Tag Archives: #innerspeech#

“Your mind is the garden, your thoughts are the seeds,  the harvest can either be flowers or weeds.”  William Wordsworth Longfellow

Flowers at the Furano train station, Hokkaido

Flowers at the Furano train station, Hokkaido

Words can Change your Brain by Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman
Mark  Robert Waldman  is a therapist and an Associate Fellow at the Center for Spirituality and the Mind, University of Pennsylvania

Out of approx. 500,000 words in the English language, how many do you use habitually?Although our working language may be 2000 words, what about our use of words? Research says its something like 200 (habitual) words. If we pay attention to our thoughts, there are some we repeat all the time.  My 10 yr old nephew recently asked me why he had to learn some English words for his spelling test such as “exhilarated” when most people speak like 5 yr olds. Ouch, but true, Out of the mouth of babes. Although we know many words, we may not use them.

How many thoughts do we process a day? Possibly 50,000 to 90,000 thoughts a day.  How may of these thoughts are the same every day? Do we think the same thoughts? [Oft used quote: Insanity is doing the same thing every day, and expecting different results. I’m guilty as charged.]

Some self-help gurus may advise us to listen to our inner voice. But do we confuse our inner voice for inner chatter?  How do we differentiate the two?  For some of us, our inner voice sounds more like a negative inner speech.

The authors examine the evolution of our brains and through experiments have isolated that the thalamus helps us in performing adaptive decision making to abrupt changes in the environment. However, the thalamus relates outside information as real. It doesn’t distinguish inner and outer reality. If we ruminate on imaginary fears, the brain interprets them as real.

Consciousness shapes the world we live in.

However, often our consciousness is interpreted through cultural lenses. People relate to a word differently, depending on the background they were raised, e.g. “You were beautiful” may be taken as an insult, even when we are using the same words.

Secondly, our everyday consciousness is a snapshot of reality. It does not reflect the entire reality simply because the average listener can only pay attention to a limited amount of information. Average of 3-4 chunks. Chunks of information can only be held for 20 sec, then it gets dumped. Our consciousness acts as a sieve, sifting out what we want to hear.

Thirdly, our consciousness amplifies. Our Inner speech preoccupies.  It gives voice to the world around us, helps us assert self control of our impulse.  Higher frequencies of inner speech lower levels of psychological distress. In 1926, Jean Piaget noticed that children between 3-5 yrs old verbalise their actions, what he calls “ego-centric speech”.  Language dominates our daily lives. Inner speech helps us rehearse what we’re about to say. This begins in the first few years of life, and occurs in the left side of our brain and helps us orientate us towards other people. Each emotional state, anger, joy, contentment has its own voice.

Severe trauma can activate these inner voices. We can become self-critical – “Its not good enough, the boss is going to complain”.  We see a piece of dress. “You can’t afford it”. “But I deserve it”. Sometimes, our negative inner dialogue can be destructive…

Change your inner speech, you change your behavior.
1. Close your eyes, and cease thinking.
If you’re new to this, your mind can cease thinking but not before mental chatter kicks in.

2. Become aware of continuous mind shifts, judgments, opinions.  Be aware of how the inner chatter shuts off other insights, e.g. comments such as “This is stupid”.

3. Bring it to inner silence.
Inner dialogue never seems to stop.  Your job is not to stop it, but to be aware of it. Learn to stay in the state of awareness –  you might even act with greater generosity to others.

4. Observe your inner speech.  Listen with your inner ear.
Get a sheet of paper, take a few deep breaths, yawn and stretch for 20 sec. Relax. Remain silent.  Try not to think of anything.

[Immediately, fragmentary thoughts drifting in and out. write them down, and the feelings or sensations. Let it float away like a cloud.  Remain neutral. Note and let go.

5. Transform negative inner speech.  Inner speech helps modify social behaviour.
Mindful observation + Optimistic Thinking = Add two years of life

6. Intuitional insight – we live in a world of language driven experience.

7. Learn to value silence
If you don’t pause in between, listeners cannot catch up.  Great speakers know value of silent pause, it creates deeper connection.  Let the other person talk.

