Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Self-Talk, Even Negative Self-Talk is Generally Normal, not Neurotic

Last month a friend and I started "The Salon — A Forum for Conversation" at our local public library; a monthly conversation group of men and women. The topic for April was, "Is there a shift in the culture of the U.S. away from modesty and humility toward over-confidence and self-aggrandizement?" We used an article by David Brooks as the stimulus piece. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/11/opinion/11brooks.html  —  in case you're interested.

The discussion at the Salon that day reminded me of an early post at intelligentwomenonly.com, stimulated by a David Brooks article about the BP oil spill and thinking patterns. I'm republishing part of this May 31, 2010 post as a second re-introductory article to thinking habits during this reorganization process.

"A major part of the individual human system is our self-talk. It's a tool of our thinking process which sometimes is accessible to others directly through our "out loud" talk, or indirectly to others by the inferences made from what we say. To add to the complexity, when we're in a group, of two or ten, we're subject to outside as well as internal sources of influence plus the pressure to conformity, or opposition, created by group membership and interaction. 
That whole subject led me to remember a book I'd read a few years ago, The Logic of Failure (1997) by  Dietrich Dorner, a German psychologist and professor. The subject  of the book is the nature of thinking required to solve complex problems. Dorner notes that feelings and affect, values and motivations are always a major part of the context of thinking.  He dismisses the idea that there are any secret mental techniques that will enable the human mind to solve complex problems. ". . . there is no magic wand or hidden treasure that will instantly make us deep and powerful thinkers. Real improvements can be achieved, however, if we understand the demands that problem solving places on us and the errors that we are prone to make when we attempt to meet them. Our brains are not fundamentally flawed; we have simply developed bad habits."
What fits so well is Dorner's explanation that our failures are not caused by a fundamental flaw, but a little mistake here, an unspecific goal there, an occasional overgeneralization, a too elaborate plan, a forgotten step in the implementation. 
We women too are trying to solve complex problems, often interpersonal rather than technical, and if we think of our negative self-talk as a bad habit rather than a neurosis, not at all a failure, but a continuing series of small mistakes in thinking, it seems much more manageable and easier to change."


Self-Talk, Even Negative Self-Talk is Generally Normal, not NeuroticSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, April 25, 2011

Realistic Thought About Positive Thinking for Pessimists

 Just found an article by John Dir, "A Pessimists Guide to Positive Thinking", which fits well with the optimism/pessimism discussion.Whether pessimism is learned or acquired through our genes, the article suggests some ways to moderate the tendency. It also has a very good perspective on why/how positive thinking is not an antidote for the negative thinker in the general sense. (Or for the negative self-talker in the specific sense, which is my viewpoint.)  I printed out a section of the article below. Here's the link to the whole article.

"For a true pessimist, trying to keep charged up by positive thinking techniques can be draining, and even reach a point where the mental exercises called for by the "experts" seem more delusional than beneficial. Trying to imitate or initiate the mental attitudes suggested by positive thinking advocates can be so different from your own natural thought patterns, they become impractical for you to sustain. Many pessimistic people are intelligent, pragmatic realists who may have wonderful imaginations, but reserve their view of life to be tempered by experience and skeptical application of learned results and behaviors.
When a negative pattern of events continues to occur repeatedly over time, it is not practical to overcome the expectations that these experiences instill by simply chanting positive mental denials aimed toward an alternate view of reality. For many people, it is hard to spring out of bed in the morning with a big smile on their face, shout the glory of God and all his many blessings, affirm that today is a wonderful adventure, then go out into the world and get their butts kicked again. Most people do not carry around their self help books for constant reference, nor can they sustain the energy stirred up by an effective speaker during a well executed positive thinking seminar.
Though it is not impossible to transform the core level perception a person has in dealing with their life, sustained results from attempts to retrain instinctive responses is difficult at best. There is always some distinction between what we perceive that we are versus what we want to be. In striving to become the person we want to be, our approach to getting there has to conform to what we believe to be practical behaviors."

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/997975
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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What's the Connection Between Optimism/Pessimism and Positive/Negative Self-Talk?

A friend always responds to my inquiry about her well-being, "I'm good." There's usually a small addition. "I'm busier than I like to be this time of year, but the project is going well," or "My cold is getting better every day." She's not chirpy or smiley, never smarmy or gushing. She's real — and has apparently chosen or was chosen by her genes to be an optimist. She doesn't appear to be a positive thinker, in the over-the-top vein, but she does say positive things about her life, her work, the weather, the future.

