Being someone who loves solitude, I have spent a significant amount of time in my own company. Consequently, I have spoken a lot to myself. I have been my best friend and also my worst enemy. However, in the recent past, I have had some of the most meaningful conversations with myself. I have also been able to stop myself in the tracks at times when I was just about to hit the slippery slope from where things only go downwards.
What I am most thrilled about is the fact that I am now able to identify various flavours of my internal dialog: Constructive, Compassionate, Honest, Strategic, Defensive, Harsh, Reflective, Creative and my favourite kind – Amusing!
I always loved this concept of an internal dialogue. I wanted to master the art of conversing with myself and use it for my personal growth but didn’t quite know how. I got guidance from my teacher in this space – my 5 year old daughter. You’d wonder how. Well, she was gracious enough to share all of her internal dialogue with me. Her internal dialogue is mostly not “internal”. She is thinking aloud most of the time. To be honest, it was annoying in the beginning. Silence is very important for me – at least few minutes of silence each day. Now I had to schedule silence in my day which initially felt like a constraint (for me silence and meditation are different because silence feels more natural to me, and I know I did it right because it is straightforward – I either said something to myself, or I didn’t). In addition to silence becoming a scheduled activity, my daughter’s generous broadcast would interfere with my internal dialogue – I could listen to only one voice at a time, either her voice or mine. Both competed because neither I would stop, nor would she. I have to confess that there have been times when I have resorted to a loo break, just so that I can talk to myself for 2 minutes in peace, but my relentless daughter would be at the door, knocking “Mom, come out, how long will it take?”. Ultimately her persistence won and now I am grateful to her because she has taught me so much!
Since solitude and silence were not an option any more, I thought it best to learn by watching her. I told myself that it is internal dialogue that I want to understand and work with, now that I have her around, can I learn by watching her? The answer was a resounding yes because it moved me to a healthy space of observing and learning from another human being who has had far less exposure to the world outside than me – which meant, I could get to learn more about how we talk to ourselves in the most undiluted, natural way.
Here are my observations:
Focus: In its most undiluted way, internal dialog seems to be quite focused. While watching my daughter, I noticed that if she is talking to herself while painting, her conversation with herself goes something like this “Should I paint this pony teal or should I use teal with a light layer of gold? Ah yes, light layer of gold and pure gold for the wings!” and the next fifteen minutes are dedicated to the pony and the colours which go on it. Most of the time, there is no jumping between various subjects like the pony for 2 minutes and then what happened at school. What happened at school begins after painting the pony is done.
This made me more aware of whether I was allowing various topics to blend into each other thereby diluting focus. Just the awareness has helped me process one topic at a time and reduce the clutter! And it isn’t easy to maintain this focus because our brain is processing numerous sensory impulses simultaneously so unless one is thoroughly absorbed in “painting a pony” or makes an effort to “bring back ones’ awareness” to that one important topic which needs attention during the internal dialog, it is easy to get lost.
The Negativity Bias : As I compared my internal dialog with my daughters’, I realised that at her age, the only threats she recognises, are those related to physical harm or loud noises (both of which are very primal). Unless there is something that signals physical danger, she is absorbed in what she likes doing or expressing – undeterred by whether the audience (me) is enjoying what she is creating or not. There is no fear of judgment. On the other hand, my adult brain was prone to acquired fears – fear of being judged unfavourably, criticism and failure. This taught me that what we observe and experience, may add to the list of what we fear (especially if the experience has been negative). We are wired to be a little negative in order to protect ourselves, but we can control and decide between where we need to protect ourselves versus overprotecting and overthinking. We are not born with these acquired fears and therefore as and when they surface, it is worth rationalising them, exploring them and assessing whether they are serving us – whether there is something out there to work on, to learn. If there is some work to be done, then we can treat fear as a gift. If rationalising it shows no scope for personal growth, it is worth moving on and getting absorbed in what we love doing. Easier said than done, but it does come with practice. I can assure you of that since I have practiced this.
Humour : Watching my daughter laugh at herself in a way that was funny and healthy taught me how to use humour in my internal dialog. For instance, while playing with water, she would say something like “Oh I got my sleeves wet!” and then she would respond to herself saying “But I am playing with water, what else was I expecting?” followed by a chuckle. Sometimes when she is sitting besides me while I am driving and murmuring something like “The traffic, all these cars, where did they come from”, she says “But we are on the road, there will be cars and buses and trucks because they are driving just like us!” and that reality check, helps me shut up. So when I walk into the grocery store and I instinctively complain “There is a queue, at the counter”, the witness within tells me “The others are here to shop too. You chose to come here at 6:00pm on a Sunday not 2:00pm on a Friday afternoon. So the queue is not to torture you Manisha, there is no evil plot here. This is the perfect timing that you picked to see all these lovely people in the queue and to make the queue, just a little longer – by the way, you didn’t come alone, you got your 5 year old with you, who will now jump like a bunny and chatter”. Things lighten up when we add a but of humour…
The subject of internal dialogue is vast, intriguing and entertaining. So I am not done yet. I may make this into a series of articles. More to follow soon 🙂