Lavender Fields in Furano

Lavender Fields in Furano

Display at the 2014 Singapore Gardens Festival

Display at the 2014 Singapore Gardens Festival

In my earlier blogpost, I reflected on the importance of silence.

Words are often necessary as a language of trust.

Recently, a friend introduced me to a book “Five Love Languages” and shared that her love language was “Quality Time”. Sundays are reserved as special time for her husband as both spent the rest of the week on the road. His love language was “Words of Affirmation”.  Every day, he messages her that he loves her, lamenting that she does not do the same. Reminds me of the story of a man when asked by his wife why he longer tells her “I love you” remarked, “I’ve told you on our wedding day, if anything has changed, I’ll let you know.”

Some of us need constant reminders.

At last week’s Prime Minister’s National Day rally, he recounted the story of a very observant resident who noticed that a fish-ball stick thrown on the ground was not swept after two days. Obviously the cleaner was not doing his work. The resident helpfully reported this to his MP who investigated and discovered that it was because the stick fell on “no man’s land”. She gamely intervened and got the various agencies to work together.

When I heard the story, I wondered why the man in question did not pick up the fish-ball stick in the first place.

Foreigners used to joke that Singapore was a “fine” city. If you were caught littering, you pay a fine of $500. Today, we are a “cleaned” city. Not clean, but cleaned, with an army of cleaners.  Its our right to throw fish-ball sticks around, and its the cleaners’ fault for not cleaning after us. We wonder why its becoming so expensive to live in Singapore. [Now the joke is on us.]

Norms have changed. We worry more about what the western media projects of Singapore. The slogans have gone because it sounds too communist. We are a modern global city.

When we visited the flower fields of Furano in Hokkaido, I was amazed that no one picked the lavender flowers, leaving it for everyone to enjoy. Only in Japan. The Tourism Board in Singapore tried to display orchids along our tourist shopping belt one year, and by Day 2, the displays were bare from people helping themselves. Tragedy of the Commons where everyone acts in their own self interest. So no chance of the beautiful displays at the Singapore Gardens Festival finding their way for permanent display at Orchard Road.

What is so different about the Japanese spirit of discipline? Education and constant reminders. In my recent visit to Japan, I was surprised to find that in public trains are clear signs in multiple languages (Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean), not to use handphones. Japan is a society where clear rules and etiquette are communicated. Before you become too enamoured with the Japanese lifestyle, I’ve seen young moms carrying babies plying the crowded sub-way trains and no one would give up their seats. [The young moms were probably walking to the “charity” seats reserved for pregnant, old people.] No illusions of a polite society.

I first visited China in the 1980s. In 1999 I was back in Shanghai for a company retreat. My colleague lost his wallet. In most countries, you can forget about seeing your wallet again. He informed the hotel receptionist, suspecting it was dropped in the taxi we boarded from the hotel. We didn’t recall which taxi but gave a rough estimation of the time we left hotel. Wallet returned the same afternoon with everything intact.

A different China from the one reported by the media these days with stories of melamine in milk powder and meat scandal.  []

I’m not asking for a return of communist China. But as society “evolves”, the unspoken norms or rules that have guided civic or ethic behaviour needs to be articulated differently. Dr Newberg and Dr Waldman in their book “Words can change your brain” wrote that inner values used to be a popular topic in the1950s and 1960s when books by Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning appeared. During the past 20 years, values based research mostly disappeared..

Dr Newberg and Dr Waldman in their book “Words can change your brain” recalls having a church auditorium filled with religious believers and disbelievers and people of various political, economic beliefs. They guided the participants through a inner values exercise and asked them to share their values aloud, everyone ended up feeling a deep sense of mutual respect for each other. The authors cited Havard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter who found that when people discuss business values openly, the need to impose impersonal and coercive rules disappears.

Some organisations go through lip service. The stated values on the vision and mission statement contradicts with that of the unspoken organisation decision-making centre and behaviour.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Commonly attributed to Aristotle who said that nature requires everything to be filled with something.  A utopia demolished of social constructs and clear norms, be it family, religion or big brother indoctrination, and left to free forces leads to anarchy.