"A shortcut to becoming a true person, put the right people beside you."
-Baltasar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, Maxim 108
Jim Rohn famously said, "you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with." And as wise as Jim Rohn was, the 17th century Jesuit Priest Baltasar Gracian proceeded him when he wrote, "The company you keep can work wonders." Gracian continues in Maxim 108, "Customs and tastes and even intelligence are transmitted without our even being aware of it."
Clearly it's important to curate the people who influence us, and I find going through that exercise every so often is wise. My core circle of influence is probably greater than five, but the rule of thumb applies still. The more time I spend with someone, the more they're going to influence who I am becoming. We are all still becoming something, no matter our age or status. So choose wisely I suppose.
I too often forget to consider the influence my own thoughts and words have upon my identity.
When I consider my circle of influence, I find the standard relationships. Spouse, siblings, parents, co-workers, mentors, and friends, make up the list. Recently, though, I've found that I have been ignoring one very critical influence. An influence that is likely more powerful than any of the others on my list, and yet I have overlooked it time and time again. I too often forget to consider the influence my own thoughts and words have upon my identity.
Have you ever scrutinized the sheer amount of internal dialogue you have with yourself? I would be hard pressed to find anyone that I talk with more than myself. My mind is full of images, thoughts, and ideas that are shaping who I become. My internal dialogue is vast.
Research on the amount of internal dialogue we have is a bit mixed, but it is significant. Some have estimated we have 50,000 thoughts a day. Often we think in pictures, creating the equivalent of millions of words flowing through our heads. If I spoke with anyone in my life as much as I speak with myself, I would consider it my most influential relationship. It's time I start considering myself higher on my list of influencers. If our influencers are a weighted average, it would seem internal dialogue wins by a long shot.
Often we think in pictures, creating the equivalent of millions of words flowing through our heads.
How can we know that internal dialogue truly has the same effect as an external conversation? Interestingly enough, research says that our brains likely use the same system to process internal and external speech. Researcher Mark Scott of the University of British Columbia found this to be true in his recent experiments on inner speech. Additionally, Durham University has a study called "Hearing the Voice" in which they diligently explore this very topic. Peter Moseley, a researcher for this project, suggested that inner speech and audible speech primarily use the same area of the brain and even some similar physical expression. For instance, it's common for your throat to move ever so slightly as you talk to yourself. It's not visible, but it can be measured. We must assume that what we say to ourselves has every bit the impact of dialogue with others.
And for those that assume talking to yourself is just for crazy people, I disagree. The act of thinking is simply the act of talking to ourselves, and this inner dialogue works in the same ways external dialogue might. In his book, "The Concept of the Mind", Gilbert Ryle observed, "Much of our ordinary thinking is conducted in internal monologue or silent soliloquy, usually accompanied by an internal cinematography show of visual imagery." This concept is hardly new. Plato's work on the theory of knowledge in Theaetetus is arguably one of his greatest. In it he argues, "When the mind is thinking, it is simply talking to itself, asking questions and answering them..."
While I might risk sounding a bit crazy discussing how much I talk to myself, I imagine we all do a lot of thinking. Thus, we all do a lot of talking to ourselves. That's all I'm addressing here: what we think, ruminate on, and imagine. Our thinking is an internal dialogue, and the tone and nature of this dialogue is a significant influence on who we are and what we will become.
It would seem relevant that we pay attention to the influence we have upon ourselves. What are you telling yourself? If a close friend came to you for advice, would you advise them the same way you advise yourself? In a recent paper, "The Internal Dialogue: On the Asymmetry Between Positive and Negative Coping Thoughts", Dr. Robert Schwartz writes, "...a growing body of empirical research supports the popular contention that the internal dialogue bears a relationship to psychological health and disorder." Put a different way, how we talk to ourselves matters to our health. It shapes who we are just as much as any other relationship in our lives.
Proverbs 4:23 reads, "Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts." That's what I'm learning to be true, and what I'm working to curate more effectively.