|October 21, 1999
Volume 30 Number 6
|A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico|
Thriving Under PressureManaging Self-Talk
Much of my early adulthood was marked by depressive self-doubt, despite achievements. As a budding sociologist, I came to blame my environment for these dark emotions -- my lousy family upbringing, unsupportive people around me, flaws in the university and academic department in which I worked.
My search for answers led me for a time to attend Quaker meetings in which we sat on concentric benches in silent contemplation for one hour. I shall never forget the inner focus of one of these sessions, for it became a turning point in my life: "I accept responsibility for my being."
This was a simple idea, yet profound in its implications. From that day forward, I grasped that while my environment had certainly shaped my formation as a person, I had the responsibility -- and the opportunity -- to determine what kind of person I would become, both in my external self and in my inner life.
As the years passed (yes, for me it took years), I came increasingly to accept two key corollary ideas. First, thoughts, not circumstances, cause emotions. While it is predictable that for most people certain circumstances (e.g., death of a loved one) will result in specific emotions (e.g., grief), it is also true that between every stressor and one's emotional response is interpretation or self-talk. Second, it is possible to control thoughts, interpretations, or self-talk. Such control is not always easy, but it can be done.
Negative, distorted patterns of thinking often interfere with emotional well-being, good health, and thriving under pressure. Examples include negativizing (seeing only the negatives in situations), magnifying (over-reacting or making a mountain of a molehill), overgeneralizing (jumping from one occurrence to all such experiences), and polarized thinking (right or wrong, perfection or failure, good and bad).
Learning to manage or guide one's patterns of self-talk (internal dialogue or interpretation) is indeed challenging. But here are three simple tools:
P and Q (Pause and Question). At the very moment potential distressing or disturbing events occur, draw a long, deep breath and ask: What is my self-talk here? How am I upsetting myself? Is this truly worth getting upset about? How can I interpret this situation so I will respond with constructive feelings and actions?
3 C's of Instant Replay. Catch (recognize) my negative self-talk. Challenge it. (Is my interpretation factual or distorted, moderate or extreme, helpful or harmful?) Change it.
SSID (Stop, See It Differently). When aware of becoming upset, stop. Take one or two deep cleansing breaths. Re-experience a past feeling such as self-acceptance, love, care, compassion, tolerance, patience, appreciation, or kindness. From one of these perspectives, create a different interpretation of the event.
In the long run, it can be useful to recognize and dispute underlying irrational beliefs or assumptions from which unnecessarily distressing interpretations emerge. Examples of common irrational beliefs include these: My early childhood experiences determine my emotions and behavior, and I can do little about it. The world should always be fair. I should do perfectly in everything I attempt. Others should treat me kindly and considerately at all times. It is imperative that I be accepted by others, especially by those who are important to me.
These are several simple tools for managing self-talk. Repetition, patience, and practice are vital in putting them to use.
Walt Schafer is the author of Stress Management for Wellness and the interim dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences.
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