When the Words Get in the Way: How to Talk Less and Say More

Photo courtesy of Val Pearl

Foot in mouth disease can plague even the best of us on occasion. I personally have been a victim of not knowing when to shut my mouth in the past; in fact, it used to be quite a problem for me. Along my journey toward becoming a better person, I wanted to learn how to stop myself from saying things I always end up regretting later.

I started out by focusing on when I was having the most problems with putting my foot in my mouth. It always seemed to be at the most inopportune times!  As it turns out, research shows that people actually do tend to let things slip when the pressure is on to behave well, and this has a scientific basis.

Known as one of the brain’s ‘ironic processes’, when we are specifically trying to keep unwanted thoughts from exploding out of our mouths, it becomes even harder to do so.  This is because the human brain is constantly working arduously to keep unwanted thoughts at bay, but when it becomes overloaded, such as in times of stress like an interview or first date, undersirable tidbits end up getting past the gates.

Much like wanting to ‘stop being nervous’ or get into a better mood on command, we’d all love to have complete control over our thoughts, and especially, when and when not to share them. How can we keep our feet out of our mouths when it matters most?

The answer seems to be related to creating effectual habits. Just like in many other areas of our lives, like exercise, eating, and being productive, making keeping mum habitual gets us the most regular and reliable results.  The key is how and when to train your brain to keep quiet.

Don’t begin the process while you’re immersed in a stressful situation, for one.  In order to teach yourself to babble less and say more of the right things, you’ll need to take a gentle, nurturing approach. Think of your brain as a very complex network, and it’s important that the whole thing’s not lit up when you start rewiring a few of the grids. Otherwise, you might end up shorting everything out, negating all of your efforts.

Try this: when you’re in low-pressure situations, practice keeping negative thoughts to yourself by forcing yourself to think about (but not speak about) the things you really don’t want to say.  You’ll have to do this regularly, because after all, improving your prowess at any skill won’t happen without practice.

Just like any desired behavior, the best way to control what you say is to make it an unconscious action. By familiarizing your gray matter with saying the right things instead of making innapropriate comments, your brain will eventually become more comfortable with minding its manners instead of making your most mortifying musings public knowledge.

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