The Power of Mindful Language

Anxiety  – Matone Counseling & Testing  –  Powerful Language

How do you talk to yourself? Not out loud, but in your head. Is it a negative voice? A skeptical voice? A nervous voice? Or perhaps it is a positive and affirming one. Research estimates that, internally, we speak around 4,000 words per minute or more than 3,000,000 words per day to ourselves, compared to the less than 20,000 words that we speak aloud to others (Beck, 2016; Greve, 2014). Our inner voice, inner monologue, self-talk, or what author Ethan Kross calls our “chatter” (2021), can show up in many different forms. For example, if left unregulated, it may manifest as a harsh self-critic one moment and a skeptic the next, without us even recognizing the gravity of its impact. Because our chatter is so often an automatic and subconscious process, it is something that can be easily overlooked. The scary thing is that allowing our inner voices to hold the reigns in our minds can lead to the development of some unhelpful or destructive thought patterns. Ultimately, these thought patterns can manipulate the lens through which we view ourselves.

Have you ever attempted a task and, for the second time, performed below your expectations? Maybe you thought to yourself “See, I knew I couldn’t do it” or “Why did I even bother trying again? I am so stupid”. Did you notice what happened there? It was fast, but performance quickly became associated with identity. Not meeting a goal means I am a stupid person. Do you hear how this sounds? Can you imagine the detrimental effects of this type of self-talk, especially when it is repeated over a long period of time? Yet, we, including myself, engage in these types of conversations with ourselves every day.

Luckily, as humans, we have a high level of awareness, and thus we have the opportunity to notice and combat these sneaky inner voices. And we can do so in a way that shifts their function from being destructive and constricting to being empowering and uplifting.

Incorporating mindful language into your daily life is a great first step to work toward investigating your mind’s inner workings and ultimately reclaiming the mental space that belongs to you.

To understand the power of mindful language and begin utilizing it in your own life, consider following the steps below:
1. Take a Step Back and Notice How You Talk to Yourself

  • This can be done by journaling, intentionally talking aloud to yourself, or simply sitting in silence and acknowledging what shows up in your mind
  • After some time, you will begin to recognize patterns or themes related to your thoughts and the language you use to describe them
  • Here are some common examples:
    • Using extreme terms
      • You realize you’re going to be late to work and you silently tell yourself “I’m always late – why can I never be on time?”
    • Using “should” language
      • You notice your child’s friend involved in many extracurriculars and you tell yourself “I should be involving my kids in more things. I should be able to balance my life better. This should be easier”

Once you have identified the quirks of your inner monologue…
2. Gently Challenge the Validity and Purpose of These Voices

  • Use specific thoughts you have identified and ask yourself questions such as:
    • Is it true that ‘x’ “always” or “never” happens? How are these extreme terms affecting how I view myself?
    • Am I holding myself to fair and reasonable expectations? Can I allow myself to have goals that look different from those of people around me? Can I set timelines that are defined by me?
    • What purpose is this self-talk serving? What need am I trying to meet?
  • If you notice implicit, or explicit, comparison to others in your self-talk, begin to explore its context
    • Do I have access to the same resources and supports as those I am comparing myself to?
    • Do I have competing responsibilities I must choose between?
    • Have I carried any assumptions or beliefs from my childhood that are influencing these thought patterns?

Once you have identified the quirks of your inner monologue and meaningfully explored their roots…
3. Utilize Mindful Language

  • This largely involves approaching your thoughts and feelings from an observer’s perspective
  • Here is a framework for how you can try speaking to yourself:
    • “I am noticing the feeling of [insert feeling] coming up for me right now”
    • “I am having the thought that [insert thought]”
    • It can even be helpful to approach your chatter with some humor and say “Ha! There is that [thought/feeling/expectation] again! You used to be so sneaky, but I see you now!”

Ultimately, this multi-step process helps to create space between your authentic you and your inner voices. It is a tool that depersonalizes your chatter so that you can explore and engage with it rather than be constrained or bound by it. After using mindful language for a while, you may feel a greater sense of steadiness or clarity. That is because this practice continually reminds you that you are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings. You are not your anger. You are not your sadness. You are not your fear. You are not your childhood self. You are not what others tell you to be. You are, in fact, a complex human with complex experiences and ideas, armed with resilience and the capacity to walk alongside your chatter bravely.

And try to remind yourself of these things along the way: This is hard. Your feelings are valid. Healing is not linear. This is a continuous process that won’t take place in a single day. Honor your journey.

Jenna Brunner is a staff writer and clinical intern for Matone Counseling and Testing. She earned her Bachelor’s in Economics from Davidson College and is completing her Master’s in Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.

Beck, J. (2016, November 23). The Running Conversation in Your Head. The Atlantic.
Greve, J. (2014, July 16). Who Talks More, Men Or Women? The Answer Isn’t As Obvious As You Think. TIME.
Kross, E. (2021). Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It.