Practice Makes Permanent
When I was a young girl, my mom used to nag me to practice my piano with the old adage, practice makes perfect.
Many of us grew up hearing this phrase.
This is a dangerous myth. First, because it reinforces the myth of perfection. There is no perfect, no matter how much you practice.
Second, even if you could reach perfection, practice alone wouldn’t get you there.
Perfect practice makes perfect.
Practice alone just entrenches how you practice: Practice makes permanent.
If you practice with errors or in poor form, that’s what you’ll reinforce. The more you do something, hear something, or see something, the more it gets entrenched in your subconscious. It becomes second nature. Habit.
You Play What You Hear
The coordination of the senses plays a role in reinforcement. If you’re learning to play a song on the piano and you practice a sequence with a wrong note, a teacher may interrupt you and force you to go back to the beginning of the section to play it again.
If your teacher isn’t around, you’re more likely to pick up on your error on your own if you also listen to the song played correctly.
As you practice, you’ll hear the discrepancy between your version and the original and you’ll realize something is amiss. You’ll interrupt yourself and go back to correct the sequence.
The constant interruption of the old pattern is what helps us break bad habits.
If you don’t recognize you’re playing the wrong note when you practice, you won’t correct it. You’ll practice the song incorrectly until someone catches your error. The longer you go on before someone catches the error, the deeper you will entrench your mistaken note, and the more difficult it will be for you to correct your playing of the song when you do become aware of the error.
A big piece of learning to play music is developing your ear, so you can hear when you are playing the wrong note and correct your errors before they become habits.
This is a good way to understand the challenge with self-talk.
Self-Talk is The Music of the Mind
Self-talk is the way you talk to yourself. It’s the voice you hear in your head. The narrator, the commenter, the critic, the champion.
Self-talk, like any form of speech, is a form of music. It is the music of the mind.
The style in which we speak to ourselves is a song that we play on repeat. In the same way a song can get stuck in your head, your self-talk can loop in your mind. The more we practice, the more entrenched it becomes.
Disempowering self-talk is like a song we play with the wrong notes. To play it correctly, we must interrupt ourselves when we mistakenly play the wrong notes.
Of all the bad habits we develop in our lives, self-talk may be the hardest pattern to change.
Here are three reasons why self-talk is so sticky:
(1) The Song We Play Matches The Song We Hear
First, it often matches with the song we hear externally. We learn our self-talk from what we hear in the environment around us when we are young. The way we speak to ourselves reflects the way people — most often parents, teachers, and other caretakers — spoke to us and how we heard people speaking to each other.
If criticism and ultimatums dominated your environment then they likely dominate your self-talk. Especially if that moved you to action and helped you “get things done.” It was an effective strategy that you adopted internally.
Maybe now you realize cognitively that criticism is not a motivating force and that it tears you down and sabotages your efforts. Your self-talk is an entrenched habit. You’ve practiced the song this way for years. It will take more than a few rounds to undo the habit.
(2) Other People Don’t Hear Our Self-Talk
Second, other people rarely hear what we say to ourselves. The piano teacher can interrupt you when you play the wrong note. A movement coach can stop you when you lose your form in a physical movement. When it comes to any external action other people can stop you from reengaging the pattern.
Self-talk is internal. Most people don’t hear how we speak to ourselves. Unless we are willing to share it with them. Even then, it’s not a guarantee that they’ll be able to interrupt our patterns.
(3) Other People Can’t Discern the Error, Even If They Do Hear It
The third reason self-talk is so hard to break is that even when other people do hear it — in moments when we are brave enough to reveal what we say to ourselves — they may not catch it, because it might sound like their self-talk.
If your self-talk is highly critical, and you share it with someone who believes that criticism is the best path to improvement, that person won’t catch you in your self-talk or be able to call you out on it.
This is our biggest challenge: much disempowering self-talk reflects patterns that are so embedded in our culture, so normalized, that we often don’t recognize the problem when it shows up.
It can seem that everyone in your environment is singing the song the same way, with the same faulty note.
That makes it even harder for you and others to discern when your note is off. And if you’re not aware of the problem, you can’t change it.
How to Change Your Self-Talk
The obvious question is how do you break the pattern of disempowering self-talk?
Remember your ABCs:
Awareness Before Change.
A good place to start: listen to better music.