This post was originally published on Medium in January 2014.
People deal with stress in many different ways. There are tons of resources out there for teaching you how to help your body handle increasing levels of negative stress in more efficient ways. Exercising, a hobby you enjoy — basically anything that will release endorphins and boost your metabolism will help.
I am of the mindset that talking to yourself is just as helpful as any of the aforementioned techniques. We grow up in a society where talking to yourself is the sign of a crazy or unstable person—someone who may not have it all together or needs mental help. I think that’s an unfair social bias and that we should encourage the behavior of introspection by conversing with one’s self. Let’s face it though, we all talk to ourselves at one point or another, even if it’s just in an effort to commit something to memory.
An ideology that I think best explains how I feel we should approach this topic is the following:
Shoshin (初心) is a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind”. It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.
Think back to the last few conversations you’ve had with yourself, if you can. Some of us do it in such a passive way, we don’t even realize that’s actually what’s happening and we think nothing of it. We ask ourselves why we’ve done stupid things after the fact, we ask ourselves for our own opinions on what to wear, we ask ourselves where we left our keys, etc. It happens all the time, but we hate to admit it or don’t actually realize it for what it is. Sometimes, we’re caught talking to ourselves out loud with— *gasp*—people within earshot, then spend the next minute joking about it and downplaying what they just caught you doing. Our culture has trained us to be this way.
Since the city was asleep and there was no one around to hear me, I opted to speak freely about my problems out loud—to myself.
During one of the toughest periods of my adolescent years, I went through a lot at home. I refused to resort to drugs of any sort, cigarettes or alcohol to “help” me with my problems. I believed that I had the resolve—the intestinal fortitude to power through them on my own, but I had no idea how I would manage. Before long, I realized I didn’t have anyone to talk to that both took me seriously and even remotely understood what I was going through.
Feeling like my back was against a wall, I decided to sneak out of the house at ~3am every night once everyone had fallen asleep to go for walks around my neighborhood. I used this time to talk to the one person that knew me and understood what I was going through the most.
Since the city was asleep and there was no one around to hear me, I opted to speak freely about my problems out loud—to myself. It was as if I were actually having a conversation with someone who could help. Really spelling out every detail of my problems, why I was stressed, what bothered me the most, what my most ideal outcome was, why that may or may not be possible and an eventual plan of action for how to proceed.
I then assumed the role of a 3rd party and in as unbiased a way as I could, I responded to myself. I told myself that there wasn’t realistically anything else I could do right now. I assured myself that with more hard work and determination, my problems would go away in time. I told myself to completely change my mindset about what I was going through and to try to be more patient because I knew my day would come. I broke down the personalities of those I took issue with and tried to understand why they were the way they were. I became empathetic to those around me, and that sense of understanding—of enlightenment, if you will, allowed me to have the mental toughness I needed to get through it. It actually made me feel a lot better and taught me a lot about myself and those around me in the process.
I’m a firm believer in routine introspection and always striving to become a better person. Talking to myself is one of the best ways to keep that in check and make sure I’m always on my desired path in life.
Let’s start with something brief: do a brain dump. Whatever is bothering you, start talking about it out loud as if you were telling it to someone. Ignore the initial overwhelming feeling of being silly or ridiculous—power through it and keep going. Articulate your issue(s) as best as you can, and maybe even throw in why you think you’ve fallen victim to those circumstances (whether it’s your fault or not). Once you’re done, take a step back, a deep breath, count to 5 and digest everything you just said.
Now, leaving your inhibitions behind, respond to everything you just said — realistically. Be as blunt as necessary with yourself, but be sure not to put yourself down. That’s not the point of this exercise and will only lead you down a very bad path. We’re focusing on potential positive outcomes and how to help you reach one in the most efficient way.
Mental preparedness is key to embarking on any journey. The act of introspection, learning things about yourself, wanting to make changes and wanting to put said changes into practice is no different. Putting situations in perspective, easing your concerns, changing your state of mind, changing how you view your problems and helping you calm down and determine a better course of action are all potential benefits of this (at least for me).
Sometimes just going for a drive while listening to music is a good way to clear my head and evaluate things. I also enjoy going for walks with friends and finding high vantage points with beautiful views throughout the city (San Francisco), to sit and meditate. Try to find an environment for yourself that’s conducive to introspection and give it a shot.