My friend doesn't say negative self-talk out loud, even if she perhaps says it to herself. She occasionally makes some pessimistic statements. e.g. "I'm worried about all the changes on the job. It may not work out for me." Or, "I'm disheartened by all the conflict. I'd like to escape it." From my perspective, she's real; a realistic thinker rather than a particularly pessimistic or overly optimistic thinker.

Here are two quick definitions from The New Oxford American Dictionary, Second Edition so we're speaking the same language.

Pessimism - a tendency to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen
Optimism - hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something 

I have been unable to find solid research about gender and optimism/pessimism. e.g. Are men or women more likely to be either optimistic or pessimistic? Or to find research related to the ratio of negative self-talk to positive self-talk for optimists as compared to the ration for pessimists. If any readers have facts, or opinions, I'd like to hear from you

 Here are some of my hypotheses (educated(?) guesses), based on my experience as a therapist and an intelligent woman, and on research of related topics.

• More women than men are optimists. Research shows that optimists live longer than pessimists and statistics show that women live longer than men; a correlation, but not necessarily a causation.

• Although women do more negative self-talk than men, they don't necessarily do negative thinking about anything except their own perceived inadequacies. And they do less NST as they go from teen years to the their fifties and sixties. Yes, it's damaging, but it doesn't make them pessimists. They could have hope for all else but themselves, so they're not pessimists or optimists. They're in the middle.

• Many men seem to get particularly pessimistic as they get older. I'm led to wonder if this shows that they have been pessimists all along, but have kept it under better wraps. As they age, they are more comfortable being grumpy/grinchy; a stereotype.

Does it matter? What do you think? What do you know from your experience or research?
What's the Connection Between Optimism/Pessimism and Positive/Negative Self-Talk?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Back to the Beginning: An Admitted Negative Self-Talker — And an Accomplished Smart Woman

I attended The Field's End Writers' on Bainbridge Island today. Carol Cassella, author of Oxygen and Healer and now working on a third book under contract with Simon and Schuster, presented a workshop titled, "Get Out of My Way: Don't Be Your Own Worst Enemy When Facing the Blank Page!" She focused on ". . . grabbing your best concepts and getting them down on paper before your internal editor can ruin them." Having interviewed her in 2009 after her debut novel came out when her perfectionistic self was plagued with negative self-talk, I was excited to hear her inspiring others to avoid inner self-criticism. Consequently, I'm adding this article from April 2010 to the Back to the Beginning Series; articles that are introductory to the what and why of negative self-talk.

The article below, originally in Seattle Woman, July/August 2009, is a great example of an amazing woman who openly announces she's  burdened with the negative self-talk that most of us deal with. You'll see a great example in the second to the last paragraph which highlights the negative self-talk in blue. In the final paragraph, some neutral, cognitive restructured self-talk is highlighted in red.

"Carol Cassella, M.D., anesthesiologist, author of Oxygen, spouse, and mother of two sets of twins, ages 12 and 13, seems to personify the 21st century ideal of the woman who does it all, has it all, and is it all, balancing her many roles with grace. She disputes the suggestion that she’s a role model and says, “It’s not true. There is no balance: like being on a bongo board, there’s never a static point. I’m always adjusting, seeking equilibrium — which isn’t there. The last year has been the most stressful of my life.”

Before Dr. Cassella finished Oxygen, which takes place in Seattle and tells a compelling story of a single female anesthesiologist’s professional and personal crises, her publisher, Simon and Schuster pushed her to start a second novel — with a quick deadline. ”My crazy life became crazier,” she commented. The book tour for Oxygen, requests for speaking engagements, and a leap in e-mails from enthusiastic readers demanded triple the time commitment she had anticipated.

Even before this last stressful year, the fifteen years of Cassella’s life prior to writing her debut novel were relatively hectic; a move from Texas to Seattle and completion of an internal medicine residency; marriage, finishing an anesthesia residency, the birth of four children within 15 months, then building and rebuilding (they needed more room than planned) a house and moving from Seattle to Bainbridge Island. “Shock and awe” are the only words the she and her husband Steve found to describe the realization and then 9 months later, the actualization, of their second set of twins. “We discovered that it was impossible to take care of four babies without help. Luckily we found the greatest nanny in the world — she is still a part of our lives and a close family friend.”

