BioProgramming – Self Programming – Verbal Tics

Friday, March 20th, 2009 at 8:00 am.
by pre.

The most powerful brain-programming system that we humans know of, is human language. Human language has evolved pretty much for the purposes of programming human minds. The evolutionary advantages to being able to instruct your kith and kin on the lessons you have learned, literally program your experience into their heads, is the force that has created human civilisation out of free ranging savannah apes.

We will devote a whole month to Language in a year or so during the next lap around the spiral, but for now we just want to talk about a single aspect of language which humans often use to unwittingly program their own minds, and how we can take more conscious control of it.

Verbal Tics

Verbal Tics are catch phrases, manners of speaking, clichés, idioms or stop-gap-phrases. Mostly uttered without much in the way of thought. You hear a lot of them in business meetings. “At the end of the day…” they say, or “…learn to think outside the box…,” or “…pushes the envelope…”. It’s not just business talk though. The kids do it saying “What-eva” or “Talk to the hand” or “yeah, but no” and they pick half of ’em up of the television.

Politicians have their own set of verbal tics, often simple methods for avoiding the question or answering a different one. “What you have to understand is…”, or “All I’m saying is…” or “Look, what you have to consider is…”

Verbal tics tend to seep into your manner of speaking. They pretty much are your manner of speaking. They help hang your sentences together. The Transcendence Institute’s articles are full of them. Doubtless some unnoticed, irrelevant and incidental. But also some deliberate, either to encourage the author’s ways of thinking or push the reader’s consciousness in a positive direction.

Your conversation, even your unspoken thoughts are littered with these verbal tics. As a result these tics go through your mind, conscious and unconscious, hundreds of times a day. As you have already learned, thoughts often repeated are more often recalled. The associations behind and backing up those verbal tics will, like anything repeated often enough, sink in.

The fact that these verbal tics are coming out of your own mouth so often gives them more credibility yet. People have a tendency to bend their own beliefs to reflect what they find themselves saying.

All of which means that these verbal tics affect your behaviour, they affect your mood, they affect your self awareness, your opinion of yourself and in turn your confidence. The things that you hear repeated, or repeatedly implied, by your own verbal tics will change your very being, they’ll program your mind.

The factors which tend to influence whether or not you pick up a particular idiom, phrase, turn of speech, are not generally “Is it good for you to tell yourself this over and over again?” they’re rarely even “Is this statement true?” Usually they’ll be something more akin to “does it sound pithy?” or “will it help me fit in?” or even “does it rhyme?”.

These verbal tics are a classic example of what Dawkins called a meme. A unit of cultural transition. The ones that get used, the ones that get copied and spread far and wide aren’t necessarily those that will help the person doing that spreading. The ideas, the idioms and verbal tics, which become wide-spread are instead those that spread well. Which means your mind can be doing things against it’s own best interests.

Take the phrase “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.” A fairly innocuous thing to say, one would think. Yet how many abuses has that phrase justified? How many unthinking crimes committed under it’s influence? How many people have been hurt thanks to that shallow thoughtless cached thought?

A more personal one, which you can see in your daily life everywhere if you start to look, is the phrase “I’m not very good at {X}”, where {X} is some skill, craft or process someone is unpractised at. You even see kids mirroring their parents use of the idiom. Young children who already know that they’re “not good” at something which nobody is good at without years of practice. A phrase which neatly stops the person who utters it from having to learn to be good at {X}, while condemning them to fulfil their own prophecy.

You may wonder then if there is any such thing as a good verbal tic, a habit of speaking which can improve and uplift rather than suppress and condemn?

All verbal tics, unthinking idioms, are lazy thoughtless short-cuts. What Eliezer Yudkowsky calls a cached thought. Cached thoughts are patterns in thinking which are copied and re-used rather than painstakingly thought through. Yudkowsky suggests that they’re mostly picked up from others, and used without ever really thinking them through, and this is true of most verbal tics. They’re passed on not because they’re true, but because they’re good at passing on. At popping up in human minds.

In general, it’s better (if impossible) to avoid verbal tics. To think through every thought, every sentence, to craft it to say exactly what you mean rather than trying to mean what’s easy to say.

However, there are some verbal habits which may, on balance, be better than their more destructive counterparts. So given that you’re unlikely to eliminate verbal tics from your thinking completely, it may be better to replace some more harmful ones with less harmful ones.

For instance, the “I’m not good at {X}” idiom is fairly easily countered with the simple addition of the word “yet”. Suddenly rather than implying that {X} is an impossible talent you were born without and can never acquire, it’s a skill which you are deliberately and actively improving. How much could that subtle encouragement turn resigned frustration into useful actual practice?

When used in the right context verbal tics, learned responses, can be constructive. If, for example, you find that you tend to plan too much, worry about the future, or that you spend too much time day dreaming about the past, it can be useful to set up a verbal tic to remind you to live in the moment. Just adding that phrase “live in the moment” to your oft-used vocabulary will mean you hear it more, believe it more, train yourself to actually DO it more.

Indeed, if you’ve been following along with our guided meditations you’ll already have some keys, some words or images, which you’ve been deliberately associating with states of mind. You’ll know that using that word will push you towards that state of mind. Just saying “Moment” to yourself when you’re failing to pay attention to the world around you will prompt you to do so.

Verbal tics are, of course, just a special case of tics in behaviour in general. The best way to illustrate this is through an example which is partly verbal, partly behavioural. The resigned post-fix phrase “but what can you do? {shurg}” is often appended to a sentence. Implying, through that shrug, that there is in fact nothing anyone can do about whatever the horrible facts the phrase was post-fixed to may be. That shrug of feigned resignation soon turns, through hundreds of repetitions, into an actual learned resignation.

Thus, your posture in general, not just when feigned in conversation, can affect your thoughts too. Postural tics are perhaps as potentially damaging, or helpful, as verbal tics. The way you stand builds your brain.

Using Verbal Tics

Your verbal tics program your mind, yet your verbal tics are the result of your mind. You can make a conscious decision to change the way you speak. To drop some unhelpful tics and pick up other, more useful, idioms. As usual, you do this by applying your attention and focus to it. By noticing your turns of phrase and by deciding to eliminate them if they’re unhelpful.

Don’t think it simple

The Transcendence Institute once heard tell of a guy who would rant about verbal tics, and had decided that saying “No Problem” implied that there were problems in life. But he didn’t believe in problems. Problems should be looked on as “challenges”, he thought. So he was encouraging people to say “No Challenge” instead of “No Problem” when agreeing to a request. In fact problems are as easily overcome as challenges. They are more or less the same thing. In any case saying “That isn’t a problem” is saying that this request is easy, surely a good verbal tic! Simply using a single word doesn’t make a verbal tic negative or positive. He should have gotten used to the idea that he can do things without it being problematic OR challenging.

Our meditation this week will encourage you to pay attention to your manner of speaking, your idioms, stock phrases and verbal tics. You’ll use recall, cue-setting setting systems and suggestions that you will notice those verbal tics as they happen. You’ll be helped to consider the tics you discover, to decide if they are helpful or unhelpful, and to encourage or eliminate them appropriately.