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."


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