What You Tell Yourself Matters

What You Tell Yourself Matters

Changing your mindset can take a lot of work, but it is possible. Today’s guest grew up thinking he would never be good at math, and went on to write two textbooks on the subject! It’s all about what you tell yourself and what you’re willing to do. Listen as Dr. H talks with Steven Campbell about how your brain is always paying attention.

To learn more about Steven Campbell’s virtual workshop go to StevenRCampbell.teachable.com. Use the code COVID49 to pay just $49 (regularly $297) for a limited time.

Making the Mind Magnificent by Steven Campbell

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Distraction is created by Sounds Great Media. Our producer is Sarah Guertin and our recording engineer/editor is Pat Keogh.

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A transcript of this episode can be found below.


Dr. Ned Hallowell:

This episode of Distraction is sponsored by OmegaBrite, formulated by OmegaBrite Wellness, creators of the number one Omega-3 supplements for the past 20 years. OmegaBrite CBD, safe, third-party tested, and it works. Shop online at OmegaBriteWellness.com.

Hello, and welcome to today’s episode of Distraction. I’m your host, Dr. Ned Hallowell. Last week, we released a mini-episode where I talked about little ways to make each day feel special. I hope you’ve been practicing your own ways of making each day feel special, as a way to counter some of the stress and anxiety that we’re all living through these days. My guest today is here to add a few ideas to that list. His name is Steven Campbell, and he has an MSIS, that was new to me, we looked it up, master of science in information systems, MSIS. And his resume includes professor, author, educational dean radio host, and professional speaker.

He conducts seminars around the world on the subject of changing what we say to ourselves about ourselves. Boy, that’s a big topic and he joins me today to help all of us thrive in this new normal. Thanks so much for joining me, Steven.

Steven Campbell:

Well, thank you so much for having me, Ned, I appreciate that this is going to be fun.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

So, just have at it. How can you help us talk to ourselves better about ourselves?

Steven Campbell:

Well, psychology has been doing some amazing things in the last 60 years. I really like to start with the ’60s because that’s where changes really began. That was really the beginning of cognitive psychology. And a little book came out back in 1961, called The Guide to Rational Living by Albert Ellis, he was one of the founders of cognitive psychology. In that book he suggested, because the research had not been done sufficiently as it is now, so what I’m going to be sharing with you has been researched for years all over the world, is that everything that we can do today is primarily based on what we say to ourself about ourself, today. Now, notice I’m emphasizing the word today, when he suggested this, in his little book, psychology had an absolute conniption fit, they said, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no.”

The way we are today is based in our childhood, and unresolved childhood conflicts, of course, that was Freudianism. That was followed by behaviorism, Dr. BF Skinner from Harvard, who said, “No, no, no. The way we are today, it’s all cause and effect.” That was followed by, “It’s all in your genes.” Which is wrong because we’re far more than our genes. That was followed by environmentalism, it’s in your environment, your birther, your mom, your dad. And Dr. Ellis came back and he said something really interesting, he said, “You know what? They’re all true.” Wait a minute. How could they all be true? Here’s the point, when you say it, your brain’s job is to make true.

So, I think one of the most exciting discoveries that psychology has made is that our brain believes what we tell it, without question, no arguments. So, when I give my presentations to people, I like to always give personal stories because that’s what makes it real. So, let me share a little story that illustrates this. For the first 42 years of my life, I said to myself, “I am really dumb at math.” And guess what? I was because that what I said to myself, I’d see numbers, I would freak out. But then in the ’70s I began discovering computers and I began tinkering around with computers and eventually got a graduate degree in computer science and began teaching computer courses. And one day the dean came in the office at this one university, he said, “One of our math professors just quit, so you are our new math professor.”

“No, I can’t.” He said, “Do you want a job? Learn. There’s the book. Next semester.” Well, I needed the job, Ned, so picked up all the books I could on brain-based learning from my library. And I taught my curriculum based on how the brain learns. And students began saying, “Oh my gosh, Mr. Campbell, you are such a good math teacher.” And then, the Dean said, “All the students saying, ‘I will only take math if Mr.Campbell’s my professor.'” And here’s what I began doing, Ned. I began listening to what they were saying to me rather than what I’ve been saying to myself for 42 years. And I began saying, “You know what? I’m really good at math. This is really fun. I’m having a good time with this.” And what did my brain say? “Oh, okay. Is it true? Don’t care. All I care is what you tell me. You say it. I believe it.”

