The Wright Way

The Wright Way

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Who is Listening?

“If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Of course we all recognise this thought provoking quote – and one of the thoughts that sprang up for me today was to do with our Internal Dialogue.
Now in this regard I’m not talking about what some refer to as our Conscious – Unconscious Dialogue. I’m really referring to what is perhaps colloquially known as Self Talk.

A dialogue essentially involves two or more ‘voices’ shall we say. It is a conversation, a discussion, an exchange of thoughts and ideas expressed in words. Within the same linguistic stable there is monologue – where, as we understand it, there is only one voice.

Self Talk

Once we have the facility to talk, we develop our facility to Self talk.
Children, from around the age of two, can be observed talking to themselves - particularly when at play. Starting first with the work of psychologists Jean Piaget* and Lev Vygotsky*, there have been extensive observed studies and researches concerning the emergence of self talk or ‘private speech’ in children.
By the time we are 7, say, we have become very well practised in the art of self talk – and by that age this facility has also become much more internalised. It seems that through constant daily usage and practice we have bonded together our thinking with our self talk, so much so that they are barely discernible and appear to be one and the same.

Self Listening

Of course, for there to be a dialogue there has to be two or more voices, and here I would describe our internal dialogue as having an active voice and a passive voice. Thus far I have explored the emergence and use of the active voice – yet, what of the passive voice?
Now – simply in terms of labelling at this point, I would describe the passive voice as being that of the Self Listener.

Once we have the facility to listen, we develop our facility to Self Listen. And part of that development is this - as we internalise our self talk so we also internalise our Self Listening.
By the stage we are merging our thinking with our Self Talk, we are ‘hearing’ our thinking with our Self Listening.
Through our developing cognisance and the vehicle of language, we are able to recognise and understand our thoughts. We now have a fully developed Internal Dialogue – and we have a complete understanding of who we are at any given moment.
And it is quite easy to see how we can fully accept the premise behind Rene Descartes’ famous quote Cogito Ergo SumI think therefore I am.

The Data

On a purely sensual level, every sound we hear in every moment of time makes up a vast array of incoming auditory data. The same applies to all other sensual data as well.
We have AND develop a mental facility to filter that data in such a way that our processing capacity is not overwhelmed. It is a facility that runs at both an unconscious (involuntary) level as well as a conscious one. It is a function that takes place within the reticular activating system (RAS) and is located in the brain stem adjacent to the Thalamus.

Now, one of the amazing functions of the brain is the facility to take internally created images, sounds, feelings and other sensory data – and to treat them as if they were real. The internally sourced data passes through the sensory gateways (or filter) in the same way as externally sourced data. Our imagination, our dreams, visualisations etc are all formed of internally sourced data – yet they are presented to our perceptive apparatus as being as real as the external experience.

So if we examine our Self Listening, we can easily understand how our thoughts, the words from that nagging little voice in our head, can seem as real as if they were on “the outside.”

Now one of the functions of the RAS is that we can play a conscious part in directing the filtering process. We are, therefore, not totally at the mercy of whatever data is coming in – both from outside and, more to the point here, from the inside. We CAN moderate what we pay attention to in terms of our Self Listening.

And part of that moderation comes from how we manage our attention.

The Judge

Within our mental facility we also have The Judge.

The Judge evaluates incoming data in terms of how to respond. At the involuntary or unconscious level, this takes the form of responses to stimuli – we respond to touching something hot, we jump in response to a loud bang, we shield our eyes in response to a blinding light, and we recoil in response to a vile smell or a sharp, acidic taste.

At the conscious level we respond in a whole variety of ways, PLUS we add in markers which we label EMOTIONS. The emotions make each experience more vivid. The emotions get filed away in memory along with the data that makes up the experience, and the emotional markers enable quick and easy recollection of the experience. As we know, whenever we remember something with a vivid emotional marker, the entire experience of data + emotion comes flooding back.

It is The Judge in us that decides not only what we respond to, but also what kind of emotional markers are going to be used. At the conscious level, The Judge makes decisions based upon our beliefs and values and also our sense of self, or what we assume as being our sense of Identity.  

And when it comes to our Self Listening we find The Judge is also there, evaluating what is being said in our Self Talk.
When we are critical of ourselves, or self-demeaning, or verbally beating ourselves up, The Judge then becomes the Self Talker. If we are driven to self-harming, then our behaviour is a response to the Self Talk of The Judge.