When the four children started school, Cassella began a connection with Field’s End, the Writers’ Community on Bainbridge Island, fulfilling her childhood and early adult craving to write. She was first in line on the doorstep of the Bainbridge Island Library when Field’s End founder David Guterson presented the initial offering for writers. She took all the classes, participated in roundtables and conferences, and met other writers who supported each other in their common mission.

 In August of 2008 Carol presented a Field’s End Roundtable, “How Do We Find Time to Write?” She suggests that writers forget about finding a two or three hours unbroken time period for writing and instead grab any ten, twenty or thirty minute segment and start planning, jotting notes, editing, outlining, or polishing what they’ve already written. On April 18th, she will be a presenter at the Field’s End Spring Conference, an honor she values. As is currently clear, Cassella is definitely made up of the writer’s cloth. Her childhood passion has produced a second significant career, concurrent with her medical profession, both cultivated in the state of Washington.

When asked about the profession that seems more natural to her, Cassella replied, “I certainly wanted to write long before I wanted to be a doctor, so the writer has lived inside my mind ever since I learned to read. I don’t think I could have felt complete at the end of my life if I hadn’t given writing a dedicated and serious effort. But I also can’t imagine having missed out on my career as a physician. It is such a unique type of work, presenting so many intriguing intellectual, scientific, and technological challenges along with the strong emotional component of the patient relationships.”

Working two or three days a week at the hospital, co-parenting four almost teens with her husband, Steve, co-managing the household, while writing 30 minutes here and 10 minutes there, plus sleeping, eating and staying healthy often feels almost impossible to Cassella. When contemplating the complexity of her life she sometimes wonders, “Should I have added writing to my already crazy life? Have I invited a beast into my house?” referring to the demands of writing a second novel, which she finds even more difficult than the first because she now knows who her readers are and what they expect. “Should I still continue on this path? Will I have regrets? Am I being selfish by writing? Am I missing family events and experiences that I’ll be sad about forever? Is what I’m doing good for the children? Or at least not bad for them? “

She answers herself when she says, “Ultimately I have to believe that the children know they are loved as unique individuals, and the consequences of such a busy, crowded childhood will be made up for in other ways. I hope they grow up to be as close to one another as I am with my two sisters. I only wish their childhood could pass a little more slowly, with more chance to savor the five or six years we have left together.” Many parents in dual career relationships would probably share her sentiments about raising children well, a difficult task even under ideal circumstances, whatever those might be."
Back to the Beginning: An Admitted Negative Self-Talker — And an Accomplished Smart WomanSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Judith Orloff 's Four Emotional Types

This is from a new book, “Emotional Freedom” by Judith Orloff. I haven't read the book, but went to the web site and found her "Types" categories interesting. Orloff has come to this typology through her psychiatric practice, but I think they're just everyday people types. I think I'm Type #1, but have capacity for other Type characteristics as most of us do. What's your Type? Is it useful to know?
Some types seem stereotypically more male, others more female. What do you think? Here's the quote from Orloff's web-site, http://judithorloff.com

"I discuss four main emotional types that I’ve observed in my psychiatric practice. See which one you identify with the most, though you may also identify with aspects of the others. Knowing your type can provide insight into how you interact with others and also will help you master your emotions instead of simply reacting when your buttons get pushed. Dealing with emotions effectively isn’t stuffing them away or feeling them less. It’s about establishing balance, strengthening those areas where you’re most vulnerable and maximizing your assets.

Which Emotional Type Are You?
Type #1. The Intellectual: Intense Thinker
Intellectuals are bright articulate, incisive analysts who are most comfortable in the mind. The world is powerfully filtered through rational thought. Known for keeping their cool in heated situations, they often struggle with emotions, don’t trust their guts, are slow to engage in anything light-hearted, sensual, or playful.

Are you an intellectual?
Do you believe that you can think your way to any solution? When presented with a problem, do you immediately start analysing the pros and cons rather than noticing how it makes you feel? Do you prefer planning to being spontaneous? Does your overactive mind prevent you from falling asleep?

If so, try this:
* Breathe. If you’re mentally gridlocked simply inhale and exhale deeply, in through your nose out through your mouth.
* Exercise. Whether you’re walking, rollerblading, or lifting weights, exercise creates an acute body awareness that relaxes a busy mind.
* Empathize. Ask yourself, “How can I respond from my heart, not just my head.” Empathize before trying to fix a problem with loved ones too quickly.

