Setting the Record Straight with Self-Talk

Why are some people more successful than others? Why do some people seem to grow and develop into a better version of themselves while others remain stagnant year after year? The answer is more straightforward than you might think; It all comes down to your programming. 

Shad Helmstetter, Ph.D. has dedicated his life and career to unpacking how the messages (programs) a person receives throughout their life impacts their success and happiness. “Our thoughts determine what is going to happen and how successful we’re going to be. This is foundational. It has to do with every single part of our lives.” 

How The Brain Wires Programs

“It is widely acknowledged that as we grow up, we are programmed and eventually live out those programs. And we’ve learned more recently that all of those messages — the programs given to us consciously and unconsciously by our families, teachers, cultures, etc. — are physically wired into the brain when they’re repeated often enough,” explains Dr. Helmstetter. 

One of the jobs of the brain is to store all of the information accumulated each day. Neuroscientists were studying how the brain stores information most efficiently and they found that repetition was the key. When you first hear a message, your brain receives it and records it but doesn’t permanently store it. But when you get the same message, again and again, the new fledgling neural network that’s starting to form grows a little stronger. Each time it’s repeated, that specific neural network is being fed and becomes stronger. That’s how you learned most of what you know and still remember it today. For example, think of a song you learned as a child; you can still remember the words to that song, years later, because of the power of repetition. 

A reinforced idea creates strong neural pathways in the brain, but these aren’t fixed. They are like temporary footpaths; when used only once or twice, it’s easy to “erase” the path. However, when used again and again, the trail becomes more firmly established and easier to follow next time. When an old pathway is abandoned (no longer reinforced) it slowly begins to disappear. 

How to Rewire Programs

The latest scientific research in the field of neuroplasticity demonstrates that what you think and what you say to yourself each day wires your brain for success or failure. “One of the most exciting new revelations,” says Dr. Helmstetter, “is that people who tend to talk in the affirmative, so positive thinkers, actually grow more neural networks in the left prefrontal cortex of the brain. Interestingly, that’s the part of the brain that helps us find alternatives and searches for solutions. That part of the brain helps us succeed no matter what we’re doing.

On the other hand, people who are negative talkers or negative thinkers wire more neural networks in the right prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is the part of the brain that causes us to be afraid, to shut down, or run away rather than find solutions.” Dr. Shad Helmstetter emphasizes that this is crucial because not long ago scientists and researchers weren’t convinced that positive thinking or positive self-talk made much of a difference. “Then we were able to watch it actually happen in neurological terms and what we know now is that our thoughts determine what’s going to happen. They clearly affect how successful we’re going to be, and this is foundational. This impacts every single part of our lives.” 

If you aren’t currently a positive thinker, rest assured you’re not alone and there’s a way you can override your old programs. “It’s estimated that about 77 percent of the programs we have are negative, harmful, or counterproductive. How we react to difficulties and challenges that come from the outside world is based on our unconscious programs. But you can erase and replace those negative programs with new ones. In the field of neuroscience, it’s called pruning, which I think is interesting. We cut out the things that we don’t want any more or aren’t serving us so that the better growth can grow and bloom.” 

The process of pruning starts by providing the brain with positive messages and repeating them often so new neural pathways can begin to form. As the message is repeated, the fledgling network grows a little bit stronger, so it’s essential to repeat the positive message often. Rewiring the brain is precisely what positive self-talk is designed to do. But you have to do more than just decide to think more positively. “If you say you’re going to do it, but don’t actually learn the language it probably won’t happen. But by the same token, if you do learn the new language of positive self-talk, it will happen. It has to.” 

Changing Your Self-Talk 

Over the last three or four decades of research on positive self-talk and the effect it has on the brain, researchers like Shad Helmstetter have found that there are three basic steps to follow when changing your self-talk. The first step is to listen to what you’re saying now; this is referred to as monitoring. Dr. Helmstetter suggests setting a goal every morning and evening to listen to your self-talk mindfully. What words or phrases do you say and think most often? Are they mostly negative or positive? 

This leads to the second step, editing your self-talk. “When you start saying something like ‘oh, that was so stupid, or nothing ever works out for me,’ you need to stop and edit that thought,” explains Dr. Helmstetter. “You can turn it around and say the opposite, and when you do that, it’s going to sound strange. When you first start doing this, your brain won’t recognize it because it’s a new language to you, but over time your brain will begin wiring this new, more positive language.” 

The third step, which is the most effective way to change your programs, is to listen to self-talk. Dr. Helmstetter has been writing and recording self-talk programs for over 40 years and emphasizes the power of listening to self-talk. “For a long time, we had people record their own self-talk, and we ultimately discovered that the last person most people want to listen to is themselves. We are our number one critic, so we’ve started suggesting that people listen to self-talk recorded by someone else.”

