Now that you’ve been meditating for a while, it’s time to bring the awareness you have been using to label your thoughts and emotions to the speech you use when you aren’t sitting on the cushion. The assignment this week is to bring mindfulness into your spoken words. Specifically, you are doing this to see the speech that is helping or hindering you.
Select specific times to bring awareness to your speech this week. Use the same double-labeling process as with your thoughts and feelings. Observe the words you use and your way of relating to the people around you.
The purpose of this exercise is two-fold:
1. To be aware of and able to identify what kinds of speech you regularly use.
2. Switch out unhealthy or unhelpful forms of thinking for more beneficial ones when they are needed.
To help with this second piece, below are the most common labels of “stuck” thinking and speaking that often arise on the cushion and in everyday life. Each label has a description and then has an example of the opposite (or healthier/more helpful) form of thought/speech that can be used instead:
Blaming Blaming / Venting Venting. Unloading problems on other people is called venting. Making those problems all the fault of someone else while you share none of the responsibility in creating the situation is called blaming. Venting is the near enemy of processing. Processing expresses problems in a way that owns part of the responsibility in resolving or fixing the conflict. Venting is story telling where you are right and the other person is wrong. It does nothing to solve the issue and it waters the seeds of negativity and unhappiness. Opposite: Processing Processing, Accepting Accepting.
Criticizing Criticizing / Judging Judging. Any form of negative self-talk or judgment of others is called criticism. The most common self-critical phrase I hear students say under this category is, “I’m so stupid.” When bad things happen or you didn’t perform well, a response of “I’m so stupid,” compounds the issue and contributes to lowering self-esteem and self-worth. Criticism doesn't solve the issue. It is often much more productive to focus on affirming what new ways of thinking can shift the situation rather than emphasizing what went wrong. Opposite: Affirming Affirming, Praising Praising.
Idle Idle / Discomfort Discomfort. Speech that is born from discomfort is often idle speech. It serves no other purpose than to fill the silence. Are you speaking to relay information, build connections, or just to fill the air? Notice any speech that is simply filler. Work to connect -- not just fill time. Opposite: Relaying Relaying, Connecting Connecting.
Insecurity Insecurity. When you speak from a place of insecurity, you are seeking validation from another person as a form of reassurance that everything is okay or that a fear is unjustified. Though this form of speech is common, it can be difficult to identify when it arises. The accompanying anxiety or worry are the telltale signs that your speech may be coming from a place of insecurity. Opposite: Affirming Affirming.
Justifying Justifying. Justifying speech is all about defending your ego. Talking about past events and reworking them into ways where you are okay -- and the other person is not -- is called justifying. Justifying keeps you from owning your piece of the conflict puzzle. It also keeps whatever lessons that are able to be learned from the difficult or upsetting situation at a distance. Justifying keeps you from growing and learning the lesson so you can move on. Opposite: Processing Processing.
Manipulating Manipulating / Controlling Controlling. Speech designed to coerce others to your viewpoint or to do things they aren’t inclined to do is called manipulating. When you’ve asked, received a no, and are still trying to work the situation to get what you want in unhealthy or unhelpful ways, it’s time to press pause. Manipulation is all about control. Opposite: Persuading Persuading, Accepting Accepting.
Negativity Negativity. Speaking to point out and focus on the bad is negative speech. Sometimes negativity is needed, however (see Defensive Pessimism). The question is how much of your speech is negative vs. neutral or positive? As you label your speech more and more, you will get a feel for whether any focus on the negative is balanced or not. Opposite: Positivity Positivity.
Shoulding Shoulding. This type of thinking or speech is often called, “Shoulding all over yourself.” When you are reviewing or saying how things should have been done in the past, could have been better had only you [fill in the blank], you are making yourself or another person wrong. Acknowledging past mistakes is important but the additional judgment often has the opposite effect and keeps the positive changes from occurring. See Criticizing Criticizing above.
The process of labeling isn’t one of judgment
It’s important that as you do this practice that you aren’t judging yourself. When you know the thought is not a healthy one, there is a tendency to add an additional layer of judgment. “Oh, I shouldn’t be thinking these things,” “I’m horrible at this,” or even “I’m a bad person for thinking these things.” It’s important that as you do this that you turn off the self-criticism. See Shoulding Shoulding above.
As you give your words and your thoughts labels, hold them lightly and understand that everyone struggles or has struggled with less than helpful or unhealthy thoughts – you are no exception.
As you label the thought or way of speaking, don’t judge it or yourself. Hold it lightly and don’t give it any more weight than it needs. New students often struggle with this difference. Giving something a label that can be seen as negative or positive is not the same thing as judging the thought. You are learning to view your speech and thinking through an objective lens.
When you are first starting, the difference between labeling a thought vs. judging that thought may be difficult to see. It’s okay if this separation is difficult to understand at first. The more you do this practice, the ability to separate the two becomes easier.
What you water will grow
The principle here is that what you water will grow. When you water unhealthy and unhelpful forms of thinking and speech, you are reinforcing the world-view they stem from. Your thoughts give rise to your speech and your speech creates situations in the world that validate what you already think to be true. In many instances, you create your reality based on what you've already decided in your mind it should be.
Once you seek something, you will indeed find it -- or even create it on an unconscious level. This is why this process of being able to label and change your thoughts and ways of speaking that are unhelpful -- or simply aren't what you want to see in your life -- is so important.
If you haven’t read about Behavioral Confirmation and the Self-Fulfilling Feedback Loop when it comes to your thinking, please go back to Week 12 to review that material. It explains this concept of "You become what you think" in greater detail.
Practice this week
Set the intention this week to bring mindfulness into your speech. Label the thoughts and hold them without judgment. Be open to healthier and more helpful ways of speaking.
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