And I began enjoying math so much I eventually ended up writing two college textbooks. In what do you think? Math and computer science. So, here’s the point, everything we can do today is primarily based on what we say to ourself about ourself, today. We can change what we are saying to ourself about ourself, when? Today. And what will our brain say? “Okay. Is it true Don’t care. All I care is what you tell me.” When I began learning that, things began changing in my life, in my wife’s life and then eventually in our daughter’s lives and in my students’ lives. So, the first point is that our brain believes what you tell it, which is scary and wonderful. The scary part is when you’d say, “Oh my gosh, I’m so dumb for doing this.” You know what our brain says to that?

“Okay. Yeah, you’re right. You really are.” And then what it does is it looks for other ways in which we did bad things and makes us feel dumb. But the wonderful part is when you say, “You know what, that was really dumb, but that doesn’t mean I’m dumb.” Brain says what? “Oh, okay.” And then it looks for ways in which I’m really intelligent. When I say, “I can do it.” The brain says, “Absolutely.” And it becomes obsessed with finding ways of doing it. So, the first principle is that we are in charge. Our brain’s listening to us. People say, “Well, what about what other people say to us?” Listen, what other people say to us do not become a part of our mindset until we agree with them.

I’m a first year Baby Boomer, born in 1947, I was taught that you have a self-image that you have to maintain and flourish and all that. It turns out that’s only partially true. It turns out that we now know that we have millions of self-images. You have a self-image for every single thing that you do. I have a self-image for every single thing that I do. So, I have a self-image of how I see myself as a father, as a husband, as a grandfather, as a teacher, as a singer, as all this. So, I have all these self-images. In fact, I have a self-image for every meal that I cook. So, I cook really good scrambled eggs and horrible poached eggs. What’s the point? Well, if I kept two self-images for just two meals that I cook, you can imagine how many self-images that you have. Some of them are really strong and others are not, but here’s the point. Those self-images are learned. You were not born with them.

Now, all of us were born with certain natural dispositions. I was born a natural teacher. I’ve always been a teacher. When I was a kid, I used to put rocks in my backyard to pretend that I was teaching them. I mean, I was a weird kid, but we all have these natural dispositions. I don’t know you too well, Ned, but you have these natural things that you just love doing. It’s just a natural thing. Now, you had to learn how to do it, but the learning wasn’t hard because it was what you were doing naturally. So, our self-images are learned. Now, here’s where it gets exciting. Our self-images are learned from our self-talk. Our self images are based on what we are saying to ourself about ourself, today. Now, why is that so scary? Because according to your Shad Helmstetter in his wonderful book, What We Say When We Talk to Ourself, most of what we say to ourself is negative.

Also, what we say to ourself, I call the negative crap, because our brain’s believing it. And here’s what’s scary, we keep saying it and our brain rewires itself, this is called neuroplasticity. There’s a wonderful book by Eric Kandel called In Search of Memory, which I highly recommend people read if they’re interested in this. Neuroplasticity is basically the fact that our brain rewires itself and it’s doing that right now. And so, when you give yourself messages like, “I’m really dumb.” The brain rewires itself and makes you dumb, but when you give yourself [inaudible 00:09:02] messages, the brain rewire itself, and those messages not only become a part of what you think, they become your mindset and then they become who you are.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Why do people say these negative things to themselves?

Steven Campbell:

It’s what we do. When people become aware of the negative stuff they’re telling themselves, they hold themselves back and they say, “Wait a minute. I don’t think so.” So, when I began saying to myself about the math stuff, “Wait a minute, I’m really smart in this.” The brain says, “Yes, you absolutely are.”

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Steven, Steven, come on, I have to just gently challenge a little bit here because nobody would want to be dumb at math. So, why would someone say, “I’m bad at math.”?

Steven Campbell:

I was bad at math is because of the way I was raised. It’s the way I thought about myself. I was raised in a family where I always just felt … I was raised feeling really, really dumb.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Okay. But if it were as simple as saying, “Oh, I’m really smart.” Then you on the spot become smart. I mean-

Steven Campbell:

Yes, it goes more than that.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Okay. Or to say, “Oh, I’m good at math.” Then we could just fire all the tutors and the special educators and just have a course in saying, “I’m good at math.” And suddenly everyone would be good at math.

Steven Campbell:

Yeah. As you noticed, it’s not that easy, but to start-

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Well, see, that’s what I’m saying. You make it sound as if it is. I mean, our brain believes what we say to ourselves, all we have to do is change what we say to ourselves and suddenly it’ll change?

Steven Campbell:

That’s where it starts. It starts with changing what we’re saying to ourself about ourself. Is it easy? Of course not.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Well, so that’s what I’m getting at. What makes it hard?