He also offers some encouragement to stick with it. Listening to self-talk recordings may feel awkward at first, but it works. “Stick with it because we’ve learned that it takes about three weeks for the brain to begin to wire new programs, so you need to stay with it long enough for it to work.”   

In Dr. Helmstetter’s book, What to Say When You Talk to Your Self, he explains that self-talk is a way to override past programs with a conscious, positive new direction. It’s a practical way to live with intent rather than passive acceptance. 

Everyone engages in daily self-talk of some sort. And Dr. Helmstetter has broken it down into five distinct levels; some are harmful and negative while others are positive and helpful. He emphasizes that learning to use the right kind of self-talk starts with knowing more about each level. 

Level One:
Negative Acceptance 

“The first level is the most common type of self-talk. It’s usually identified by words such as ‘I can’t,’ or ‘I’m not good enough.’ It’s here, where things aren’t going well, and you just agree with that. This type of self-talk is destructive and even dangerous, but very common,” explains Dr. Helmstetter.

Level Two:
Recognition and the Need to Change

In level two self-talk you’ll say things like, “I should” or “I need to.” Such as, I should stop smoking, or I need to eat better. “On the surface, this type of self-talk seems like it should work for us, but it doesn’t,” says Dr. Helmstetter. “Because when you finish the sentence, it’s always “I should… but I’m not going to.” It is at this level that you recognize that you need to make changes, but you never actually make the change. 

Level Three:
The Decision to Change 

Level three is the first level of self-talk that actually works for you, not against you. It is at this level that you recognize the need to change as well as make the decision to change. Self-talk at this level goes something like this, “I never eat more than I should,” or “I never argue for no reason.” This is a turning point in your self-talk. You are getting in touch with yourself and your desire to change, and deciding to do it. 

Level Four:
The Better You 

Level four self-talk is the most effective type of self-talk in which to engage. It is here that you paint the picture of who you want to be. It is characterized by the words, “I am.” “When you say things like, ‘I am capable, I’m qualified, I feel great today,’ your brain is listening. It’s not just talk or false enthusiasm; your brain is learning that new language.”

Level Five:
Universal Affirmation

The final level of self-talk is one that Dr. Helmstetter focuses a little less on but is still helpful. “I don’t spend much time here because it’s nonspecific. But level five sounds like,
‘I am one with the divine universe.’ It is usually affirmational self-talk, and is typically used in more or less of a spiritual manner.” 

Resolving the Conflict

When you change your self-talk, it’s reasonable to encounter a few challenges. The biggest may be the conflict that arises when what you’re saying isn’t necessarily reflected in your behavior or appearance. For example, if you are an over-eater but practicing self-talk that says you eat precisely the amount that you need, there is a conflict. But this feeling will subside. “It takes about three weeks for a new program, the new neural network, to begin to wire permanently. When you are saying one thing but doing something that doesn’t match up, you can feel like you’re lying to yourself. What you’re actually doing is setting the record straight. The original you wasn’t an overeater. The original, real you, the person you were born to be is a person who doesn’t overeat. What you’re doing with self-talk is you’re setting the record straight. It’s in that process that you feel conflict. Go ahead; feel it. Just stay with it, and after two or three weeks see what’s happening. You’ll find the real you.” 

During this period, while you’re changing your thoughts and rewiring new programs, your beliefs are changing as well. After some time, your behaviors will align with how you view yourself and match up with your self-talk. Dr. Helmstetter also explains that your brain will begin searching for other positive programs to support the new programs and patterns you’re building. “What’s happening is profound. For instance, someone might be listening to self-talk to lose weight, and they’re beginning to lose weight. But they find themselves also getting to work on time, or they’re nicer to people. What’s happening is these new more positive networks are talking to each other and wiring together. It’s a miracle!”

Getting Started with Self-Talk 

Some people learn to change their self-talk on their own and go on to live out their true potential. However, for many, they never change their programs and remain stuck. “We are living, at this moment, directly between our past and our future. Unless we have the right self-talk and the right programs to launch us forward into a future that is even better than the past, we will tend to stay where we are.” 

Dr. Shad Helmstetter has written over 20 books and has recorded thousands of self-talk programs for different goals. He understands that there is an unquestionable comfort in staying put. Change and growth can be challenging and uncertain at times, but stasis is the enemy. “To overcome stasis, you have to change the programs that are keeping you there. I don’t want to sound uncompassionate, but I don’t care what went wrong. We’ve all had troubles and challenges, yet those aren’t what count. I consider those experiences just a part of learning. What we do next, what you choose to do next, that’s what really counts. There is a great deal of hope and promise in that because it lets you realize that the unlimited potential that you were born with is still there.” 

To learn more about self-talk and begin living a life of unlimited potential, visit to access Dr. Shad Helmstetter’s full library of programs. You can start listening today with a free, 30-day trial of any of his self-talk programs. 

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