The tape recorder in my head

"What's wrong with you?"
"For being so smart, you sure are stupid."
"You're being lazy."

The mean person saying these things to me is... me.

These phrases come from the tape recorder in my head that plays over and over. We all "beat ourselves up" with our dysfunctional internal dialogue. It's not helpful. But how do you erase these phrases and record better ones? That process has been a long, ongoing one for me, but I have four hints that might help you if you are trying to rewrite that fundamental self-talk which greatly influences our thinking and productivity.

Notice everything.
The first step to being able to re-record your internal tape recorder is to start noticing when it plays. Often, we talk to ourselves without realizing we're doing it. The phrases in your tape recorder most liklely came from well-meaning caretakers during childhood, who guided us and repeated advice that we likely needed at the time. Because we were young, and the tape was largely blank, some phrases are embedded very deeply, maybe disproportionately to their true significance or usefulness. Still, because this is an unconscious process until we make it conscious, we're likely to apply a phrase to a situation that doesn't warrant such emphasis.

Notice the tape recorder. Notice when it happens. Notice how it happens. Notice what triggers it. Is it when you wake up? Is it in the middle of the night? Is it right after you made a mistake? Is it right before you have to make a big decision? Being conscious about this common process can draw your attention to how to start recording purposefully.

Replace instead of remove.
Sometimes, when I first started noticing how often I told myself those phrases from childhood, I began to beat myself up even more, by telling myself STOP! JUST STOP THINKING THAT! Of course, that made everything worse. How could I be so stupid to allow unconsciousness to drive my life? Ironically, I was re-using the same phrases to scold myself internally about using those very phrases! It's very difficult to using "STOP" as an action, because by nature, stopping is inaction. If you stop doing something, you're doing "nothing" and that is equally unproductive. Instead, I started approaching this as a replace instead of remove. Once I noticed an unwanted phrase popping up in my consciousness, I decided to replace that with better advice I had heard recently.

Make a list.
Some of the "better" advice I would replace with, was not always applicable or even the best advice. So I set out to make a conscious list, predetermined, of things I wanted to tell myself. Here are a few that stuck, after some iterations of trial and error:

  • What you do comes back to you.
  • Struggle does not equal Accomplishment.
  • Relax - Arch - Neutral
  • Hate never dispels hate. Only Love dispels hate.
  • Look away, steer away.
  • They only try and tackle the one with the ball.
  • What do I want? One thing.
  • How are you going to make that happen?
  • Projection: sometimes people are talking to themselves.
  • Take out the trash.

Take action.
The funny thing about talk, even self-talk, is that talk is cheap. The only valuable idea behind talk is that thought spurs action. What is in your head comes out anyway, but if the unconcious becomes reality without our intervention, we are allowing ourselves to be led along. We are not truly living our own lives. So, after one of these dialogues with myself, I try to come up with what will I do, the very next thing, and when. If I'm speaking to myself in the middle of the night, this allows me to feel safe to go back to sleep. And if it's the middle of the day, this allows me to focus on what I'm doing instead of worrying about something that I can't deal with at the moment.


I realized after being able to re-record my own phrases onto my internal tape recorder, that I had the power all along. And it was easy to do. All I had to do was recognize it, replace bad with good, consciously select the good advice that worked, then act on it!

  • 11 March 2018
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