There's that cliche, "If you think you can't, you can't," or something like that. The idea is that if you decide that you're not going to be able to do something, you'll self-sabotage and be unable to do it even if you have the inherent skill or resources. That's true, but it's only the tip of the self-talk iceberg.
You know those psychological studies where children are given the choice of a small prize now or a big prize later, and the ones who take the big prize end up having better lives in almost every regard? Well, a psychologist did that experiment in my middle school, and I took the small prize. Some people, myself included, have a natural tendency to prioritize the immediate.
So I want to rewire myself to be more long-term focused. To do this, I use self talk. Whenever I do something that isn't immediately satisfying, but is likely to have long term benefits, I pump myself up a little bit. So if I play good poker but lose money, I think to myself how it's good that I'm a profitable player, how well I did making good decisions even when losing money, and how good it is to be able to lose money and not freak out. I actually congratulate myself. If I resist buying a new laptop that I don't really need, I congratulate myself. If I push through a tough workout, I congratulate myself.
All of this seems silly, and would sound really silly if you could hear the internal monologue, but it actually works. The way we talk to ourselves really does affect our subconscious over the long term. That minuscule dopamine spike I get from praising myself every time I do something that is aligned with my goals creates little reward pathways in my brain that makes doing that thing easy next time.
I do this with a bunch of things, but the longest running is healthy food. When I first started eating healthy, I would make sure to take a few seconds after every meal and think about how good I felt and about what a good thing I was doing for my body. Sometimes I'd even imagine eighty-year-old Tynan being really glad that twenty-five-year-old Tynan ate broccoli instead of fries, and that would pump a little bit of dopamine into my system. I know that objectively crappy food often tastes better, but my real experience now is that I prefer healthy food. I consistently make the pro long-term choice.
I've also done the same thing with work. I love work. When I get a good chunk of work done, especially if I had to push myself to do it, I'll sometimes actually look in the mirror and complement myself on doing a good job. This sounds ridiculous, of course, but it's effective, so I don't really care.
I guess only time will tell, but I like to think that these sorts of ongoing habits will turn me into the kind of adult that started as a big-prize-later taker.
Photo is part of the display in the Bellagio Garden... one of my favorite Vegas things.
I find another aspect of self-talk even more useful: telling myself what I'm about to do. It's much easier to say (or type), "I was feeling tired this morning, but now I'm going to do some great hacking anyway. What first? ... Bugs. I'm going to fix that sync bug, then the list display bug, then (...more self-talk / planning...). Okay, go!" and then do it, than to just do it. The story tends to come true, so tell it explicitly.
Then some hah-I-rocked-that self-talk afterward, like you describe, is good, too.
Compliment, not complement! With that out of the way (business before pleasure), I appreciate the sentiment of the post. You're right, it does work. I do it, too. Self-congratulation is a good thing.
I like the thought of congratulating yourself for every good decision. I will give it a try!
I use positive self-talk in a different way every morning. I have a list of positive thoughts that I read and internalize every day:
- I am happy, relaxed and carefree. It’s my everyday choice!
- I am aware of my self-talk! My self-talk is bold and positive!
- I live in the moment! I have a great future! Regret is for other people!
- Everything I need is inside of me!
- I go my way! I take advice from people that are extraordinary!
- Everything I do is a success! I visualize my success!
- I hustle everyday!
- Money comes in easily!
- I stick to my routines and habits!
- I don`t give a shit! I just do it!
I got some really good results from it. You can read more here
It does sound ridiculous but then a lot of successful people tend to do really ridiculous things. I suspect your future self will thank you one day for being ridiculous.
I think your proof at this point, with your long-running motivation with SETT, that those kind of experiments are not life-determining prophecies the way the media might hype them to be. We should design our education systems with the belief that people are malleable to the core and focus on developing character as much as skills.
This is a fabulous post! Quite helpful to me and will be to many others. I was thinking how I wish everyone could read it to understand how powerful the word is to your own mind! How important it is to talk to yourself in positive terms. How wonderful it is to tell your present self how happy your future self will be with a decision made today. Nice, Tynan ... thank you!
Great post. I've been working on the very same thing. And, this post reinforced that what may seem silly, to some, works and is truly beneficial.
I'm sitting outside the Viking Museum in Oslo Norway. The museum is closed, but the little ice cream stand in the otherwise empty parking lot is still open. I'm on my third ice cream.
Eating ice cream in Norway is about as nonsensical as it gets. The ice creams are the crappy kind you find in freezer chests at truck stops. Norway is the most expensive country on the Big Mac index (and easily the most expensive country I've ever visited), so each ice cream costs around $4 US. It's not really warm here. Oh-- and I don't usually eat ice cream.
When I travel in new countries for short periods of time, say under a week, I allow myself to eat anything and everything. I do poorly with grey areas, so my diet is either 100% on or 100% off (although some things, like soda and margarine, are so offensive that I never eat them). It's usually 100% on, but I recognize that with two or three days in a country, my time may not be best spent scouting around for a decently healthy restaurant. Also, I'm pragmatic enough to know that a few days of eating crap food probably won't affect my long term health.
Mike Radivis just asked asked some good questions on "Chase Meaning, Not Happiness" -
How do you measure meaning if not in terms of happiness? Aren't things that create more happiness for a longer time for a larger number of individuals better than those things who lack those qualities but are proclaimed to be personal achievements anyway? Does the scope of happiness make happiness meaningful to you or not? What are achievements good for if they aren't good at facilitating happiness? Imagine you wouldn't experience any pleasant or unpleasant emotions and would have to decide rationally what to pursue (assuming that is possible at all). Then what you want to do with your life? (Another way to formulate this question maybe would be to ask what's your grand strategy in that situation.)
I'm quite interested in your answers. I like that your blog posts are so outspoken. It's just that the message of this post is hard for me to grasp, as I'm pretty much utilitarian in my thinking.
Good questions. I'll go through it line by line.
How do you measure meaning if not in terms of happiness?