Wednesday, April 28, 2010

what do you tell yourself?

Have you ever heard Radiolab before? If not, you must! These guys are smart, funny, and, if I do say so myself, just my type.

In the episode below, they discuss the effect of external stimuli on the performance of people on tests -- blacks and whites, males and females -- in an effort to figure out what it is exactly that triggers two students of equal skills and abilities to score so differently on a standardized test.

It turns out that it's internal negative chatter (surprise, surprise) that, even if they don't believe it, distracts them long enough to stress them out.

Have a listen:

View Full Audio on WNYC

Sunday, April 25, 2010

there is no such thing as delay

I went to hear Michael Beckwith speak recently, and if you're not familiar with who he is, he's a non-denominational reverend who is more into god than any particular manifestation of him.

(He's also a better looking version of Milli or Vanilli, take your pick.)

His topic was something like "Finding Your Soul's Purpose," and I went to listen because I'm feeling a little stuck these days. I was excited to hear what someone with a different (and famously motivating) perspective would have to say on the topic, except... well, he never really got around to talking about the topic.

Instead we were greeted with a number of things I didn't particularly care for in his presentation, including a ten minute segment from his "dance minister" who wore a gauzy dress and flailed herself around in front of a room of paying customers, and a twenty minute version of a song whose title I can only assume was "I'm So Grateful that I Just Can't Stop Singing -- in English or in Spanish -- I'll just Keep on Going Forever," but that's neither here nor there.

Despite my mounting frustration, I stayed and listened for whatever nugget I could take away, and what I got was this:

There is No Delay in the Universe.

Beckwith's argument was that the Universe is perfect. It's perfectly balanced energy, and we (each of us) occupy a perfectly balanced place in it. I am a Kate-shaped energy inside of a Kate-shaped hole in the universal energy. (Or something like that.) So if something in your life feels stalled or delayed, that's only your perspective on it. The Universe (he argued) knows nothing about delay. All it knows is that you don't yet have the skills or tools or support or energy or whatever you need to move on to the next level.

Now, while this is a little bit of a Super Mario Brothers interpretation of the Universe, I like it. I like the idea that the reason I feel stuck is that there's something I haven't learned or gotten or processed yet, and this lull, this slow-down, is an opportunity for me to catch up on whatever that is.

So if you're in a place where you feel stalled, trapped, stuck, or otherwise Not Moving, ask around and see if there's something you don't have or know yet that would help you move into your next chapter. You might just be surprised.

(Although if the Universe tells you to become a dance minister, I might not listen...)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

a poem

Autobiography in 5 Short Chapters
by Portia Nelson, from the book
There's a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery

Chapter I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost ... I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
see it is there.
I still fall in ... it's a habit ... but,
my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is
my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter V

I walk down another street.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Tricks for how to catch yourself in negative self-chatter mode

One of the important ideas to consider when working with the inner voice that’s judgmental of you is that your words can, in fact, create your future. So the more you say unpleasant things to yourself in your head (or even out loud) the more you’re narrowing your future and bringing about the behavior or “fact” that your saboteur is feeding you.

I'm not a huge fan of Henry Ford, but I agree with something he once said -- "Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right."

Our actions are created by our thought, and our thoughts are made up of words. So if you’re not really into the power of words, this article may not be for you – and I understand where you are. Before I tried changing the way I said things, I felt the way you do. "It's just WORDS, it's not like it makes a difference." All I can say now is try listening to yourself saying some of the following words and seeing how they impact you. I’m not you and can’t speak for you. But I do know that all of these things have helped me and my clients.

It can be so easy to ignore a negative thought or not even recognize it as negative. Part of the process of catching yourself saying something negative is to know what to listen for. That’s why I’ve come up with a list of words to help trigger your Observer Brain to let it know you’ve just had a negative thought. When you say the following words, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve said something mean, but there’s a pretty good chance that it’s not nice…

“Should”, “ought”, “must”, “have to,”

There are lots of words that assume rules and standards for behavior that do not exist in reality. They also imply a consequence for noncompliance, and often evoke guilt. For example, we may tell ourselves: “I should have lost five pounds by now.” or “I shouldn't eat cake and ice-cream”.

Who says? Challenge the rules and regulations you've enforced on yourself. Replace the words should, ought, or must with the words “could”, “will,” “may” and realize the gift of choices. Cake and ice-cream becomes much less powerful if we know we could, can, and will eat it if we want to.


There is very little in this world that you can’t do if you really put your mind to it. Thing of something you can’t do. And then I’ll tell you there’s a way you could do it, if you really wanted to. So telling yourself that you can’t do something is just an excuse. It’s also a gateway to a judgment. “I can’t do that, so that means I am _________”

Choose not to. Since you are all-capable, and there’s nothing you can’t do, there are certainly a large number of things on which you choose not to focus your energy. And that’s the difference – ‘can’t” becomes “I choose not to.”


Have you ever been to a hospital and noticed how the nurses talk about ‘discomfort’ instead of ‘pain’? This is generally done because ‘pain’ is a much more powerful word, and discussing your ‘pain’ level can actually make your experience of it more intense than if you’re discussing your ‘discomfort’ level.