Making Changes

Now if we want to make a change in some part of our lives in terms of the way we behave, or the way we respond, or the way we perceive things – then there are a number of ways we can do this. However, each and every one of us has a unique make-up – so the best ways of making changes that would work for me are not necessarily the best ways for you.

So, what might be the best approach?
Well, we know that if we ask our family, friends or indeed even someone in the street, then the reply we’d get would probably start like this:
Well if I were you then I’d do XXXX.

However when a client comes to see me then this kind of response is never going to get them very far! What I need is to get a picture of the Self Talker, the Self Listener, The Data and The Judge. We’ll have a conversation and I’ll ask some questions to enable me to get a handle on their Thinking and their view of how the World works – remembering of course that it is only THEIR World. I’ll also get a really good view of their expressive language, both verbal and non-verbal, for their language is the vehicle that conveys the workings, meanings and purpose of THEIR World.

In order to make some meaningful changes, my client knows that The Data is not completely controllable. Life and the World will always throw things in our paths from a deep pile carpet to a rocky road. He can change some of his Beliefs and Values and get a different perception of his sense of Identity –this will alter how The Data is filtered, and will also adapt the response criteria for The Judge. He can moderate his Self Talk – which is his Thinking – and change his perception of HIS World that way.

Or – he can be a different kind of Self Listener.

Remember this?
“If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Forest Fires

If my client listens to himself, pays attention, then the only route left open to him is all the remedies I’ve just mentioned – this is what I would call the “fire-fighting” approach.
He is there – in his own metaphorical forest – and as the trees of Self Talk regularly fall he will hear them, judge them, process them and respond to them. The trees will keep falling, rather like the weather just keeps on coming.

On the other hand, if as a Self Listener he is not in the forest, then the trees will fall in perceptive silence. His thoughts will rise up and fall away, form as clouds and then evaporate. There will be much less ‘noise and clamour’ going on, there’ll be a lot more perceptive clarity. He will, to coin a phrase, start to “see the wood for the trees.
Life and the World will still present data to him, and his attention - and he can still manage his attention to deal with matters pertaining to all THAT data.
In terms of the Internal Dialogue however, his Self Listening has changed. With less or no data coming in from Self Talk, immediately the role of The Judge has changed too.


There’s a simplicity to changing the nature of our Self Listening that is woven into the fabric of how we manage our attention.

When we are attending to something we allocate to it a portion of our total awareness. The more attention we give – the greater proportion is dedicated to that something. Meanwhile, we are paying less attention to other things. This allocation of attentive “bandwidth” is a very simple equation – rather like “Task Manager” in a computer’s operating system software.

Now the moment we become really absorbed in one thing, the amount of bandwidth that is allocated to “other things” becomes very much diminished. When we’re really in The Zone or a Flow State, for instance, then we pay no attention at all to “other things.” Time slows down or seems to be suspended, and our Ego – our sense of Self – is nowhere to be found. As part of that sense of Self, our Self Talk and Self Listening are not in evidence, and neither is The Judge. The external data is still streaming in and being processed, but all the internal clutter has gone.

Self Listening, along with other ego-oriented processes, takes attentive bandwidth. If we are really worried about something then we find it extremely difficult to do anything else. We describe this as “I can’t get my head around it. I had other things on my mind. My head was in another place.” 
Sound familiar? It’s because we’ve allocated so much bandwidth to the worrying and not enough to what we were actually doing.
Yet – what if we’d stopped our Self Listening?
What if we’d not listened to ourselves worrying, not paid attention to ourselves worrying?


Take a look at the people you know who seem very calm, grounded, unflappable, are good at what they do yet always seem to have time for others. Consider how it is they manage to do so much, so well – without getting burnt out, worn out or stressed out.
Maybe they were born with it, maybe they’re on something, or maybe they just stopped listening to their Self Talk?

When people say, “I just learned how to let go,” we might wonder HOW. How do they do that?

Next time you are worried or dogged by an overload of thoughts hold your tongue for about 30 seconds. Or hold out your forefinger and try balancing a pencil on it.
While you were doing that where did all the thoughts go?
Or firmly grip a coin between your thumb and forefinger, stand up and hold it out in front of you as you stack all those errant thoughts onto it. Feel the coin getting heavier – and when you are ready and cannot hold it any more, then just let it go.

Remember - we don’t have to be the “I” who is Listening.

* Jean Piaget – The Language and Thought of the Child (1959)
* Lev Vygotsky – Thought and Language (alt. Thinking and Speaking) (1934)

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