Negative Self Talk

Are you your own worst enemy?
Does your inner critic sometimes seem demonic and have an overall negative influence on how you feel about yourself? Why are we so hard on ourselves and indulge in the negative self-talk that left unchecked, will damage our strength, self-esteem and self-confidence?

Ask yourself, would you talk this way  to your children, your best friend or your best employees?
Probably not, so why is it ok to treat yourself this way? Like a lot of other bad habits, you may not even be aware of negative self-talk but in order to change it and contribute to a more positive mindset, there are steps you can take to do just that. Like most monsters, it’s easier to Name It Before You Can Tame It! Being aware of those inner critics which take on different forms is a good place to start. Some rage and attack directly while others sneak in behind us, whispering in our ear. The more we can be aware of what they are saying, the better we can start to lessen or prevent their effect on us.

How do you try something different?
Next time you find yourself focusing on the negative and beating yourself up you may want to stop and take a different approach. Instead of thinking or saying things out loud like, “I can’t believe I did/said that”, “I’m so stupid”, “What was I thinking?!”

Here are some suggestions to tackle this differently. First get a journal so you can record your thoughts and reflections. Some questions to consider and journal about:

  • What just happened to bring this on?
  • Why am I criticizing myself?
  • What is the inner critic saying?
  • On a scale of 1-10, is it reasonable or justified?
  • What could I learn from what just happened?
  • What can I do differently next time this happens?

How do you respond when something or someone triggers you?

When something that you perceive as negative or harmful happens do you have a tendency to catastrophize?

For example: when someone appears to ignore you, goes over your head to your boss, or doesn’t include you in a meeting or lunch, have you ever thought….

  • They don’t like me
  • They are trying deliberately to undermine me
  • They are hoping to gain an advantage by excluding me

If so, here are some steps to follow:

  1. Consider what happened – what triggered you?
  2. What went on in your mind right after the event?
  3. Be honest! Ask yourself, where is the proof? Are there any other explanations?
  4. What might you say to a friend who described this scenario to you?
  5. Have you been in a similar situation before only to find out your assumptions were wrong?
  6. Did you learn anything from those past situations that you can apply to this situation?

Following these steps may help you to shift your understanding, which can shift your feelings, therefore shifting your behavior

I recently had a client John, whose development plan included working on his confidence and his tendency to avoid any kind of conflict. He  became increasingly agitated every time one of his direct reports had a one-on- one conversation with the CEO to whom he reported. What was she saying about him? Were there problems he didn’t know about? Was he in trouble? What was  he missing?

When he walked through the steps above, he had to first acknowledge what he was feeling and saying to himself. Then he looked for evidence or proof of any reasons why these meetings were happening. In the absence of any, I encouraged him to ask both of them what the meetings were about and if he should be attending.  In going through the steps one by one, including having a casual conversation with the VP of HR, he was reminded that at the last leadership retreat there was a discussion about the new mentorship program and setting employees up with mentors two levels up.

He missed the next two follow-up meetings and no one filled him in (and he didn’t follow up). It turned out his direct report had been matched with the CEO because of her stated interest in working in the European Headquarters where the CEO spent 7 years earlier in his career. When John considered the whole incident step by step, he realized he was catastrophizing. If he had asked some simple questions earlier, he could have saved himself from a lot of self-inflicted anxiety.


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