No matter where you are in your career, and whether or not you know it, you are a mentor. Like it or not, you are stuck with at least one mentee for the rest of your life: yourself! And the way you speak to that mentee can make a tremendous difference in the quality of the relationship. Here, I’ll examine why that matters and the power you have to change it.
What is self-talk?
Self-talk is our inner monologue that constantly provides feedback on our actions and thoughts. It’s part of being human, whether it benefits us or not. We don’t always say these thoughts out loud (although who hasn’t ever grumbled aloud a little!). Self-talk is that inner coach analyzing everything and letting you know how it’s going, for better or worse.
Since you’re providing feedback to yourself all day, don’t you think it’s important that that feedback be constructive?
How do you develop positive self-talk?
First of all, we have to be aware of the inner monologue in the first place! It’s a challenge to change something we’re not very conscious of. Try to become aware of the way you’re speaking to yourself. Cultivate consciousness of what you’re saying and how it affects you and your subsequent thoughts and actions.
Beware the negative feedback loop! I’ve found that my self-criticism can lead to more negative thoughts, which can then spiral into a whirlwind of frustration.
Call out the critic!
Naming the critical voice that’s sabotaging your self-confidence decreases its power over your thoughts and helps you gain awareness of what’s happening. Try noticing when “Critical Cathy” or “Pessimistic Paul” intrudes. It might sound “out there,” but I’ve found that concretely acknowledging that voice diffuses its hold. Try saying to yourself, “Oh hey there, inner critic,” and noticing how its grip relaxes.
Reframe the conversation
Replacing negative self-talk with objective or encouraging statements creates space for creative problem solving and protects self-esteem. Think about how you speak to colleagues or friends. Would you speak to them the way you do to yourself?
Which phrase would you rather hear:
“That wasn’t too bad.” or “That was pretty good!”
“That could have been better.” or “That was absolutely ok.”
“You shouldn’t do it that way.” or “You could do it differently.”
“What a failure! That better not happen again.” or “That was an interesting mistake; what can I learn from it?”
If you’re learning a new skill or receiving feedback on your performance, which of those phrases build more self-confidence, resilience, and learning?
You’re not lowering your standards.
Positive self-talk is not about lowering your standards or telling yourself you’re the GOAT when you’re not. Making objective statements and building a positive mindset set the stage for creative problem-solving. Feeling encouraged is a better motivator than stress and demoralization. Positive self-talk is not an excuse to avoid challenges or blow hot air; it’s a tool that influences your efficacy and sense of self-worth.
Finally, what is the ultimate goal?
I don’t think we can ever completely banish self-talk. The goal, though, is to get to a point where we are focused on the moment and that inner voice is taking a break. Studies have shown that “flow,” or the state in which time seems to fade away and we are completely immersed in the task at hand, can only happen when we are not in constant conversation with ourselves. Working with our inner coach to create a positive atmosphere for growth can change the way we think, act, and perform.