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How do you speak to yourself?

by Andy Puddicombe

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How do you speak to yourself? By that, I don’t mean speaking out-loud while walking down the street. I mean, what is the tone of your inner dialogue: the conversations we have with ourselves in the privacy of our own mind?

Are you calm, forgiving, and kind, or demanding, impatient and a little judgmental?

It never ceases to amaze me just how unkind we can be to ourselves. And then we wonder why we are unhappy with no peace of mind. But how can we expect anything else when we talk to ourselves harshly? How can the mind be settled and calm when we are constantly being hard on ourselves?

This is a pattern I see again and again, and it’s amazing the different ways that we justify such behavior. I once heard someone say the reason they were so unkind and unforgiving towards themselves was because they were always thinking of others! This is, of course, a cop out. The ability to be kind to oneself and to others is not mutually exclusive.

I would argue that until we learn to be genuinely kind to ourselves, how could we possibly be kind to others? What we’re likely doing in these situations is fulfilling an “idea” of kindness, rather than coming from a “place” of kindness. In this sense, it is a “learned” kindness, rather than necessarily reflecting our “innate” kindness.

If you’re not too sure what healthy mind chatter sounds like, then I think the following can be a useful rule of thumb: Pay attention to any negative inner-chatter. Now, if you said the same thing and spoke the same way to a close friend, how would you expect them to react? Likewise, if they said the same thing to you, or spoke in that tone of voice, how would it make you feel? The answers will provide a fair idea about how much the mind needs softening up.

That doesn’t mean “trying” to be different, or thinking “positively.” Instead, it means noticing when you snap at yourself, beat yourself up, or reinforce negative thought patterns. In noticing, you are realizing what you’re doing and seeing it for what it is: a thought or a feeling that’s just passing by – it’s no more than that. In such moments, and as you continue to catch yourself, you will see how the mind softens, how it lets go, and how it finds a new sense of calm and clarity in the most unlikely of places.

Andy Puddicombe

Andy Puddicombe is a meditation and mindfulness expert. An accomplished presenter and writer, Andy is the voice of all things Headspace. In his early twenties, midway through a university degree in Sports Science, Andy made the unexpected decision to travel to the Himalayas to study meditation instead. It was the beginning of a ten-year journey which took him around the world, culminating with ordination as a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Northern India. His transition back to lay life in 2004 was no less extraordinary. Training briefly at Moscow State Circus, he returned to London where he completed a degree in Circus Arts with the Conservatoire of Dance and Drama, whilst drawing up the early plans for what was later to become Headspace.

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