Chances are good you’ve heard trash talk from an opponent at some point, whether it’s on a sports field, during a negotiation, a Board meeting or in a classroom. (The best ones growing up in South Carolina typically involved a “your momma is so ugly” introduction to a burning personal insult.) However, no matter what someone else says to undermine your confidence or competitive position, the most damage is typically done by the way you talk to yourself. Here are five ways to help stop negative self-talk and embrace a more positive internal dialogue:
1. Decide to shift tactics. Negative reinforcement may have worked for you in the past. Perhaps a coach shouting that your team sucked caused you to push harder and win a big game or you had a breakthrough at work when determined to prove a supervisor’s criticisms were wrong. However, adopting negative self-talk as an on-going strategy can hurt you on a long-term basis. In this “Self-Talk and Sports Performance” article, authors Judy L. Van Raalte and Andrew Vincent found that both instructional and motivational self-talk have been shown to enhance performance. Negative self-talk increases motivation and performance in some circumstances but is generally detrimental to sport performance. The same is true in your career. Making a conscious decision to change this behavior is the first step.
2. Practice acknowledgement. Unfortunately, trying to ignore negative self-talk can be ineffective. Rather than stick your fingers in your ears and chant “I can’t hear you,” pause and listen intently to what your inner saboteur, that internal critic who has been chanting puts downs and worst-case scenarios, has to say. Often those comments originally stemmed from a desire to protect yourself from being hurt and along the way it got twisted into a negativity fest. I do this via a journal entry. After noting what the inner saboteur is trying to express, I thank that voice for any original positive intent or benefit that might have been gained from her protection in the past. Then I explain how I’ve outgrown those beliefs and why it is time to behave differently now.
3. Change the conversation. Sometimes, we all have a bad day. That’s when the inner saboteur thinks she can climb back over the border and re-establish residency. The key is to recognize when her whispers start in the form of negative self-talk and shut it down immediately. When you hear the inner criticism start, change it to praise. Look for what makes you awesome and give yourself examples to serve as evidence. Change a “you’re never going to wear that dress size again” to “look at that kick-ass muscle tone in your arms, who cares about a number on a label.”
4. Treat yourself like a friend. Think about how you talk to your BFF’s. When they come to you with a great opportunity or a challenge that scares the heck out of them, how do you respond? I’m guessing with support, pointing out their previous successes, coaching them on how to handle obstacles and providing reassurance about why they’ve got a handle on the situation. Take a step back now and do that for yourself. Reinforce the good rather than focusing on the possibilities of being less than or a failure.
5. Make it less personal. Within this New York Times piece on the benefits of self-talk, University of Michigan Psychology Professor Dr. Ethan Kross notes that motivating yourself out loud can be an effective tool. When studying the impact of internal self-talk, Kross found that when subjects talked about themselves in the second or third person (i.e. “you can do this” or “Shira can do this” instead of “I can do this,” they felt less anxiety while performing and peers also rated their performances better. Taking a page from this classic Seinfeld episode, start thinking about yourself in the third person. List reasons why “you” rather than “I” are going to soar, writing them down and/or speaking it out loud. There’s a lot of power in this tactic.
How do you deal with negative self-talk? What impact has this had on your career?