My favorite book I’ve ever read is “The Art of Happiness”, by the Dhalai Lama and Howard Cutler. This was the first book that taught me about the importance of our inner dialogue.
The conversations we have with ourselves. The little voice in your head that talks to you on a day to day basis. Some call it self talk. Others call it your inner dialogue. Mental chatter.
Call it whatever you want to, it’s the voice in your head that talks to you.
A lot of the book discusses cultivating the ability to notice when you are in a negative state of mind, pause, and then flip it back into a positive state of mind.
One example from the book is as follows… let’s say you’re angry at someone. You can catch yourself being angry, pause, and ask yourself if you hate 100% of them.
Do you hate their eyes? Their ears? Their hair? Do you hate everything they have ever done to you?
Chances are, you can find the 10% that you don’t mind, no matter how much you think you hate someone.
This book taught me how to pay attention to the thoughts that go through my head. It taught me how to notice when I’m in a bad state of mind, and then flip it to something that puts me back in a good mood.
This book made me an incredibly optimistic person. In fact, one of my best friends likes to use the phrase “aggressively optimistic”.
It’s made me a very positive, joyous, and uplifting person. I dance and I sing. I freestyle. I hug. I’m an energetic, passionate, curious, and…intense person to be around.
The problem with this is that I let it run wild. I didn’t have the proper training, so I didn’t know how to properly cultivate it. I became addicted to thinking through problems, and finding the silver lining in everything.
In short, while this made me a positive and happy person, it also accidentally cultivated anxiety. I became a person who is hyper aware of their inner dialogue, constantly refining and re-tuning it, rather than learning how to calm the mental chatter down.
Then came meditation. Meditation is what I like to refer to as my Bar-Mitzvah in awareness of my inner dialogue. If I was previously an optimistic boy, this new training made me into a man. It taught me how to control and harness that inner dialogue.
Meditation gave me a sense of detachment from the thoughts that go through my head.
You see, when we talk to ourselves it’s more than just chatter. We construct a narrative. This narrative then eventually builds your sense of identity. This sense of identity is then what reinforces and builds our Ego.
Eckart Tolle refers to this in “The Power of Now”. Our narrative that we reinforce on a daily basis becomes tied to our sense of who we are as an individual. Anything that challenges this narrative, will ultimately be an attack upon our identity.
The trouble with all of this is that we construct false realities, through our false sense of self.
The reality is that the narrative you’ve constructed in your head is somewhat delusional. You have created this dialogue to protect and conserve your sense of self.
Today I might say to myself, “My name is Troy Erstling. I own a recruitment company and I’m a world traveler. I’m an entrepreneur. I’m a creative energetic person who everyone loves!”
But the reality is that all of this can change in an instant. The worst part is that if we end up BELIEVING this story we’ve constructed, anything that disagrees with this then makes us question our sense of identity.
For example if tomorrow my business failed and I would have to get a “real job”, suddenly I’m no longer a world traveler or entrepreneur. Now my world is collapsing on itself because who I thought I was didn’t turn out to be who I really am.
We become attached to the labels that we use to describe ourselves.
If I tied my sense of self to these labels of “world traveler” or “entrepreneur”, then if I were to no longer fit into these buckets, I would ultimately feel like a failure and no longer be content with myself.
Luckily, through my short time on this planet I’ve wised up to that. I don’t fall into the trap of being tied to the narrative I’ve constructed for myself. I’ve learned how to become detached from the personalities my mind creates, and realize that they are not me.
Meditation made me realize that I am not the thoughts I have in my head.
In the first level of my inner dialogue there was awareness. In the second level came detachment.
Instead of flipping to a positive, I just shrug the thought off altogether.
Earlier in my life, while I would be flipping a negative into a positive (which in general is still a great skill to develop), I would also get wrapped up in the stories that I was telling myself. I became attached to “being a positive person” and if I ever fell out of that, I became uncomfortable.
Now, I simply watch thoughts and stories as they arise and pass. “Ah, thats the story about work and what I have to do today….”, “Ahhh, that’s the story about the girl I want to go on a date with tonight…”, “ah, that’s the story of what I want to eat for breakfast after I meditate.”, and so on.
Instead of getting wrapped up in these stories, I give them no importance. I’ll notice myself lost in thought, come back to my breath, and then eventually, my mind will wander again.
The best part though is that by creating a distance from thoughts, I’ve become a much happier person. I spend less time lost in thought, and more time dwelling in the present moment.
My brother Ross has always said “The most important relationship that you have in life is the one that you have with yourself. Voices of other people will come and go, but the voice in your head is never going away. If you have an unpleasant relationship with the voice in your head, you’re probably going to have an unpleasant life.”
This is the essence of what I’m trying to express. The more that you can cultivate an awareness of your inner dialogue, the more pleasant your relationship with yourself will be.
At the first level you engage with the voice in your mind. You battle it. You catch him whenever he’s being an asshole and you make him repent for his ways.
But at the higher level comes ignoring it altogether. Learning to detach yourself instead of identifying with the stories in your mind. Learning how to avoid getting wrapped up in the spiral of thought.
The ability to treat your mind as background chatter, rather than getting involved in the conversation.
Pay attention to the conversations with yourself. Learn to detach yourself from the stories you create. Learn that you are not the voice inside your head. Cultivate a healthy inner dialogue for a healthy life
Also published on Medium.