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.