Steven Campbell:

Let me talk a little bit about self-image, a little bit more, I think that will answer your question. Our self-images are learned, which means they’re hardwired into our brain. They’re really, really hard to change because you’ve been saying these things to your life, some of these negative things all your life, and they’re hardwired in there.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

But Steven, you just said a little while ago, your brain believes what you tell it. Well, if that’s true, then why can’t you just tell it, “I’m good at math.” And on the spot become good at math.

Steven Campbell:

You can, but it’s going to fight you tooth and nail in the beginning.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

So, it doesn’t believe what you tell it, in other words?

Steven Campbell:

It does believe. But when I began teaching the math, I discovered that it was really fun. If I just said, “I’m good at math.” And stopped there, this never would have happened.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Okay. So, you had to do something, Steven, you had to do something to prove to yourself that you were good at math? It wasn’t enough just to say, “I’m good at math.”

Steven Campbell:

Oh, no. No.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Okay. So, that’s a far cry from what you said at first, at first you said, “Brain believes whatever you tell it.” But then as you tell your story, no, you had to prove to yourself you were good at math and then your brain believed it.

Steven Campbell:

Yes. Absolutely. But it had to start with a change of what I was saying to myself. If I had said to that professor, “I’m just dumb in math, I can’t do it.” It would have stopped there. I said, “No, I’ve got to teach this class.” And then, I began looking at how the brain thought and I began teaching the class. And that’s when I said, “This is really fun. I can do this.” And the more I did it, the more the math became easier and easier, and really fun, but it starts with what I was saying to myself. And then, when I began teaching it and my brain rewired itself, it became easier and easier.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

But I’m sorry, again, but I just have to push back a little bit. It didn’t start with what you were saying to yourself. It started by you’re accepting a challenge out of necessity because you needed the job.

Steven Campbell:

Yes.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Okay. So, you were still saying to yourself, “Holy bleep, I’m bad at math, but I got to get good at math. And how am I going to do that?” And then you set about accepting the challenge and lo and behold, you were much better than you had thought. So, you proved to yourself that, in fact, you had talent that you didn’t know you had.

Steven Campbell:

That’s right. That’s right. But it started with the decision to accept that challenge. I could have said, “I just can’t do it. I just cannot do it, and you got to get someone else.” Or it says, “You know what? I’ve got to do this and I’m going to.”

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Yeah. So, you have grit. You have the ability to dig in, even when you think you’re at a disadvantage.

Steven Campbell:

That’s right. But it began with that decision, “I’m going to do this, I’m doing this.” And then when I began doing it, I discovered it was really easy and really fun. Does that make sense?

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Yeah, it does, but I’m glad to get it clarified. So, you’re not saying it’s as easy as saying,” Oh, I’m good at math.” And then, suddenly your brain will believe that?

Steven Campbell:

No, because I had been saying that stuff to myself for 42 years. It was when I began teaching it and I began seeing the responses from the students that I began saying, “Wait a minute, this isn’t bad at all. I’m having a really good time with this.” And then, when I began realizing I could write a book on this, it all validated it. But in the beginning it was hard and I had to make that decision, “All right, I’m really stupid in math, but I need this job, so I’m going to accept the challenge.” And at first it was difficult, but it became easier and easier.

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Dr. Ned Hallowell:

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[SPONSOR BREAK END]

Steven Campbell:

I guess, that’s the point that I’m trying to make here. That it starts with, oftentimes, a decision that I can do it. Does that make sense?

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Of course. I guess, the obvious question is why doesn’t everyone decide, “I can do it.”?

Steven Campbell:

Well, that’s a really good question and I don’t have the complete answer to that.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

It’s just it’s such an interesting question. I mean, when I was in the 12th grade, I wrote a three-page short story in September and I handed it in and my teacher handed it back with a note at the bottom that said, “Why don’t you turn this into a novel?”

Steven Campbell:

Oh my gosh.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

And I said, “I knew this was a tough school, but I didn’t know I had to write a novel.” Well, I didn’t have to. And I was the only one, I was the only student he challenged to do that. And he said, “You know it’ll have to be on your time and you won’t get any credit for it, but I think you ought to try and do it.” And for some reason, I took up the challenge. And by the end of the year, I’d written a novel and it won the English prize and it changed my life forever because what it did was it got me to prove to myself that I could do something that I would have thought was impossible. If you told me at the beginning of the year, “You’ll write a novel.” I would have said, “Yeah, sure, and I’ll fly to the moon.”

But, the genius of this teacher was laying down that challenge in such a way that I accepted it. And to me, that’s what great teaching is. It’s getting people to prove to themselves they can do more than they thought they could do. But it was where that impulse comes from to say yes to the challenge, as opposed to say no. Well, in your case, you say it came from necessity. You had to have the job. In my case, I don’t know where it came from because I certainly didn’t believe I could do it. I suppose it was the triumph of hope over experience.

