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Cleaning Up the Inner River of Thought

Cleaning Up the Inner River of Thought

A review of Rabbi Zelig Pliskin's Conversations with Yourself: a practical guide for greater happiness, self-development and self-empowerment.


Three weeks ago I sat conversing with a New York psychologist with whom I've co-hosted a few radio shows. "Tell me, Doctor. What's the longest running, most influential, and most personal conversation we ever have in life?" She waited as I added, "And it's the conversation we're least prepared to manage." In an instant, I saw the light of revelation flicker in her eyes. "Of course," she exclaimed, "The conversation with yourself."

I admit to an insider's advantage in the dialogue with the good doctor. I had just read the manuscript of Rabbi Zelig Pliskin's latest book Conversations with Yourself (ArtScroll Mesorah Publications, Brooklyn NY, August 2007). The concepts I'd acquired in those 91 short, principle-laden chapters were weighing heavily on my mind. I've since asked this same question of a number of other people. But few connect the dots. The idea of a conversation with oneself still conjures up images of "madman muttering in the street -- film at 11."

But Rabbi Pliskin has accurately placed his finger on a seriously neglected dimension of personal development. Starting from the introduction, he sets out the core ideas that infuse his prescription for giving oneself a major mental overhaul.


  • We all talk to ourselves, but we're not generally aware that we talk to ourselves.
  • The quality of our life is moderated by the quality of our self-talk, but no one has taught us the art of self-talk quality control.
  • This book proposes a progressive set of principles which, if practiced, will produce a significant and positive change in patterns of thought, speech, and action.


Without a concerted effort it is likely that the old patterns will be repeated.

Rabbi Pliskin doesn't claim that the ideas in onversations with Yourself are novel or unknown to readers. He recognizes readers may say, "There's nothing really new here we don't already know." Rabbi Pliskin rejoins, "This is likely to be true. But without a concerted effort to create a more positive pattern, it is likely that the old patterns will be repeated."

Pattern breaking and pattern remaking is what Conversations with Yourself is really all about. With this goal in mind, Rabbi Pliskin guides the reader through a series of successive and corrective steps designed to transform unconscious, negative, and destructive self-talk into conscious, positive, and constructive self-talk.

Since so many people today are short of time, Rabbi Pliskin employs a comfortable template throughout most of the book. First, each chapter is refreshingly brief. Some can be read in less than three minutes; the longest one I read took five or six minutes. Second, using simple, conversational language, Rabbi Pliskin focuses on one core concept per chapter. Finally, he introduces the material presented in each chapter by clearly explaining the theory first, and then he concludes by citing examples drawn from the life experiences of others who have applied these principles.

While a determined reader can polish off all 361 pages in the time it takes to make a round-trip flight from JFK to LAX, this book is, in reality a prescription for life realignment. Therefore, it's best absorbed a chapter a day over a three month stretch.

Several of the chapters provide dynamic exercises geared to producing radical shifts in thought, speech, and behavior. Some of them provoke a smile, as in the idea proposed in Chapter 87 suggesting that we use our cellular phones to speak enthusiastically to ourselves during power walks. Others are rather blunt, such as Chapter 66, which addresses the kind of self-talk that can actually intensify anger, balancing it with the kind of self-talk that helps us let it all go. While the book primarily centers on enhancing one's own internal self-talk, Rabbi Pliskin also expands the circle of focus to include family and professional relationships, as well.

An uncertain freedom is often more overwhelming and more unnerving than a predictable bondage.

A student of human behavior for many years, Rabbi Pliskin recognizes that most readers close their minds to new ideas shortly after they close the book that just presented them. It's so easy to slide back into the same old inefficient, yet familiar patterns. People will exhibit great stubbornness in holding on to self-destructive patterns. This is not a modern phenomenon at all. We are all aware that more than once the Jews who had exited from Egypt expressed a curious yearning to return to slavery. Similarly, as case studies on criminal recidivism show, an uncertain freedom is often more overwhelming and more unnerving than a predictable bondage.

To counter the natural and repetitious compulsion to hold on to toxic self-talk, Rabbi Pliskin introduces each element of change gradually and encourages the reader to let the new behavior take root before moving on further. In the closing chapter he provides a long list of 421 statements he calls "self-talk replacement phrases." All are written in the present tense, as one of the major principles of the book is that all self-talk happens "in the moment." Many of the replacement phrases are stated imperatively, such as:


  • Learn from everybody.
  • Live one moment at a time.
  • Think great thoughts.
  • See the good.
  • Speak calmly to feel calm.


The list also includes a number of interrogative phrases that suppress reactive thinking and stimulate positive responses. Among them are:


  • How do I transform this into something positive?
  • What can be beneficial about this?
  • What do I want to think/say/do next?
  • What kindness can I do for someone?


