One of the persistent themes of recent psychological literature on success is the inner voice. Thought it has many names, the inner voice describes sort of things we tell ourselves to psych ourselves up, out, or distract ourselves from ourselves. The Christian tradition, especially the Puritan and Greek Orthodox branches of soul care, did not leave these sorts of questions out. For examples of writing about using the inner monolog to grow in virtue I highly recommend the works of Evagrius of Pontus and, Thomas Brooks, and Richard Baxter.
A few days ago, I wrote about the Common Topics in the context of destroying writer’s block. But, because they are meant to help you construct arguments, they are useful tools for your mindset and self-talk. Your mindset is the collection of attitudes and thought processes you use to deal with your experiences.
Aristotle’s common topic of definition is used for framing a debate/speech/personal trait so that in a dispute you are in a favorable position in the minds of the audience. Definition is also used for framing a paper or speech so that the readers are not lost. In today’s post I want to show how definition is an important tool for reframing your own thoughts for making progress in sanctification and endeavors of merely human interest. I’ll give examples before I explain fully what I mean. If the examples are helpful, stop there. Learn to redefine your terms and stop your inner critic/naysayer/smooth tongued tempter with simple debate skills.
- Thought: I need to have a drink in order to feel happy right now.
Reframe: Happiness is more than feeling good right now, I’ll hit the gym and go read Scripture in a coffee shop.
- Thought: I’m too busy to fix my diet.
Reframe: I already have a diet (what I eat), I just need to replace one junkfood meal a week and after 21 weeks I’ll be eating healthy meals every time I eat.
- Thought: I want to look at pornography because I’m lonely.
Reframe: Looking at pornography won’t help me improve myself and make friends to cure my loneliness.
- Thought: I need this belittle others to feel whole and successful.
Reframe: The sin of pride disconnects us from God who provides true wholeness and eternal success.
- Thought: I’ll fail and have one more failure on my list of achievements.
Reframe: Failing is the only way to learn that isn’t boring and it’s better than sitting around doing nothing at all.
- Thought: If I try to make new friends, maybe they won’t like me.
Reframe: There are billions of people who don’t like me. If these people don’t nothing will change.
Everybody uses self-talk. It’s just a matter of what kind and what you choose to do based on the self talk you use. If I were to create a model for how things work in my life it’s like this:
- Step 1: Inner monolog uses encouraging or discouraging statements to reason my will into acting on some impulse, plan, or request.
- Step 2: I evaluate the inner monolog as being true or false without consideration because I over trust my own immediate evaluations of issues.
- Step 3: I act and reenforce my self-talk and my self-talk becomes more entrenched in my mindset.
If we utilize good/better definitions in Step 2 to evaluate our self-talk, then we can do a better job of overcoming the voices of Negative Ned, Dr. Jekyll, and Uncle Screwtape.