We all talk to ourselves all day long. (Let’s use our inside voices, please.) If it’s a constant stream of negative can’ts, shoulds, and nevers It’s hurting your mood, performance, and success. If you can make those voices in your head work for you, that would be pretty sweet wouldn’t it?
Greg, this isn’t going to be one of those deals where you tell me to meditate to spa music, think positive thoughts and then I’ll ride a unicorn over a rainbow and end up at a pot of gold is it? Because I tried that once and ended up living in my mother-in-law’s basement eating Cheetos and playing Xbox all day. (Actually, I was fine with it, but my wife and kids weren’t thrilled.)
Good question. I like where your head’s at (except for that living in the basement part). This is not one of those deals. This isn’t “think positive and success will manifest.” This is one of those “use your self-talk to keep you motivated to do the behaviors you need to do to achieve the success you want” deals…
Your self-talk matters. Hey, there’s a reason cheerleaders don’t chant how much their team stinks. There’s a reason the home team with supportive fans often beats a superior club. Why not use that in our real lives?
Be Nice to Yourself
Do you ever say things to yourself you would never let anyone else say to you?
That was a really stupid thing to do.
You will never be good enough to get that job.
You’re not smart enough to start your own company.
Nobody would ever pay YOU to do that.
You’re such a failure.
Let’s work on making your self-talk work for you.
Rational Emotive Therapy
Psychologist Albert Ellis was the founder of something called Rational Emotive Therapy. He did a lot of work on how our thoughts determine our moods and behaviors. His contention was that it’s not what happens to us that determines how we feel and act. It’s how we think about what happens to us that determines how we feel and act. He saw it happening in an A-B-C pattern.
A – An Activating event in your life that triggers negative or positive thoughts. It could be something small like stepping in a mud puddle in your brand-new shoes or something big like the death of a parent.
B – The Beliefs or thoughts you think about the event.
C – The Consequences, feelings, and behaviors that come from your beliefs and thoughts.
It is not the activating event that determines your feelings and behaviors, it is your beliefs and thoughts about the activating event. Two people can experience very similar events but respond with totally different feelings and behaviors. The difference wasn’t the event, it was the way each of them chose to think about the event.
My wife, Anne, was getting dinner for my girls the other night at Chick-Fil-A. She was in a hurry and couldn’t believe the crowd. The line wrapped around the inside of the building. She was in a hurry, frustrated and almost left.
Then someone told her that it was a fundraiser night for a little boy with cancer. Anne saw the boy’s parents taking pictures of the crowd. She saw the boy’s friends and family so happy and appreciative of everyone who came out to give them support.
Suddenly, she wasn’t frustrated anymore. She didn’t mind the wait. She said a prayer for the boy and a prayer of thanks for the health of everyone in our family.
Nothing about the situation changed except how my wife thought about it.
Ellis pointed out that we often have thoughts that lead us to negative feelings and beliefs. If a boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with us we might think, “I’m unlovable. No one will ever want to marry me.” If we get fired we might think, “This is the worst thing that could ever happen to me. I’m going to lose my job and end up on welfare.” The thoughts may be irrational, but the more you tell yourself these things the truer they become for you.
However, if you can catch yourself thinking these irrational thoughts, stop them and change them to more positive thoughts, then those new thoughts become true for you. Replace the thinking in the above scenarios with new thinking.
“It’s good we broke up now. We weren’t a good match. Now I’m free to find my future husband.”
“I wasn’t planning on getting fired. There will be some things I have to work out. But I knew this wasn’t really the job for me. I’m going to focus on getting a job I’m passionate about and can excel at. This could actually be a good thing for me. Maybe I’ll even use this time to start my own business. I have savings that can keep me going until I find my new source of income. I’m going to be fine.”
Let’s go a bit deeper on this: Most of us think irrational thoughts and ask ourselves irrational questions every day. When something goes wrong in your life do you ask negative questions like, “Why does this always happen to me?” or, “Why do I always fail?” or my personal favorite, “How could I be so stupid?”
These questions won’t help you. They’re irrational and based on false premises. Honestly, does “this” always happen to you? Do you always fail? Are you truly stupid, or did you just do something you wish you wouldn’t have? Do only bad things happen to you everyday? Of course not.
1) When you notice you’re asking those types of negative, false questions, stop it. Yell, “Stop!” out loud. (Or in your head if you don’t want to take a forced van ride to a place where they make you take pills and play ping pong all day.) Scratch those records you keep playing in your head so you can’t hear them anymore.
2) Start asking positive questions like, How can I use this challenge for my good? or What can I learn from this experience and act on right now? How can I improve my outcome next time?
3) Practice changing how you view activating events in your life. Reframe them in the best way possible. Think positively about the best way to handle every situation that comes your way.
4) Put the Cheetos away! (Ok, I think that’s just my problem.)
Try this out in your life and see what happens. This doesn’t mean you will never feel sad, angry, or upset. It just means you will not overreact and put yourself into such a negative place that you can’t make rational decisions to move forward with your goals.
Question: Have you ever experienced a situation where your self-talk hurt you or helped you?
(I now offer one to one coaching and an online coaching program for various budgets. Click here for more details.)