a negative judgment… or not.
You cannot eliminate your mental chatter but you CAN shape it and channel it. You can make it your friend instead of your enemy. And when you do this, your life takes off in more ways than you can imagine.
P.S. Finding true happiness won’t happen overnight. With my The Personal Mastery Program: Discovering Passion and Purpose in Your Life and Work, you’ll get all the tools you need to make a break with negativity, sadness, and disappointment.
About the Author:
He has an M. Phil. in Marketing from the same school in addition to an M.B.A. from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. His undergraduate training was in Physics at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University.
He conceived the pioneering course Creativity and Personal Mastery.
This is the only business school course that has its own alumni association and it has been extensively covered in the media including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the London Times, the Independent, Time, the Financial Times, Fortune, the Guardian, Business Week and dozens of other publications.
This article is from the Self Improvement Newsletter from SelfGrowth.com