Last week I had the pleasure of spending a little bit of time with a lot of wonderful women. As a part of the Rising Leaders leadership intensive we teach for WICT (Women in Cable Telecommunications) twice a year, I conduct 30-minute “mini” coaching sessions with 50+ women, all of whom are high-potential midlevel cable executives.
In more than half of these individual sessions, we end up focusing on self-talk – that little voice that runs in your head non-stop. I’ve discovered, over the years, that many (perhaps most) of the problems we run into in our lives have something to do with how we talk to ourselves about situations. Learning to manage your own self-talk is one of the most useful tools you can have in your self-development toolbox.
Let me give you a poignant and powerful real-life example. Three of the women I spoke with – very bright, accomplished women – were convinced that they were doing badly at work, that no one was supporting them, and that they were sure to fail.
For all three, the facts contradicted their fears: all had been recently promoted; had been nominated and sent to the program by their boss and HR (a big investment for their company); had gotten great performance reviews; and had scored well on the interpersonal and leadership assessments we provide as part of the class.
So, what was the deal?
All three women had awful self-talk. That voice in their head was using them as a chew toy. “You’re doing a terrible job” that voice was saying, or “No one wants you on the team,” or “There’s no way you can succeed.” And, because they were largely unaware of what they were saying to themselves, it was affecting them on a daily basis like pollution leaking into a water system..invisible and deadly.
We taught these women our model for bringing your self-talk to your conscious awareness and revising it. It’s dramatically powerful: whenever you feel hopeless, helpless, defeated, incompetent, or overwhelmed, managing your self-talk about the situation you’re in is almost sure to help. Here’s how it works:
- Recognize: The first step in managing your self-talk is to “hear” it. Unless you’re aware of this internal monologue, it’s impossible to change it. Start by simply recognizing what you’re saying to yourself. For instance, let’s say you’ve just gotten a promotion. Rather than being thrilled, you realize you’re feeling anxious and overwhelmed. When you focus on your thoughts about the promotion, you might hear something like, “There’s no way I’m qualified for this – it will be a disaster.” As soon as you “hear” what you’re saying to yourself, that sense of hopelessness or overwhelm makes sense – you’re believing that negative voice in your head.
- Record: Writing down your self-talk creates a useful separation; when you see it written down, it feels less like an intrinsic part of you. If you write down that self-talk statement, above: “There’s no way I’m qualified for this – it will be a disaster,” you’ll be better able to look objectively at how this negative self-talk affects you: perhaps making you more likely to abandon the project, or to feel cynical or hopeless about the possibility of accomplishing it.
- Revise: After you’ve recorded any inaccurate, unhelpful self-talk, you can decide how to “rethink” it. This step is the core of the process. Your goal is to create alternative self-talk that you’ll believe and that will lead to a more useful response. For instance, if you try to substitute self-talk that’s falsely positive, like, “This will be a piece of cake,” you simply won’t believe it, and therefore it will have no impact on you: you’ll just revert back to your original negative self-talk. What could you say to yourself instead, that’s believable and that would create a more useful response? How about something like: “I know this will be a challenge. But I’m good at learning new things, and I’m really motivated.”
- Repeat: Like any habit, managing your self-talk requires repetition. Substituting more hopeful and accurate self-talk for your negative self-talk will be helpful the very first time you do it. And you’ll need to consciously do it again the next time the voice in your head comes up with a similarly unhelpful statement. And again. This is a process for creating new habits of thought. Whenever you find yourself falling into a pattern of unhelpful self-talk – either overly negative or overly positive – consciously substitute your revised, more realistic and accurate self-talk.
So that’s it. Until you try it, you may not see see how powerfully helpful it can be. Think of it this way: imagine if you had a ‘friend’ who was saying the kinds of unsupportive, unhelpful, negative things you sometimes say to yourself, would you just nod and accept it? I hope not. By learning to manage your self-talk, you can make sure you’re not getting in the way of your own success and happiness.
I notice that every year I write something about the coming of spring. Whether it’s in an Insider List (two years ago), at erikaandersen.com (last year) or Forbes (this week). At the same time, I notice I don’t write about the onset of other seasons.
It’s probably partly because the other seasons don’t have such specific indicators: so much of nature goes through enormous and obvious state changes in the space of a few weeks in the springtime. (After all, how do you know when winter is really starting – because it’s slightly colder than late fall?) But I also think it’s because I’m so attracted to all that spring represents.
Spring is the essence of all those great “re” words – renewal, rebirth, rejuvenation, renaissance, resilience, regeneration, restoration, recharging.
