The average person has 35,000 – 85,000 thoughts per day AND 80% of those are negative.
Shad Helmstetter, Ph.D., is the best-selling author of more than twenty-five books in the field of mental health and personal growth, including the classic What to Say When You Talk to Your Self and Negative Self-Talk and How to Change It. His books are published in over seventy countries. Dr. Helmstetter is the founder of The Self-Talk Institute, which teaches individuals to present self-talk training to groups and organizations, and The Life Coach Institute, which trains and certifies life and business coaches in the U.S. and internationally.
He is the pioneering dean in the field of self-talk and the first behavioral researcher to focus on the role of self-talk as a primary programming source that directs our life path and personal effectiveness. Based on his research, he produced the first professional self-talk audio programs in 1981. Today, his recorded self-talk programs are listened to daily by thousands of individuals worldwide. Salonpas sat down with Dr. Helmstetter to learn how to effectively control our self-talk:
How did you come to become an expert on self-talk?
In my earlier career I was a linguist. In that career I was a Spanish/English interpreter for the United States government in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Later, when I studied human behavior and motivational psychology, I began to recognize that we think in a special vocabulary, a ‘language’ that determines our success or failure in life. Because I had studied foreign languages, I knew that language is programmed into our brain through repetition, and I hypothesized that it might be possible to program a new vocabulary into our brain—the language of success—in the same way, through repetition. That began more than forty years of studying and writing about what we now call ‘positive self-talk.’
Why do you think the majority of most people’s self-talk is negative?
Our self-talk is a replay of the programs we have stored in our subconscious mind—the storage center of the brain. It’s been estimated that if you grew up in a reasonably positive home, you were told ‘no’ or what you ‘cannot’ do, more than 148,000 times. Because of that, as much at 77% of all the programs we have stored in our brains are negative, or counter-productive, or work against us. The problem is that the part of the brain that stores all of the messages we got doesn’t know the difference between something that is true, and something that is false. It just acts on the programs we have that are the strongest, and believes they are true, whether they are true or not. So people who think in the ‘negative’ are just replaying the strongest programs that are stored in their subconscious mind.
At one time it was believed by many that positive thinking didn’t really do anything because thoughts have no substance; they don’t mean anything and don’t really go anywhere. But neuroscience and computer imaging technology has shown that people who think in the negative actually wire more neural networks into the right prefrontal cortex of their brains. That’s a part of the brain that stops you, or makes you flee or hide, and not take action. That’s where ‘failure’ lives in the brain. Meanwhile, people who think in the positive actually wire more neural networks into the left prefrontal cortex of their brains, which is a part of the brain that helps you seek alternatives, find solutions, and take action. That’s where ‘success’ lives in the brain. So positive thinking actually wires your brain to succeed, and negative thinking wires your brain to fail.
What is positive self-talk and how can we train ourselves to think that way?
Positive self-talk is the conscious practice of learning a new ‘success language’—a new mental vocabulary that helps you see things in the positive. The Self-Talk Institute has been training people how to change their self-talk for more than 35 years by having people listen to specially-worded self-talk audio sessions just like learning a new language, by listening to it. (To listen to positive self-talk sessions, go to www.SelfTalkPlus.com.
What is the role of positive self-talk in reducing stress & anxiety?
Many people begin listening to positive self-talk because they want to reduce stress. Listening to self-talk even a few minutes every day is effective in helping people reduce stress for two reasons: First, an overactive amygdala—the brain’s alarm center—is often responsible for dumping unnecessary levels of stress hormones into our systems. In the far distant jungles of our past, the amygdala was responsible for constantly alerting us and keeping us safe from saber-tooth tigers. There aren’t any saber-tooth tigers around anymore, but the amygdala doesn’t know that, and it is continuing to shout “danger, danger!” even when there is really nothing threatening us. So a hyperactive amygdala keeps our brains on high alert and in high stress even when there is no actual danger present. Listening to and practicing positive self-talk ‘quiets’ the amygdala, calms it down and helps keep it in check.
The second way positive self-talk reduces stress and anxiety is by rewiring our brains to view things in the positive, where we more naturally find solutions and take action to solve problems. Viewing each day in the positive allows us to see the promise of the future instead of dwelling on the problems of the past.
How can positive self-talk aid in weight loss?
In the early days of my research, when I was first studying self-talk, I had been having a major problem trying to lose weight. At the time, I though weight was a problem I would never be able to overcome.
I decided that as a test to see if positive self-talk could help people do something as difficult as lose weight, I would try listening to recordings of positive self-talk, with myself as the test. So, I listened to special recordings of self-talk for weight-loss for about 15 minutes every day while I was shaving and getting ready in the morning. The result was that in the next 10 1/2 weeks I lost 58 pounds shaving, and listening to self-talk. What was even more surprising to me was that the weight never came back. That convinced me there was something foundational that self-talk was accomplishing in rewiring the brain. That turned out to be true. Today many thousands of people listen to self-talk in the same way, to help them with weight-loss, health and fitness, money, relationships, stress and anxiety, and many other important areas of their lives.
Tell us about a typical day in your life; from when you arise to when you retire.
Depending on which day it is, one can find me writing, working on our small farm in the country, practicing archery at an Olympic distance, doing research in the field of neuroscience, or away from civilization with my wife, kayaking on a beautiful river where there is no cellphone service.