November 18, 2012

Self-Talk: The Stories in Your Head

This is not the first, nor the last time we will talk about self-talk in these pages. The topic came up over dinner Friday night with friends. No matter how much we know about it, we still must pay attention and keep up to date on how it is influencing us. Everybody does it. The question is, how well do you do it, and is it productive? Self-talk is the stories you tell yourself to explain, justify, motivate, or excuse how your life is going. It's all about you and your circumstance. Self-talk sometimes matches the stories you tell others, and sometimes it doesn't. But always, self-talk drives your decisions and choices and what you actually do. When your self-talk is out of synch with what you say out loud, the result is frustration, sabotage, and failure.

Over a dinner of fried catfish on Friday night, the conversation turned to my art. I found myself talking about the reasons that I am less productive as an artist than I would like to be. Our friends would have none of it. They were seeing right through my self-talk and with lazer precision, they challenged me at every whining, tragic turn of my story. By the time dinner was done, I had nowhere to hide. It was wonderful. Nothing said that night was really new to me. But daylight was shining in new places.

The first task if you suspect that your self-talk is torpedoing your intentions is to listen to it. Identify the stories. Listen to the words you tell yourself about how things are going. But also, listen to the moods and feelings that accompany those words. Often the language of self-talk is not just what is said, but what we don't dare say. This is especially true when self-talk is justifying the inaction driven by fear and insecurity. Here are some of the more unproductive forms that self-talk can take.

  • Procrastination is one sign that self-talk is out of synch with intention. What are you putting off? What are the hidden stories that stop you from doing what needs to be done? Procrastination is usually a symptom of resistance.
  • Roadblocks are external things that get in the way of doing what you publicly state as your intention. Typically they are real. The question to ask about roadblocks is whether or not they really are truly serious obstacles or merely "reasons" for not taking needed steps. Is there a detour that will get you around the blockage? If so, why aren't you taking it? Have you latched onto the roadblock as an excuse?
  • Ships at sea..."Some day my ship will come in." This is serious excuse-making self talk. It projects your success out, not only into circumstances beyond your control, but into the future as well. Neither of these are places where self-talk is constructive.
  • Belief systems about self-worth. Most negative self-talk lands here. No matter how you present yourself to the world, no matter what goals and aspirations you assert publicly, if your hidden beliefs about your own worth, as an artist, as an entrepreneurial business person, about the value of your contribution are self deprecating and negative, you're in trouble. The subconscious mind is ruthless in setting up and carrying out scenarios that reinforce the deep beliefs you carry around. And if you are not aware of them, they will eat your well intended lunch.
  • Belief systems about art as self. Many creative people, whether traditional artists or others who make our world in our own image are unaware of the extent to which we attach our sense of self to the work we do. When the world responds well to that work, we feel good and we produce more. We tend to take it personally when all goes well. We take credit. We do the same when things are not going well. A bad review or a snub from a coveted gallery or potential client can be a body blow. There are two ways to cope with this: we can stuff the feelings and force ourselves to deny that those critics and naysayers matter (can you hear the negative self talk in that?) or we can take the opportunity to dig down and find the buried reasons that we react so strongly to them.

As you actively and honestly listen to your self-talk, you can evaluate how it strengthens or sabotages you. This process of introspection and self examination is crucial. And you don't do it once and forget about it. These things tend to peel like an onion. At each realization, you have the opportunity to re-write a layer of your script. Bruce Lipton describes the subconscious as a tape loop that was initially recorded early in life with the belief structures that childhood imprinted long before we were mature enough to evaluate them. He also refers to this as the habit mind. He suggests that 95% of what we do is driven by these old habit mind tapes. Without this conscious and active process of evaluation, we reinforce the tapes over and over again throughout our lives. But these ancient structures only persist because we reinforce them over and over, 95% of the time. When we make the effort to act consciously, and thus reduce the percentage of time where the habit mind is in control, diligently and persistently substituting the perspectives that we wish to put into play, the wiring of our brains is actually rerouted over time.

The most important element in the remaking of our self-talk into constructive and productive patterns is the sunlight of exposure. Be on the lookout for the hidden messages that sabotage your progress. When you uncover one of these messages, you are most of the way to transforming it. Welcome them. Pull back the shades and let the clear light of day do its work. To this end, talk to trusted friends who understand the challenges inherent in self-talk. Hold each other accountable. Share your challenges, your fears, and your struggles. A small circle rooted in honesty and committed to mutual support can turbocharge your progress in transformning self-talk from a constant source of sabotage and frustration into a healthy and constructive foundation.

A Fresh Slice of Crowd Funding

By now you have certainly heard of crowd funding. Crowd funding is any event or organized effort that provides funding for a project through the small contributions of lots of people. The idea goes back a long way, with raffles and carnivals to raise funds for the local softball team being a classic example. But more recently, the idea has been fleshed out in some very innovative ways, with things like cash mobs, in which a large group of people actively and intentionally conspire to descend upon a local business and buy stuff within a specific time period to support that business and give them a sudden boost. Or, where people pitch ideas and offer the public a means to contribute to, and help launch a creative venture. But recently, one of our readers tipped us off to a crowd funding idea that we really like. It's called Bread!KC.

The way Bread!KC works is that people sign up for a dinner and pay $10 to attend. Participants are given a ballot, and during the meal, various brief presentations are made for different creative projects. These projects are competitors to receive the cash proceeds from the dinner event. At the end of the presentations, participants cast their ballots to choose a winning project.

What I like about this idea, is that it's a great way for a group, such as a local artists' group or other organization to set direction and raise funds at the same time. The projects presented at the event could be a set of proposals for the direction of the group, or a set of ideas for art shows, or a set of potential community projects for the group to commit resources and energy to. The range of projects that can be chosen, or other decisions that can be made by this means are pretty wide open. Many groups with decisions to make and the need to raise money to support those decisions could benefit from events of this kind. One of the great advantages is that participation fosters buy-in in a really dynamic and socially engaging way. This pays dividends in increased participation and engagement as the selected projects are implimented over time.

Of course, it becomes important that the organizers of such an event choose carefully when setting up the range of choices to be presented and voted on. (There is an old saw in the design industry: "Never give them a choice you can't live with.") But this kind of creative decision making is just one more way to engage people in a dynamic and fun way. So what could you do with this idea???

Gratuitous Image of the Month

As always, the gratuitous image of the month is not something we ever commit to post every month, or even just once a month. It's always spur of the moment, because it moved us. This is an image we found on Facebook. The person who posted it there didn't know it's origin, or the story behind it, and neither do we. Suffice it to say that it's a study in living well. These two grandmas enjoy a bowl of their favorite smoke and a good joke. We can't help ourselves. We have to laugh with them. Their joy is contagious, and we are compelled to share it with you. Our apologies to the creator of the image. We would attribute credit if we knew who you were.

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