Type #2. The Empath: Emotional Sponge
Empaths are highly sensitive, loving, and supportive. They are finely tuned instruments when it comes to emotions and tend to feel everything, sometimes to an extreme.

Are you an empath?
Have you been called “too emotional” or “overly sensitive”? If a friend is upset do you start feeling it too? Do you replenish your energy by being alone and tend to get exhausted in crowds? Are you sensitive to noise, smells, and excessive talking?

If so, try this:
* Take calming mini-breaks throughout the day. Go outside for a walk, meditate in your room alone. Focus on exhaling pent up emotions such as anxiety or fear so they don’t lodge in your body.
* Protect your sensitivities. Make a list of your top five most emotionally rattling situations, then formulate a plan for handling them so you don’t get caught in a panic. For instance, take your own car places so you don’t get trapped in social situations. (For more strategies see my previous blog “Are You an Empath?”)
Type #3. The Rock: Strong and Silent Type
Consistent, dependable, and stable they will always show up for you. You can express emotions freely around them—they won’t get upset or judge. But they often have a hard time expressing their own feelings, and their mates are always trying to get them to express emotions.

Are you a rock?
Is it easier for you to listen than to share your feelings? Do you often feel like you are the most dependable person in the room? Are you generally satisfied with the status quo in relationships (though others try to draw you out emotionally)?

If so, try this:
* Stir things up. Begin to initiate emotional exchanges instead of simply responding to them. Remember that showing emotions is a form of passion and generosity too.
* Express a feeling a day. In a daily journal, write down an emotion you’re experiencing. Don’t hold back. Are you pissed off? Content? In love? Whatever you feel, bravo! Tell someone. Express the emotion.

Type #4. The Gusher:  Attuned to Emotions

Gushers are in touch with their emotions and love to share them. No one has to wonder where they’re at. Gushers are able to quickly process negativity and move on. Their downside is that they tend to share “too much information” and over-sharing can burn people out.

Are you a gusher?
Do you get anxious if you keep your feelings in? When a problem arises is your first impulse to pick up the phone and share? Do you have trouble sensing other people’s emotional boundaries?

If so, try this:
* Before seeking support, tune into your intuition. Spend a few quiet moments going inward to find out what your gut says. Try to solve the situation from a calm centered place. See what flashes or “ah-has” come to you. Take time to build your own emotional muscles.

The most important relationship you’ll ever have is with yourself. If this is good, you’ll be able to have wonderful relationships with others. Knowing your emotional type provides a platform to emotionally evolve and to become a truly powerful person.
Judith Orloff 's Four Emotional TypesSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, April 11, 2011

Back to the Beginning — What is Negative Self-Talk?

My blog has been alive and kicking for more than a year now; introduced early in March of 2010 with the first actual post on March 29th. I started the blog as I started working on a book proposal for Handbook #1 for Intelligent Women: Break the Negative Self-Talk Habit, my not yet published 5th book. I've written about many different topics on this blog, but mostly about negative self-talk, which I just realized with surprise as I re-read past posts. Helping women to get rid of the NST habit is my mission — so that's my excuse. But I do plan to  write more about women's psychology, communication,  and health this second blog year, in addition to women's intelligent thinking!

As I start year 2, I'd love to hear from some of the long-time and new readers, and from women from Europe and Asia as well as the U.S.
Suggestions? Needs? Compliments? Criticism? Topics of interest that I haven't touched on? Let me know!

As I'm reviewing, renewing, and reorganizing I'll write some new introductory material and republish some previous posts that fit. This week I'm starting with a quick description of what I mean when I use the term negative self-talk. The "regulars" probably know, but new readers may not be sure. I've always called "it" negative self-talk, influenced by Albert Ellis's classic book, A Guide To Rational Living. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema Ph.D., author of Women Who Think Too Much, calls "it" overthinking. We're both psychologists and mean the same thing, although she talks about the thinking pattern as a neurosis and I talk about it as a habit.

