When we talk to ourselves, the brain listens

Posted on December 8, 2015

Susan Murphy is a SMART Recovery meeting facilitator in Flemington, NJ, and a recovery advocate from New Hope, PA.

Words matter.  The stories we tell ourselves matter.  How we narrate matters.

Here is an embarrassing story.  I ate cookies for breakfast.  I was obsessing this morning over not getting something I really really REALLY wanted.  I found it hard to shift my focus.  (But then again, I barely tried.  I almost seemed to enjoy reveling in my mood.  What’s up with that?)  My mind started racing more.

I went to brush my teeth, and put sunscreen on my face prior to walking my dogs.  I looked in the mirror and this stupid little poem popped in my head:

Put the sunscreen on my face
You are a disgrace!

I then stopped myself cold, seeing my reflection in the mirror, and realized in a very quick moment that allowing myself to be run by this negative narrative went against my values.  I stood there, and paused for a moment.  I then consciously changed my silly poem to:

Put the sunscreen on my face
You have grace

I paused to let it in.  I saw in that moment, how the shift in words gave me a whole different feeling and direction in my body.  Yes, when we talk to ourselves, the brain listens.  A simple pause, a truth, and a shift in direction happened.  Yes, and I can chose words that move me in the direction of my values.

I leashed the dogs up and went outside.  While I walked, on this cold and beautiful day, I still had quiet echos of ruminating going on in my mind.  By capturing the word and the feeling of grace I was better able to put my attention on the present.  The ruminating (it was over my offer not being accepted for a “dream” home I wanted) changed to disappointment.  I then put my attention on recalling what I am grateful for, and setting simple goals for getting back to focus on the day, a day of possibility, in front of me.


8 thoughts on “When we talk to ourselves, the brain listens

  1. Jean B.

    When I hear something negitive from my past come to mind, I stop the thought in mid stream and replace the thought with something positive. Like you aren’t worth much–I make it, ” I am actually of great worth to several people. Plus what about all the people I help?” After doing this for a while, the negitive voices are less frequent and your brain starts making the changes itself without the much thought.

    1. Kathryn O.

      That’s a great idea, Jean! And good to hear that after awhile, it doesn’t take you as much effort to flip the switch.

      Thanks for the great comments & ideas, everyone. And an especially big THANK YOU to Susan for writing this thought-provoking blog post!

  2. Robert S.

    Thanks for the reminder, what to say when we talk to ourselves. After Getting cleaned up and sober then I had to personally, with some help from others,get rewired on what I say to myself. Very powerful, Thanks Susan for posting.

  3. movin4ward

    You are so right, those negative, self-critical voices that have been in my brain since childhood need to be OVERWRITTEN!

  4. Marianne

    So true Susan! Great to be reminded the power we have within ourselves to acknowlege what might be hard to swallow and not let it gobble us up… We have the grace to change the thinking in our brain!!

Comments are closed.