About ten years ago, I started reading every self-help, motivation, and success book I could get my hands on. At the time, I was working in an office full of highly dysfunctional people and I was trying to counteract all the negative feelings around me. I also had illusions of being able to turn the business around if I could just find a way to change the way these people approached their work. (That’s a REALLY bad idea, by the way. I’ve since learned through experience that it’s critical for business success to first surround yourself with the right people! Read Good to Great for a scientific explanation of how to go about doing that.)
Take control of your inner dialogue – that stream of self-talk generated by your brain. You comment to yourself on almost everything, and virtually everybody I’ve talked to about it says that their self-talk is mostly negative. That colors your view of existence and often blinds you from noticing the wonders of life. Even more problematic – self-talk often comes out in the form of “other-talk” – things you say to people that sound like things you say to yourself. And you aren’t always much fun to talk to! Moreover, negative self-talk seems to take the form of “I can’t” way too much of the time, leading you to pass up opportunities that people with positive self-talk would happily take on.
So, about five years ago, I decided to take the advice offered by many personal development authors and actually try to change my self talk. I tried two approaches. The first was to stop it. That’s more or less what Zen disciples try to do, and I find it very difficult. Sometimes during meditation I can live in the space between thoughts for a while, and that’s a very productive feeling. But in the real world, since I find it almost impossible to stop the dialogue, I’ve learned instead to replace it.
Instead of saying “that guy who just cut me off is an ass!” I try to say to myself, “Boy, he’s in a hurry!” Instead of saying, “So and so will probably screw this up,” I’ll say, “Let’s give her a try and see if she gets it done.” And the one thing I’ve learned to say to myself that’s made the most powerful difference, the real game changer, the thing that’s helped me get more done than ever before, and to take on new and more profound personal and business challenges, is, instead of saying, “I probably can’t do that,” I say “I can definitely do that if I approach it the right way.”
Quitting the negative self talk is hard, but it can be really helpful. If you can’t quit, you can try to replace your current habits with ones that help you become happier, more motivated, and potentially more successful!