Steven Campbell:

That story just illustrates everything I’ve been saying. It started with the suggestion from your teacher and you had to decide, “I’m going to write this novel.” And your brain said, “Yes, you can.” And more you wrote it, I bet the more you enjoyed it because you were saying to yourself, “You know what? This is working.”

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

No, it was always difficult. Writing is difficult. I can’t say it became easy, but it became magnetic. I looked forward to doing it, I suppose, in the way someone looks forward to going to the weight room or something. I looked forward to the pain because it was in the service of trying to create something good. Yeah.

Steven Campbell:

And what happened is your brain was rewiring itself and it became a writer. You became a writer. Yeah. And that’s what’s wonderful about this. So, here’s what I tell my audiences at the end of every presentation I make, I want to give you two new ways of thinking. One, when you do something really well, one, when you do something really badly and the first one is from Stanford University, back in 1975 called the Effort Effect. What they discovered is that most of us pass over our successes way too quickly, too lightly, for them to ever become a part of who we are. So, oftentimes when people say to us, “Good job, I’m so proud of you.” Oftentimes many of us, not all of us, but many of us say, “Oh, not really. Oh, that’s embarrassing. That’s egotistical. Thank you very much. I could have done a better job. I was part of a team.”

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Yes. It’s so true.

Steven Campbell:

“Well, no, no, not really.” Well, this comes back to the brain believes what you tell it. When you say, “No, no, no, really, not really.” The brain’s believing that, the brain says, “Yeah, you’re right, you’re right, you’re right, you’re right, you’re right.” So, what I tell people is this, “When people stop to say, ‘Good job.’ you look at them and you say, ‘Thank you for telling me that.'” And then you wallow in your success like a pig in slop. I love the work of Dr. E.P. Seligman out of University of Pennsylvania, who was one of the authors of Positive Psychology. I taught this to around 300 Kaiser physicians, a number of years ago, down in Los Angeles. And when I said, “Wallow in your success.” The whole audience just broke up and laughed at the thought of that, but they loved what I was saying. They just loved it.

And when I was driving back to LAX, I was so excited I almost drove off the freeway. And so, I stopped by a Chevron, got a tuna sandwich and a Coke, and looked at myself in there. I was alone in my little rental car. I said to myself, I said, “You are the most amazing speaker.”

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

So, in some ways, you’re repositioning Norman Vincent Peale.

Steven Campbell:

Yes.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

It’s the power of positive thinking.

Steven Campbell:

That’s right.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

What you’re saying is absolutely true. It’s just, I think the hard part for most people, the brain is a tough sell. I disagree with you-

Steven Campbell:

Yes, it is.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

… that your brain believes what you tell it. You have to really persist in telling it, but if you do, it’s a really worthwhile effort because you can change from being someone who completely doubts everything you do, to someone who has confidence.

Steven Campbell:

Absolutely. I have a wonderful virtual workshop that I’m doing, that I’m offering at a tremendous discount. It’s normally $297, I’m offering it for a $248 discount. It’s what I call my COVID discount. And it is nine separate presentations, including a workbook that you can watch anytime you want to. And the website address is stevenrcampbell.teachable.com.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

So, stevenrcapmbell.teachable.com.

Steven Campbell:

Yes. And go on there and write the discount code COVID49 and that will give you a $248 discount. So, the end price is $49.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

And what is in the workshop?

Steven Campbell:

Workshop is basically the contents of my book. And it’s nine sessions that covers everything from self-images to goals, to affirmations, to why affirmations do not work, to affirmations why they can work and then it gets into feelings. So, it goes into all of it and people have really enjoyed it. And then, my book, Making Your Mind Magnificent, is on Amazon.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Wonderful. Well, you’re a very wonderfully accomplished and wise man. I really appreciate your joining us. So, thank you so much to Steven Campbell for joining us and to learn more about his virtual workshop, Flourishing in These Unprecedented Times, go to stevenrcampbell.teachable.com, enter the code COVID49, or get his book, Making Your Mind Magnificent. And remember, please, to reach out to us. We love hearing from you. Send a voice memo or an email to [email protected] That’s [email protected].

Distraction is created by Sounds Great Media. Our producer is the wonderful Sarah Guertin and our recording engineer and editor is the irrepressibly delightful and brilliant Pat Keogh. This is Dr. Ned Hallowell saying goodbye for today.

The episode of Distraction you just heard was sponsored by OmegaBrite CBD formulated by OmegaBrite Wellness, creators of the number one Omega-3 supplements for the past 20 years. OmegaBrite CBD, safe, third-party tested, and it works. Shop online at omegabritewellness.com.

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