Talk (Kindly) To Me

Do you talk to yourself? Of course you do. But what are you saying? Of all the ways you communicate with people, how are you talking to yourself? For most of us, far too often, the words we say to ourselves are self-criticism. We would never think or say these things to anyone else, but we are fair targets for all our negative thoughts.

We are our worst critic, and we tend to believe every negative we say about ourselves. This barrage is a subtext for our day. Rarely are we conscious of how constantly we put ourselves down. In over emphasizing our weakness, we detract from our leadership.  It fuels our resistance to step out of our comfort zone. How can you move forward when you see so many places where you are inadequate?

This negative self-talk is often the basis for the Imposter Syndrome which convinces even successful people that they are not good enough for a particular task or opportunity. While you may not experience the worst examples of the syndrome, you are likely to find many of its typical thoughts are part of your self-talk.

Art Petty says Success as a Leader Demands Positive Self-Talk and explains what needs to be done. According to his post, we have about 6,000 thoughts a day. As the Pareto Principle anticipates, 80% of these thoughts are negative. That means we have nearly 50,000 self-criticizing thoughts every day. That’s a heavy load for anyone to carry. Petty proposes a 5-step process for “Active Reset:”

  1. Stop and acknowledge: You can’t change anything until you recognize its presence. The number of times you stop may come as a surprise, and you are likely to miss many. But, as James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Take the time to notice what you’ve been saying to yourself.
  2. Question: Now ask yourself, “Why am I thinking this way?” There’s usually a trigger that started the negative spiral. is that true? Chances are fear is the underlying factor. Was it fear of failure? Fear of the unknown? Maybe it’s fear of success – success can bring challenges that will take us out of our comfort zone, and that’s another fear. Once you’ve asked that, ask yourself, “What evidence to I have that supports the negative?” There’s probably not as much as you think – and there may be none.   
  3. Reframe:  Now that you have recognized the underlying cause, you can look at the situation more logically.  Have you succeeded at this or something similar in the past?  Is this related to another person? Petty suggests asking, “How can I reposition this situation and look for the opportunity?” It’s an empowering question.
  4. Act: Action is a positive response to negative self-talk. Having reframed the situation, you can do something about it. The action and result will become part of your toolbox – and stretch your comfort zone. When the issue arises again, it will less likely cause the negative self-talk, and you will take action more quickly.
  5. Reflect: Pause and consider what you have learned. Recognize the exercise as an opportunity for growth. Not only will you be more willing to analyze and change your negative thoughts, but it can help you be more empathetic with colleagues and students when their own negative self-talk is a barrier to their success.

Work on positive self-talk to balance the negatives. Cheer and celebrate your successes. Recognize your negative self-talk for what it is – a thought that can be changed. Leaders don’t only have positive self-talk, but they know how to deal with it. Once you hear your thoughts, you’ll hopefully be willing to be kinder to yourself.

Practice Positivity

Has anyone else had a moment (or two or three) of wanting to smack the next person who says, “We need to stay positive.”? I’m sure I’m not alone in being frustrated with the phrase, but I also know that it can not only be an important part of leadership, but can be a way to help ourselves and others.  

What is positivity?  Healthy Place cites the Oxford English Dictionary definition as “The practice of being or tendency to be positive or optimistic in attitude.” It’s not what you are born with, although some people are naturally optimistic. Calling it a practice means it is something you can learn.  Somehow, we need to find a path and make choices that give us the strength to push through with an encouraging attitude.  After all, we are leaders and therefore people look to us to lead the way. 

Leaders project confidence.  That is the first step toward positivity. We have seen a number of leaders during the pandemic do this.  They don’t pretend all is well.  They acknowledge problems exist but also highlight what can be done and how there is a way forward. This positivity on their part inspires confidence in others. Suddenly all is not bleak.  It’s not perfect, but we will get through it.

To do the same for the people you lead, reflect on what techniques you used to build your confidence. Recall previous successes. Remind yourself of your areas of expertise, your skill sets, and the leadership qualities you have.  Add anything that helps you.  Putting on makeup and dressing nicely is something I do decades after retiring. It gives my confidence a boost, which helps with whatever I have to do.

In his Edutopia article How to Lead with Positivity Matthew X. Joseph notes, “Positive leadership is not a topic of conversation just because of Covid-19, but the drastic shifts we’re all facing due to the pandemic are reminders of just how important positive leadership strategies are. Shifting from the difficult and challenging to the positive and inspiring brings out the best in ourselves and others, and that’s how things move forward. He goes on to write. “… positive leadership makes a difference in productivity, satisfaction, and happiness at work. Leading with positivity also helps to build trust among colleagues, and it becomes safer to open up to change.” Practicing positivity will not only help us through this difficult time, but it sets us up for future success. We need to come out from this pandemic stronger than before, not only with a seat at the table, but at the head of the table (or close to the one who is). 

There are several “why’s” behind the importance of practicing positivity. Keeping them in mind gives you additional motivation to continue. The optimism in positivity is contagious.  You lift people up, and they lift up others. Another benefit is knowing when you are optimistic, your resilience increases. (See my November 30th blog.)

Joseph also notes that optimism promotes problem-solving for individuals and groups.  In the word of the old truism, “If you think you can, or you think you cannot, you are right.”  By bringing your positivity to the various teams you work on, you improve their attitude and their ability to solve problems.  This in turn makes you a valued member of the team.

As an additional contributor to an upbeat mood, remember to celebrate all wins, big and small, personal and professional.  We need all the celebrations we can get. Celebrations make people smile, and we definitely need more smiles.  Even when we are masked, the eyes are smiling, and the happiness is there.  Celebrations increase optimism, which increases problem-solving resulting in more celebrations.

Be confident and courageous. Your teachers, students, and administrators need what you bring. You have done it before.   You are a leader who is becoming a bigger leader.  And the positivity you bring and encourage today will lead to even greater benefits as we head into the future.