The Undeniable Power of the Inner Dialogue
I have talked before about the amazing human body and it’s three brains, (yes THREE); the head, the heart and the gut. These interconnected brains feed information to each other in order to optimise our cognitive function. The heart (cardiac brain) let’s the other brains know how we feel about something. The gut (enteric brain) sends out primal, self-preservation messages and gut instincts designed to keep us safe. Ultimately, the brain in your skull processes all those signals and makes a conscious decision about action and function. It’s fascinating how logic, emotion and intuition collaborate to create our experience of the world.
I raise this again as an example of just how communicative our bodies are. Everything in nature is relational! Every cell in our bodies is listening out for important messages to send on to the next receptor for processing, and thus creating the road map for what our (head) brain will instruct the body to do.
Imagine then, that these ever-listening cells are hearing the same internal narrative, over and over, on repeat. They are taking that data, passing it on, and feeding our brains with the same frame of reference from which it creates our function, action and decisions; or more simply, our behaviour. If that data never changes, does the behaviour of the body or the person ever successfully change either?
Have you ever had a recurring thought, for example that a situation was going to be terrible for you, really uncomfortable or unnerving? Let’s say, you were due to do some public speaking and you felt nervous and reluctant. Your thought process or internal dialogue for that situation is negative, it promotes fear and anxiety which communicates to your gut feeling, the enteric brain, that you shouldn’t go to the event (to protect you) or that you’re going to freeze in fear on the stage. By sending those signals to your brain, you’re almost MAKING that situation likely to happen because your body is responding to the frame of reference you have presented with your thought pattern. However, a lot of the time, when we do that which we are afraid of, we find that it was not such a big deal after all, especially when it goes well and sometimes even exceeds our expectations. We learn then that such internal dialogue is rather useless and unnecessary and with time, we gain more confidence and our narrative changes to a more positive one.
Now, if you do the event and the worst happens, those neural pathways are reinforced. They learn that they were right and that the internal narrative for these situations is reliable data and a pattern of thinking and behaviour is created. If you do the event, and as sometimes happens, it’s not as bad as you think, or better, you totally nail it, then the pathways disregard that original data and start to forge a new narrative for similar future situations.
Isn’t that powerful? That our thoughts and our inner voice can have such huge impact? That what we think and feel about something can influence our behaviour and the behaviour or function of our bodies and even our relationships?
I am leading to the concept of Neuro Linguistic Programming or NLP; an approach which advocates that the language we use, vocally or in thought, has exactly that power, to directly affect our ‘programming’ and it’s interesting how often I see that play out with clients at the clinic. There can be a real barrier to healing and wellness for some people and they can’t always understand the root of it because such narratives have become second nature to them and part of their psychological make up. As someone who has studied NLP, I can recognise the negative patterns of programming, of function or behaviour that is limiting the person’s ability to recover or attain the level of health and wellness they desire. All it takes is making them aware of these negative thought patterns and beliefs. One of the most common mistakes is using statements that include “always” and “never” because life is a constant flow of change and we owe it to ourselves to change and evolve with life. Statements such as “normally I/you/they do or don’t do this or the other” or “I/you/they have the tendency to <fill the blank>” are more appropriate and allow room for change and improvement.
One can desperately desire for something to be better or not painful, or to be free of an ailment or an injury, but still have self-limiting beliefs, thoughts and narratives that prevent your body from doing the work - or prevent you from taking the steps that will support your journey to optimum health.
The man who has been overweight for most of his adult life and longs for weight loss, tries every diet and exercise routine – but the weight doesn’t really shift, he can’t stick to the regime or cannot sustain it longer term. Why? Perhaps a plethora of reasons but most certainly I would think one among them would be his habitual internal narrative feeding his established patterns of behaviour. Does he really believe he can do it? Or does that inner voice still creep in with a “you’ll always be overweight, you always fail, it never works”?
The woman who has had chronic pain for years and has had all the physio and medication she can have, but every day is a struggle, might become overly cautious. She tells herself “be careful, don’t lift that, you can’t do that without suffering later”. And thus, she moves in an unnatural way in anticipation of pain, she finds work arounds to normal movement to avoid pain and creates an experience based on the assumption of pain coming. As much as this cautiousness is recommended in many cases, there might be an element of fear that reduces her possibilities for a freer, pain-free movement.
I am not meaning to belittle the very real and physical or emotional issues that also underpin these scenarios but there is such growth and improvement that can be found in addressing the linguistics that feed our programming and the words we use to create the messaging that controls our behaviour. Self-empowering narrative can be hugely beneficial in place of self-limiting beliefs. You will have heard of medical professionals telling cancer patients to maintain a positive attitude throughout their treatment, of hypnotherapists altering behaviour using specific phrasing. I highly recommend positive affirmations on a regular basis. They do work!!
It isn’t easy to unpick years of habitual thought and spoken language, or the enforced neural pathways that have programmed our habitual function but it’s something that can be worked on through an increase of self-awareness. Learning to recognise our linguistics, catching ourselves in a habitual thought or spoken phrase is a great first step to forging function and behaviour the serves us and supports our health.
Are your linguistics stalling you on your path towards a health goal? To explore this more, please get in touch. I am always happy to help and it is a lot easier to have someone external recognising your negative self-talk because as I said, it is rather second nature to us and goes unnoticed a lot of the time.
Thanks for reading. Be well.