What To Say When You Talk To Your Self

"Your success or failure in anything, large or small, will depend on your programming – what you accept from others, and what you say when you talk to yourself."

- What to Say When You Talk to Your Self, page 25

If there are so many “keys” to success being offered by self-help books, motivational speakers, and YouTube videos, why do many of them fail to deliver the results? And for the many great ideas that have worked for people, why does the impact only last for a few days or weeks? Shad Helmstetter, in his 1982 classic What to Say When You Talk to Your Self, believes that the missing ingredient in successful change lies within yourself.

There are many fantastic self-help strategies and tactics that can make a meaningful impact on your life. But if the programming within ourselves is not programmed correctly, our well thought-out and well intentioned actions can be derailed. Helmstetter believes that our programming can be corrected by something called “Self-Talk” – literally, what you tell yourself when you talk to yourself. With improved Self-Talk, you can learn to adjust your programming and be able to rely on yourself to optimize your outlook and build true, inner-confidence.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Good Self-Talk is your foundation

"Your own Self-Talk to your own inner self is, and always will be, your surest form of inner defense and inner strength."
- What to Say When You Talk to Your Self, page 107

Helmstetter’s book was written in 1982 and relies on terminology that existed back in the 60s and 70s when he was conducting his research around behavioural change. So some of his references are a little outdated – i.e. comparing a computer memory to a “floppy disk” (remember those?) But his examples and parallels still ring true. He describes the human brain as a computer. The way a computer is programmed affects the output that it produces. If a computer is programmed with flawed commands, then it will produce flawed results. The “coding” of the computer is what determines the limits of the computer.

If you were raised in a reasonably positive family, on average you would be told “No” about 148,000 times. For those that were not as lucky to live in such a home, you may have heard more than 200,000 “no’s”. Year after year, our mental scripts – our coding – was being etched through this negative reinforcement and we slowly began to believe that programming.

When we have such a powerful program already installed in our systems, it becomes clear why our well intentioned self-help efforts go awry. Our current “negative” programming overrides our system from installing something new. New ideas on how to make a positive change in our lives don’t get the traction that they need or get pushed aside by more urgent priorities.

So how do you go about changing your programming? It all starts with Self-Talk and changing the way your brain is currently wired.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Self-Talk changes your programming and your behaviour

"Self-Talk changes the picture – it changes the programming which creates the belief, which develops the attitude, which creates the feelings, which control the behaviour."
- What to Say When You Talk to Your Self, page 142

Our childhood, school, professional, and family lives have shaped the programming that we rely on to get through our lives. However, at a more surface level, what we experience on a day-to-day basis are our “feelings” that determine our behaviour. If you get a bad feeling about speaking up in a meeting, then your behaviour will probably result in silence. If you have a great feeling about asking your boss for a raise, your behaviour will likely reflect your feelings. Feelings play an important role in our life because they are the gut checks that we have before we take action. If your feelings consistently project a specific emotion to your brain, you will act accordingly with your feelings.

So if our feelings are so important – how do we change them? Our behaviour is rooted in our feelings, our feelings are developed by our attitudes, our attitudes are created by our beliefs, and our beliefs come from our programming. If we can change our fundamental programming, we can change our behaviour.

This is where Self-Talk can be helpful. Our programming is developed by what we are told and what we tell ourselves. If Self-Talk is employed in a repetitive way, you can make your brain believe what you are saying. Imagine replacing the negative Self-Talk – “I wish I had more time” to “I make time and take time to do what I need to do. I am responsible for choosing when, where, and how I spend my time. And I choose to spend my time in a way that creates the greatest benefits in my life.” That’s a powerful transition and your brain will believe it.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Create Self-Talk recordings

"Tape-Talk – Self-Talk on tape – is without a doubt one of the more practical tools for the betterment of mankind, for the betterment of each of us individually, than any other self-development tool I have ever encountered."
- What to Say When You Talk to Your Self, page 134

One of the easiest ways to incorporate Self-Talk in your life is to create a Self-Talk recording. Access to a Self-Talk tape that addresses a challenge that you’re facing – whether it be to get yourself up when things are down or building your self-esteem – can make a big difference. The importance here is not just that you create a recording but that you carefully choose the words to put into the recording. Helmstetter incorporates a variety of Self-Talk recordings that you can pick up and start using immediately. Of course you can purchase these recordings but the best recordings are made when you record yourself reading these scripts. Here’s a quick example of a Self-Talk script for the “Freedom from Worry”.

I do not worry. I am in control of my own thinking and I think only those thoughts which create and fulfill the best in me.

My mind is constantly in tune with the positive. It is bright, cheerful, enthusiastic, and full of good, positive thoughts and ideas.

I am able to relax easily and comfortably in my body and in my mind. I am calm, confident, and self-assured.

There’s more to this script but you get the idea. Note that the words that are carefully chosen here are all affirmations. “I do not” or “I am” put this recording in the present tense and describes who you are right now – not who you will be. Your brain, much like a computer, will accept the commands you enter and a Self-Talk recording can help ingrain the positive thoughts into your mind.

Self-Talk has been around for a while and I’m sure some people will be skeptical with the power that it can have in their lives. I was skeptical as well but after recording a few Self-Talk scripts from the book and listening to them in the morning, I actually felt like I was the person that I heard myself talking about. So often we get lost in our ocean of thoughts but Self-Talk allows you to cut past the negative and apathetic thoughts to bring out the best in you. If you’re taking self-improvement seriously, start with Self-Talk. It will be the foundation for you to build your continuous self-improvement projects and will impact all aspects of your life. Helmstetter’s book is a great start and more resources are available on the web. Happy Self-Talking!

Do you think Self-Talk works? If you’ve tried it before, how has it gone for you?

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Peter Nakamura

ABOUT Peter Nakamura

Peter was born and raised in Kobe, Japan. He moved to Ontario, Canada and completed a Commerce degree at Queen's University. Upon graduating, Peter spent a year in Mozambique working at a microfinance bank to improve access to loans for local entrepreneurs...
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