As I completed the book, I found myself wanting a closing word in the form of an epilogue. But there isn't one -- just those 421 self-talk replacement phrases. It took a minute or two to recognize the genius implicit in the omission. There can never be a conclusion to such a book! Changing one's life is a lifetime pursuit. The great Jewish sages of wisdom, the masters of mussar (ethical conduct), have expounded on this understanding down through the centuries. Therefore, while one may finish reading Conversations with Yourself, there is no conclusion to the process it describes. The internal river of self-talk will continue to flow, unabated, within every one of us. The only question is: will that river of thought be toxic or a tonic?


Rabbi Zelig Pliskin is the author of 22 books with his specialty in mastering happiness and other positive inner resources. Click here to buy his new book, Conversations with Yourself: A practical guide to greater happiness, self- development, and self-empowerment


September 1, 2007

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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Anonymous, September 8, 2007 12:37 PM

Thats it

It seems to me that changes in one personality during therapy arises out of the conversations with oneself and the Dr acts as a moderator, Rabbi Pliskin hit the nail in the head, a Freud of our times
I love Rabbi Pliskin

(3) Lionel Ketchian, September 4, 2007 8:44 PM

Rabbi Pliskin's book helps us experience a richer, happier and peaceful life.

I recommend Rabbi Zelig Pliskin's new book, Conversations with Yourself: a practical guide for greater happiness, self-development and self-empowerment, to everyone. You will have better conversations with yourself after reading this wonderful and comprehensive book. You will find valuable and workable ideas from the very first chapter in the book because we all live in a world of your own thoughts.

Lately, one of the things that I have been doing is giving up judgments of others. I realize that judgements are really just anther form of critical self-talk. By limiting my mind to engage in any kind of judgment or criticism of the actions of others, I am freeing myself from the need to react to most things that people do.

This is not for the purpose of making others feel good or even being a good person myself. It is for my own benefit. Being less judgmental of others has led me to feel freer then I ever have. I seem to be releasing myself from my own judgments that were really more about me than they were about others.

These are my own valuable experiences after reading Rabbi Pliskin's incredible book: Conversations with Yourself. Regardless of what level of awareness you now have, you will gain so much from this new book. I have read many books in my life and have also read a number of books that have dealt with self talk, but this book includes so many valuable thoughts and exercises, that it is the best book of its kind.

This is a very important book for all of us. Our thoughts run our lives, and our self talk may not even be noticed by us. Rabbi Pliskin makes us aware of our thinking and gives us better thinking methods and many self talk programs that we can use to make our lives better immediately.

The biggest benefit I have derived from reading Rabbi Pliskin's incredible book: Conversations with Yourself. has been in developing a more non-judgmental attitude and the amazingly wonderful ways people have been responding to me. As I have been eliminating those criticizing and judging thoughts from my mind, it is as if people sense that I am not criticizing and judging them anymore, and they respond in a much more positive way to me than I would have normally expected.

The more power and control you have over your own mind the better your life will be! Conversations with Yourself has shown me how to become my own best friend. I am so grateful for all the work that Rabbi Pliskin has done and included in this book to make for us to experience a richer, happier and peaceful life.

Thank you!
Sharing Love, Peace and Happiness with you,
Lionel Ketchian
Founder of Happiness Club

(2) sarah shapiro, September 4, 2007 6:34 AM

Having read "Conversations With Yourself," I'm prompted by Ruth Housman's interesting comment to add the following:

All of life's eternal truths have been said before (including that one!) and "there's nothing new under the sun." The challenge most of us face isn't knowing what's right, good and beneficial but rather, getting ourselves to act accordingly.

Whenever I become aware of my ongoing internal chatter, I notice that much of it is pointless and mindlessly self-destructive. It seems to run along with a mind of its own, independently of my will. Since reading "Conversations With Yourself," however, I find myself more keenly attuned to that inane radio frequency, and increasingly able to lower the static, change channels, and tune in to thoughts of my own choosing. I can hear, if I wish, words of wisdom, encouragement and understanding, or think lovely thoughts (a la Peter Pan.)

"You live in the world of your thoughts" is an ancient idea -- one which is indeed fully recognized by many psychotherapists. That has no bearing on the fact that Rabbi Pliskin's unique style enables a reader to act on that truth.

(1) ruth housman, September 3, 2007 7:02 AM

it's going around!

Some things, perhaps, we can never hear too much about and certainly the power of our thoughts is one.
Cognitive therapy has addressed the very same subject for a long time and those of us who are psychotherapists know this but perhaps, many, do not, and accessing these truths through the rabbi and using these tools is certainly helpful. Surely we're all conversing with ourselves and that "inner voice" is, in large part, the determinant of our actions. There is truth to the words, "smile and the world smiles with you". If we act with compassion to ourselves and monitor dark and other thoughts, we have a kind of power that changes. The ideas are not new and they've been around a long time. but refreshers are always WELCOME.

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