Tone it down. In talking (to yourself and others) turning powerful negative words to more neutral ones can actually help turn down the emotionality your experience. Instead of using words like “hate” and “angry” (as in, “I hate traffic! It makes me so angry!”), you can use words like “don’t like” and “annoyed” (“I don’t like traffic; it makes me annoyed,” sounds much milder, doesn’t it?)


When you say something is hard, how does it feel inside your body? Try it. “My job is so hard.” “Losing weight is so hard.” “Finding an affordable apartment in new York is so HARD.” Does it feel like something you can actually do?

Some people are enlivened by this kind of obstacle to overcome. However, others (ahem, most of us) feel defeated by it. So watch out for anything that’s “hard.”

Challenge yourself. Instead, if something is difficult, consider it a challenge. Challenges are not only overcomable, but they can also be fun! Other words you can use to replace “hard” are “difficult,” “tricky,” or another adjective all together that better suits the situation.


If you find yourself talking in absolutes like always and never (or everybody and nobody), there’s a good chance you’re falling into a trap of your own making. “I always eat late at night” is more damning and permanent than “I seem to be eating at night a lot recently.”

Speak to the immediate truth. Are you in a place where you’re engaging in a behavior that makes you unhappy? Maybe you’re ignoring your dishes, being late to work, snapping at your roommate/partner – that doesn’t mean you always do it or never do the opposite. If you speak in terms of the immediate time frame, you give yourself more options for the future, and you’re not pinning your identity to a series of behaviors you happen to be engaging in right now, that may not, in fact, be what you always do.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Feeling the impact of negative self-chatter

So how do you know when you’re talking negatively to yourself? One way is to feel it. Everyone is different and is going to feel his or her negative self-chatter in different ways, but for me, I get a tightening in my chest, and my shoulders start to slump. My throat tightens up, and my jaw gets tight. In general, my body feels like it’s stuck in paste or glue.

And I get super-frowny. Inside and out.

Take a minute to explore the physical sensations that accompany your version of self-chatter. If you can, find a partner (could be your roommate, spouse, mother, friend, trusted coworker), and share with him or her one of the good old standby negative thoughts you have. It doesn't matter how boring or regular the thought is (that you’re even worried that the thought is boring or normal is self-chatter!), just share it with that partner. As you say it, notice how you feel. If you don’t feel anything particular, say it again. Repeat it once and take a deep breath. Scan your body with your mind’s eye. Where is the tension? How is your breathing? What could be relaxed? If you’re still stuck, ask your partner what he or she sees happening in your body.

If you can't find a partner, try this exercise in the mirror. Watch your body as you say the nasty thought over and over again. If you don't see a difference in your body, try thinking about a positive thought (like that perfect sunset, or when you walked across a big stage to receive a diploma), and see how that impacts your body. Alternate between thoughts until you can feel or see a difference in your body.

Once you’ve got the feeling, jot down particulars about it so you know what to be on the lookout for later. The feelings may not always be this strong or the same combination of factors that you experiencing with your partner, but this is a good place to start in your noticing.

As you progress with this work and pay attention to yourself hearing your negative self-chatter, double check your body -- does the posture you assume when you hear yourself beating yourself up empower you? Or does it make you feel like you're stuck in paste, frowning on the inside as well as the outside?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Identifying negative self-chatter

Negative self talk for most of us, at this point, is sheer habit. We do it, and don’t even know we’re doing it. (You may even be judging yourself for doing it as you read this paragraph of me accusing you of doing it!) To some extent it's "normal," but that doesn't mean it serves us.

In the next few articles, I'll be discussing ways to handle the negative self-chatter in your head.

To start examining the issue of negative self-chatter, the first thing we need to learn how to do is to catch ourselves being negative. It takes practice (and patience) because it goes against what we've ingrained on ourselves for however long we've been hard on ourselves. But, luckily, there are ways to change all that!

The next time you catch yourself saying something negative about yourself– either feeling it, hearing it, or remembering it, take a moment and simply note it. You can commemorate the note in any number of ways – by breathing, taking a sip of water, jotting the thought down in a notebook, adding a bean to a jar… whatever works for you. The point of the exercise is not to punish yourself for having negative thoughts – we all do! – but rather to alert yourself to how MUCH you do it, and strengthening the muscles it takes to develop awareness around it.

To make it more bearable, have a little fun with it. Stay curious about how much you do this – if I asked you now, would you be able to tell me how many negative thoughts you have a day?

[This is NOT about punishment. I repeat: This is NOT about punishment!]

The objective is simply to hear yourself saying things. So every time you catch your saboteur saying something hurtful, you win. Even if you don’t do anything about the thought, or (bleck!) fall victim to believing it’s true. That’s ok! The point here is to work out the muscles that detect the voice.

The first step in being able to manage the thoughts you do have is to recognize THAT you’re saying things to yourself. When you've mastered that (ha!) then move on to hearing WHAT it is you’re saying.