Last week, I read an interesting article by Seth Godin about self-talk. 1 This was one of the occasional articles Seth writes that departs from the usual “golden marketing wisdom” and ventures into “golden wisdom about living life.” And though I typically love it when Seth writes an article like that, I tripped over a line in this one:
The remedy is accurate and positive self talk. Endless amounts of it.
I’ve had an interesting couple of decades with the idea of self-talk. I chose to believe and follow Jesus late in high school when “name it and claim it” preachers were making big money on television talking about the power of words and the church at large was finding endless ways to say “Yeah, but …” In college, I took multiple classes in psychology, family dynamics, and counseling. We learned that the words we say make a difference, shape our biases, reinforce our beliefs. and can impact our behavior. But the church had (and in some cases , still has) a hard time deciding if psychology was OK. Stuart Smalley was on SNL, and although all of my Christian friends and I watched it, we all knew we were supposed to feel a little guilty about it.
And in the middle of it all, there I was, struggling to find my way to faith while hanging on to my love for science; trying to figure out if the arts and calculus could be held by the same brain; wondering if my young faith was worth holding on to or just a phase I was going through. I didn’t know who I was, and I was pretty sure that if Jesus was described as a shepherd, then I was a black sheep at best … if I was part of the flock at all. trying to help me out, a well-meaning college ministry leader handed me a list of Bible verses that supposedly described me, who I am in Christ. And he told me to read it out loud to myself every morning when I woke and every night before bed.
I felt like Stuart Smalley, whom we all laughed at, when I read it aloud the first time; or a name-it-claim-it preacher, which was a bad thing. My Bible study leader told me it was discipleship and my college professor told me it was brainwashing. It didn’t take long for me to give up on the daily out loud readings. It felt forced. It felt cheap. It felt wrong.
Bring on the heathens
The next time I remember thinking about “self talk”, I was reading The War of Art. 2 Pressfield wasn’t the first author to encourage me to write ignoring my inner critic, but reading his book was one of the few times I actually considered what that might mean for my thoughts and actions. The truth was, and still is, that I can be absolutely brutal in judging my own work and I have no qualms about letting it spill over into judgments about my abilities, my character, and my value. You can’t write listening to voices like that. You either can’t get started or it hurts to much to keep going after you’ve begun.
So, it was a book that is sort of about writer’s block, and absolutely about the creative life, that finally gave me a lens for my experience with my inner thoughts and my internal dialogue. Unfortunately for me, that turned into a belief that “my internal dialogue is worthless and should always be ignored.”
Enter Seth Godin, telling me that what I really need is “endless amounts of positive self-talk.”
I have to be honest. My first read, I thought Seth had totally missed it. I didn’t like the article. I was ready to move on. But it was short, and I re-read it, and phrases began to jump out at me. He wasn’t advocating “endless positive self-talk” he was calling for endless accurate and positive self talk.
Not delusional affirmations or silly metaphysical pronouncements about the universe. No, merely the reassertion of obvious truths, a mantra that drives away the nonsense the lizard brain is selling as truth.
What I love about this idea is that it resonates with ALL of me. “The truth will set you free” is an obvious spiritual take, but it also sounds like the things pro athletes rehearse to perform at top levels. It sounds like the antidote to the poison the inner critic is selling, which is much more helpful than just ignoring it and trying to remember not to drink that stuff. It isn’t self-delusion. It isn’t “name it and claim it.” My psychology professor wouldn’t find fault with this idea.
What if it really is OK – even ideal – to tell ourselves what we know to be true when other internal voices start shouting the opposite? “You can barely put a sentence together.” Actually, I do pretty well. Some writers I adore have even said so. “You are the worst father ever.” Or maybe I’m just human. I had a great time connecting with my daughter at the park today. “You are a failure.” I made a mistake. I made amends.
“And you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free” has been abused by the church, Hollywood, literature, and yours truly over the years. I’ve hammered it into an excuse to say something true, but hurtful. We, the church, have used it like a pep rally cheer sometimes … trying to convince ourselves of something that we aren’t sure is true. But what if telling yourself the truth actually does set you free? What if telling yourself the truth means you are free to be who you are? What if it means you are free to click publish on the blog article, or hold your wife’s hand after an argument, or just not tear your yourself a new one for a minute?
It’s a strange day when Seth Godin makes me think about Jesus, but it’s also a really good day. I think I understand better now what the ministry leader was trying to do for me way back when. I think I better understand why “Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz” feels more like a joke, and less like a prayer. I think I have found another way to get OK with who I really am and share it with an internet that has a reputation of being pretty critical. I’m ready to try what Jesus, Stephen, Seth, and a nameless ministry leader have said in a dozen different ways:
When in doubt, tell yourself the truth.
Photo by he who would be lost
- Pro Tip: easily 80% of what Seth Godin has to say is great. If you do any marketing at all you should be reading Seth. ↩
- This book is so good, even though it isn’t. It comes off as simplistic and like a Business and Leadership allegory book, but it holds the messages I need to hear at least once a year. ↩