I know the most important conversation you will have in your life. It is the conversation with yourself. The conversation that happens in your head.
When it comes to talking to ourselves, we are quite proficient. On average humans, speak to themselves at 4,000 words per minute, which is 10 times faster than verbal speech.
This great inner dialogue can be our greatest asset or the source of our greatest pain. One of my favorite quotes illustrates just this:
“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
- John Milton
The things we tell ourselves matter. At the same time, we have profound autonomy in the narrative we choose. We could put two different people in the same situation, and one could be ecstatic while the other could be miserable. What is the difference between these people? Their thoughts.
This is not to say that we should be constantly in a state of contentment, thinking only positive thoughts. This is an overly simplistic representation of what it is to be human. As humans, we know grief because we know joy. But there are ways in which we often suffer needlessly.
One of these needless sufferings is what we psychologists call rumination. Rumination is essentially thinking the same negative thoughts over and over again. Often people describe this as being “stuck”.
The issue with rumination is that it creates a vicious cycle. We can create a chronic physiological stress response just by thinking, and when our thoughts fuel this stress it can be detrimental to our health. We then feel worse, and it becomes harder to get “unstuck."
The key to overcoming being stuck is psychological distance. We often get too close to our negative thoughts and therefore have a hard time unhooking.
I recently read Chatter, but one of my favorite psychologists, Ethan Kross. He proposes several techniques to create psychological distance in his book.
One technique is to create psychological distance for the self in which we can employ the third person. Julius Cesar and LeBron James did this. Basically, instead of using the first person, you use the third. So instead of thinking, “I am stuck” you think “(your first name) is stuck”.
This allows for some space between your emotional state and yourself, which allows you to see more solutions. The second technique is to use temporal distance.
Often when we feel stuck, our mind zooms into this moment that feels like it will be forever. Instead, think of your life as a timeline and notice that this is just one moment, and in the scale of your life, it is small.
So if you are starting this week feeling a little stuck. I encourage you to think or journal on this coaching question:
How did (Your First Name) overcome this, and what strengths did they employ?
Think about yourself in the third person, like in a story. How did you overcome the issue you are facing? What inner strengths did you use to do so? Did you use your intelligence, your empathy, your determination? Maybe you used all three.
Wishing you all a marvelous week of overcoming any challenges you may face.