What To Say When You Talk To Yourself by Shad Helmstetter, PhD. is a book that inspired me to work on my self-programming and my beliefs.
After I bought the book I set it away for months, before I actually read through it. I wish I would have read it earlier, because once I read the first chapter, I finished the book within one day. The book explains the importance of working on your mental programming and gives you everything you need to do it.
Shad Helmstetter argues that our mental programming creates our believes. And if you want to change, our mental programming is where you have to start.
While Henry Ford is certainly correct with his quote “Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.”, he does not answer the question where beliefs come from. Can you just suddenly start believing? At least I unfortunately couldn’t. Even if not suddenly, the book has helped me to achieve exactly that.
Why Most Self-Development Literature is Flawed
In the beginning of the book Helmstetter explains why people so often have problems making sustainable changes in their life. He proposes three factors that are necessary to make the change happen:
- Permanence by being internally instead of externally motivated
- Making use of the brain’s actual physiological processes, instead of just attempting to create change out of thin air
- Word-for-word directions to erase past negative programming
The problem is that most self-development programs do not take care of these three aspects. They only deal with symptoms and do not influence the core of our being: They forget about the mental programming, which is on top of everything. Helmstetter argues that it influences everything else in our being.
- Mental Programming determines beliefs
- Beliefs determine attitudes
- Attitudes determine feelings
- Feelings determine actions
What is so powerful about this cause and effect chain is that it intuitively makes sense. If you have been looking for the one thing you should change that influences everything else its mental programming. So, is it possible to change our mental programming and how exactly does this work?
Five Levels of Self-Talk
The way to change your mental programming is how you talk to yourself. All of us talk to ourselves, mostly quietly in our head but also sometimes out loud. Often when we make a mistake we tend to reaffirm it. Many people tend to say “I’m always late.” or “I’m bad with names.”. This is problematic as our monkey brain directly buys into it, and will try everything to stay consistent with what you are saying. The way to change our mental program positively is to speak more positively to ourselves.
Level 1 Negative Self-Acceptance
I just gave an example for this above. It is a general statement that affirms something you’re bad at or can’t make happen. “I can’t remember names” or “I am so unorganized.”
Level 2 Recognition & Need to Change
In this level of self-talk you have already recognized the need for change, however you are not yet certain about it and have not decided to take actions. It’s all those needs, shoulds or musts you say on a daily level. “I should eat less sweets” or “I should workout more”.
Level 3 Decision to Change
From level three onwards we create a new more positive mental programming. It is about affirming a decision you have made. “I never drink coffee.” or “I no longer watch TV” Helmstetter argues that you can start using this level of self-talk even if you haven’t committed to a decision yet. It will help you to make the shift and take the decision you need to take.
Level 4 The Better You
In Level 4, you paint a version of yourself of how you’re like in a positive way. ” I am energetic and confident” or ” I am eating healthy every day.” It is the least often used level of self-talk, but yet the most needed one. If you want to make a change, this is the level you should use.
Level 5 Universal Affirmation
Level 5 is more spiritual and about stating universal truths. “It is…” This is a level of self-talk you can use once you have mastered Level 3 and Level 4.
When you are starting out applying the principles from the book, you should start with Level 3 and Level 4 self-talk. And go with whatever feels most natural to you.
You Can Get Started Right Away
As a first step you need to become aware of how you are currently talking to yourself. Maybe its obvious to you and are aware of it. Maybe you have not yet fully grasped the influence it has on you. For most of us self-talk is negative and it’s obvious why this is the case. We steadily get reminded of our mistakes and shortcomings in daily life but seldom people encourage us to believe in ourselves or praise us. The more negativity you experience around yourself, the more negative and critical will also be your self-talk.
Here is one excerpt from the book I have highlighted and that seemed very true to me: “During the first eighteen years of our lives, […] we were told “No!” or what we could not do more than 148,000 times.[…] how often do you suppose you were told what you can do or what you can accomplish in life.”
Even though the number of 148,000 No’s sounds quite random it makes a point and illustrates that we encounter negativity far more often than positivity.
Once you have become aware of your self-talk (which is very likely negative to a large degree), you can make the change and formulate positive Level 3 or Level 4 self-talk phrases to practice.
I have started to self-talk (or affirmations) during my morning ritual every day, and found that it has a positive effect on me. Sometimes during the day when I am stuck I randomly remember one of the phrases I have said in the morning and it makes me smile. The more you make use of positive self-talk, the more it will become automatic to you. Humans are creatures of habit, and if we can “program” ourselves to habitually be more positive, consistent and confident I would suggest that positive self-talk is one of the most important things you can do for yourself every day.