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Transforming Negative Self-Talk, by Steve Andreas is a very well written book that can help anyone change their self talk for the better.  He uses techniques from Neuro-Lingustic Programming and the works of Satir and Milton Erickson.

Andreas says that we all hear voices to some degree. It is the self talk that begins as we learn to speak and think and conceptualize the world.  We internalize the voices of those who teach us, and without our inner voices we would never learn to communicate with words. 

Too often our inner voices can become harsh critics that may berate us.  Andreas gives us ways to change that language, often in relatively quick ways.  He first focuses on the location of the voice.  Do you hear it from the front, the back, the left, the right, inside or outside your head? You can change the location. For example, a voice farther away has less impact and may be softer. Andreas is careful with each proposed change to see if there might be problems with making the change. Those words we say to ourselves may have some protective value to us and we need to evaluate the possible consequences and address those before attempting the change.  One example he gives is of a person who would like to be able to speak in front of groups, but then worries that if he gets good at it, his employer would want him to make sales trips and presentations and take time from family.  In that case, the goal was altered to be able to speak with smaller groups of people.

 The words themselves are important such as whether one says “I am” or “You are.” However, Andreas recognizes that it is more than just the words that communicate, and a change in these other factors plays a big role in changing behavior. These factors include the tone and volume of the voice, who the speaker is, and the tempo. Just slowing down the words can change the message.  So can changing the tone.  Change your self talk from a command to a question or even give it the sound of amazement. He also uses music or songs to change the meaning, much like movies use music to set the tone and mood of scenes. Voices may also be added, like a chorus that dampens the effect of the original voice.

Throughout the book, Andreas uses stories of his own and other therapists to teach. My favorite was about a five year old named Tommy who banged his head whenever he made any mistake. The therapist told Tommy a story about Timmy the squirrel who would sometimes slip and fall while climbing trees or forget where he hid nuts and would feel dumb. When he felt dumb, he would bang his head against trees and call himself names. Timmy’s family took him to see the Wise Old Owl. The Owl talked with Timmy and asked him if he had a belly button, and then asked to see it.  Tommy, the child, was enthralled and at that moment, raised his shirt and looked at his own belly button. The Owl told Timmy the squirrel to take a good look at his belly button and to remember that every one with a belly button makes mistakes, and if you make a mistake, just look at your belly button and say it is okay.  The parents reported later that Tommy stopped banging his head after that session.

 Andreas recognizes that a problem with trying to forcefully change self talk or to stop it is that this effort can actually strengthen the negative self talk as it fights back to stay in your mind. He also emphasizes the need for positive statements – what you want to accomplish – versus negative goals. Negative goals activate that which you are trying to change. An example is a phrase that might be used by dieters who say, “I can’t eat chocolate cake” which immediately puts the idea of chocolate cake in their minds and most likely also into their stomachs pretty soon.

This is a book that focuses on solutions, and does so very systematically and carefully.  When you are asked how a day would be if it were as if whatever problem you had were solved, you are asked for detail and also to look at what the consequences of the change might be. Throughout you are given the chance to work on each of the exercises yourself, and there is a section on finding what your own “core question” in life is.  Your “core question” is the question that guides you in your experience and behavior. The book ends with a chapter on transforming self talk using a very creative technique developed by Melanie Davis.  She uses word play to change the negative self talk, and the steps to do this are clearly spelled out, such as changing a word or punctuation or tonality often in a playful way.  “I am no good” was transformed into the affirmation, “I am.”  The latter part was changed to “Know good.” The therapist and client had fun playing with the words and the whole feel of the self talk was changed both in words and emotion.

 Changing your self talk changes your life. Mind (self talk) leads to energizing which leads to action. Depending on your self talk, that action can be positive or negative, healthy or unhealthy.  This book helps you change for the better and strengthen the positive and healthy.

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