Spring is undeniable proof of the relentlessness of life. The transformation of naked gray branches and piles of rotted leaves into leafy bowers and carpets of wildflowers never fails to enchant me. It’s beautiful, but it’s also massively powerful. It reminds me of the strong biological imperative driving the whole world toward growing and thriving.
We have that in us, too – and it’s good to remember. Sometimes the forces driving in the opposite direction in our lives seem overwhelming; we all have days when it feels as though our personal winter will not end, when there’s no clear sightline to our “hoped-for future.”
But the human spirit – like spring – has a way of overcoming obstacles and bursting onto the scene. The best way I know to support my own inborn will to growth and evolution is to use my human powers of envisioning to remind myself of the future I hope to create, and then to manage my self-talk to support that intention.
To support you in your quest for your own personal “re,” here are a few articles I’ve written recently that I hope will provide both hope and practical guidance:
– Inviting inspiration
– 3 Simple Steps to Get Where You Want to Go
– How to Make It Through Personal Difficulty at Work
– If Something Happens All the Time, It Can Still Be A Miracle
Till next time,
Last week my “co-mom” Becky Fall put this marvelous video on her facebook page. [BTW, Becky is my daughter Rachel’s mother-in-law, and when Rachel and Becky’s son Will got married 5 years ago, we realized there was no word (at least in English) for our relationship to each other, so we coined one: “co-mom.”]
I found it hugely inspiring; I fully intend – barring illness or death – to be as active, loving and full of interest and joy in my nineties as Ms. Porchon-Lynch. It’s wonderful to see it in action; it makes my intention seem more grounded in reality, more achievable.
And it made me realize how helpful it is, when you’re trying to do something that defies common wisdom, to know that others have done it. It’s much easier for us to break through to a new possibility if we have even a single example of it being possible.
A few weeks ago I was talking to my son-in-law to be (my other daughter’s fiance) about this – he was saying that he felt most people were stuck in old ways of living and thinking, and that even if there were a few innovators here and there, it didn’t really matter. I disagreed, saying that I see each of those “few innovators” as having a huge ripple effect of positive influence on society. I gave him the example of Roger Bannister, the first man to run a sub-four-minute mile. Before Bannister’s achievement, in 1954, it was widely believed that running a mile in less than 4 minutes was physiologically impossible. The record for the fastest running of the mile had been stuck at just over 4 minutes for 9 years.
Once Bannister broke that record (on May 6, 1954, running a mile in 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds), it was only 46 days till someone else broke that record – the psychological barrier was down.
So if you want to do something that most people think is unlikely, or even impossible – be vital and active in your 90s; become a great leader if you’re not a “born” leader; start a successful business without much (or any) business experience…find all the examples you can of others who are actually doing it.
And break through.
We’ve discovered something truly amazing, here at Proteus. It turns out that every time someone has attended a Proteus training over the past 23 years, a reclusive multi-billionaire in Kuwait has deposited $10,000 US in a secret Proteus account in Switzerland – he said he likes what we’re doing. Today he sent us the account numbers and turned everything over to us. It also turns out that he set it up in such a way that the money is tax-free. Jeff and I are in the process of figuring out how to divide up the $250,000,000 currently in the account so that everyone at Proteus gets something…but it looks as though Jeff is going to buy a vineyard and retire to France, and I’m going to donate all my time helping Obama figure out how to fix the government.
Oh, also…April Fools.
No one seems to know the origins of April Fools Day, though there are lots of theories. But however it arose, I’ve always loved the idea that there’s one a day a year specifically dedicated to goofiness – playing silly pranks and trying to convince each other of outlandish things. (Google released a video today claiming that YouTube is going to be shut down tomorrow, after they choose “the best video in the world” from all the videos submitted to YouTube over the past eight years.)
I think the thing that appeals to me most about April Fools Day is the element of play. This weekend our grand-daughter Hannah stayed overnight with us while her parents went to a party and then had a night to themselves, and for the whole time she was with us, when she wasn’t sleeping, she was playing: inventing, imagining, creating, discussing, fooling, exploring, experimenting. It’s how she’s figuring out life on the planet.
And I often think that the main problem with most of us adults is a dearth of playtime. If we were to re-introduce the feeling and idea of play into our work and our relationships on a regular basis, I believe wonderful things would ensue. More laughter, more discovery, more trust and affection. Less needing to be correct and serious, more willingness to make mistakes and find out new things.
In short – more innovation and fun; less rigidity and obligation.
Here’s to foolishness!
Till next time,