Most women have the negative thinking habit or have had it then dumped it or have heard self-criticism often enough from female friends and family members that they know what it is. Although men also engage in negative self-talk, it generally doesn't reach habit proportions.  Women's self-doubting, self-critical inner voice focuses primarily on relationships and appearance — but can also include talents, skills, job, intelligence or even ability to grow house plants. On a recent plane trip, I heard a young woman say to her other seat-mate, a stranger also, "I know I'm not a very bright bulb, but I don't care. It's true." Here are other examples of common female negative self-talk: "What's wrong with me?" "I'm a lousy parent." "What a stupid thing to say." This report is crappy. I can't even write a simple couple of pages." "I look like a tug boat today." There's also a lot of comparison with other women. "I feel like a blimp when I'm around Kim. She's so thin."  "I'm a real bore compared to Joan. She's always doing something interesting or exciting." When you have the negative self-talk habit, one critical inner comment often reaches out and grabs another and pretty soon you're immersed in a giant whirlpool of negative ruminations about a variety of topics. You're also stressed out, preoccupied and your coping mechanisms don't work well. You lose energy, clear thinking, and end up stuck and miserable.

If you don't recognize this kind of thinking in yourself, pat yourself on the back and appreciate your good luck in avoiding the NST habit — or your skill in getting rid of it early in life. If you do have the NST habit, I hope you'll decide to work on quitting it now! Moving forward in life without the drag and drain of the NST habit is so much easier and more fun. Breaking the habit is an adventure that's difficult, lengthy and even tedious at times — and immensely rewarding.
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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Right Brain Approach to Getting Yourself Through "Upsets". H-m-m-m-m again.

As those of you who follow intelligentwomenonly.com know, I've been recovering from the unexpected loss of a good friend. And you also know that I'm a realistic thinker — not doing any negative self-talk. I'm sad, but no guilt, regrets, should haves in regard to my relationship with Lucy and her family. I 've always seen myself as a left-brain person, but I'm finding more frequently that right-brain approaches are most helpful to me in dealing with upsets of any kind.

A friend recently sent me this Zen article which I quote part of below. It's a means to detachment or as the author says, floating. For readers for whom this is new stuff, I'm sure it will seem weird at best, impossibly unlikely and undesirable at worst. Some of you will find this interesting and even helpful. Others will probably think I've gone off the deep end!

I can't and don't do these ten steps listed below, but I am learning the beginning "ability to float". It helps to decrease the intensity of emotion when needed or wanted. Here's the link to the total article:

        The best advice I can give is to do what works for you based on your own experience.  When we were toddlers and learning how to walk, no one could teach us how to do it; only through painful experimentation did we finally learn how to put one foot in front of the other and keep our balance.  The same is true for learning how to keep afloat in the midst of a raging sea of conflicted confusion.
        When we drown in our own mental turmoil we slowly learn what doesn't work.  It doesn't work to fight or push the waves of mental disquiet into being quiet or still.  This kind of effort to stop or push away mental activity only makes things worse, and quickly exhausts our energy.  There are still sits even today when I drown more than I float.  But on the whole, through years of practice, I am slowly gaining the ability to artfully float in even the roughest seas.
        I have found that there are ten steps or challenges that usually must be met before our limited sense of mind can consciously merge with limitless, unrestricted,  "Blue Sky" Mind (a.k.a. No-Mind, or Mu-shin).  At any point along the way we can lose our balance, or our ability to float, and drown in a morass of our own confusion.  The ten challenges are as follows:
            1) Finding a good posture and physical balance while sitting, standing, walking or working; without it
            we will not float at all.
            2) Developing exquisitely slow, gentle, deep breathing, without which we will drown quickly.   We
            can demonstrate accomplishing this step by repeatedly counting off ten slow gentle exhalations without
            much distraction or effort.
            3) Listening to the five primary senses that report the environment around our physical form.  If we
            can't remain aware of at least this much input from the here and now then we have already sunk.
            4) Listening to the interior senses that report the breath rising and falling, the heart beating, the blood
            circulating, and the interior comfort and discomfort zones.  If our mind can not remain aware of these
            more subtle forms of information then it is time to back down these steps and gently work forward
            again.  While doing zazen we all eventually feel chased by the pain in our legs; when we fight it or try
            and run away from it then we are demonstrating our lack of capacity to sit and listen to physical
            5) Listen for, or becoming aware of, our own interior balance point, or center of gravity.  If we can
            get this far then we have started to float, i.e., enter the initial realms of conscious samadhi.
A Right Brain Approach to Getting Yourself Through "Upsets". H-m-m-m-m again.SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend