Opening possibility in self-talk 2: time-shifting

So, following on from the previous article about difficulties in changing self-talk, if critical internal dialogue is unhelpful (and it doesn’t matter if it’s critical of ourselves, other people, or the world in general – it still makes us feel worse), what can we do to make our self-talk more useful, or just go away altogether?

Remember, challenging it sets up inner conflict (which isn’t to say that you won’t ‘win’ if you keep at it long enough) while positive affirmations can also set up resistance within ourselves if deep down we feel it’s not telling the truth about our real situation.

Here’s an idea. I haven’t tested it in practice, but it makes sense (to me anyway) and you may find it worth a try. It came to me after listening to Rumer’s gorgeous song “Am I Forgiven“:

Specifically, the bit that goes “I didn’t like the world”. Notice what’s implied by that statement: do you think she likes the world more now?

My answer would be a tentative “yes” – otherwise why would she put it in the past tense? But she’s not saying so explicitly, so it wouldn’t be contradicting her experience if she doesn’t.

If someone says “I don’t like the world” it doesn’t leave any room for changing how they feel; other things being equal, you would expect that feeling to carry on into the future. If they shift the direction of their attention slightly with regard to time by changing the verb tense to “I didn’t like the world”, they are talking about their experience in the past, acknowledging their response to whatever problems were perceived without invalidating it. They aren’t saying anything about the present, leaving it undescribed and therefore not ‘pinned down’ with words.

This opens up a possibility for things to be different in the present – “loosening up our model of the world” as we might say in NLP. It should make it easier to change any beliefs and internal dialogue that aren’t working for you.

So “I hate my job” becomes “I hated my job”; “I can’t get my head round it” becomes “I couldn’t get my head round it”; “I’m no good at relationships” becomes “I was no good at relationships” and so on.

The ‘Rubin Vase’ – image from WikipediaIn a sense you could view this as a use of the NLP Meta Model/Milton Model pattern of ‘simple deletion’, where something isn’t said. When something we expect to be there turns out not to be there, two things happen:

  1. It creates a space of possibility, where new things can come into being
  2. Our minds tend to ‘fill in’ the missing information by looking at what is there, often expecting a contrast, as in some optical illusions like the ‘Rubin Vase’

So “I was no good at relationships” subtly implies that the speaker might be better at them now, even though it doesn’t explicitly say so.

Notice what happens if you pick your own favourite bit of “inner critic” self-talk and translate it so it refers to the past rather than now.

I should add the usual disclaimer here that this advice is not intended to be a substitute for getting help from a trained professional, consult your physician if you need help, etc etc – especially as this is only an idea with no research (that I know of) to support it.

However, if you would like to try this technique out, I would love to hear what results you get!

© 2011, Andy Smith. All rights reserved.

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