It’s time to change the conversation in your head.
Do you approach every challenge, every job interview, every day with a bright sunny, positive outlook?
The truth is that most of us suffer from an internal negative feedback loop in our heads during part or most of our lives. This negative inner-dialogue can flare up especially when we are learning something new or trying to step out of our comfort zones.
Think: finding a new job. Our old friend, fear, rocks up and starts telling you that you’re not good, strong, smart or capable enough for the challenge at hand.
If you notice that you frequently engage in negative self-talk, have pessimistic views of upcoming challenges, a tendency to make excuses or blame other people or circumstances for things that happen, this post is for you.
We’re going to flick the switch, change the channel, and reprogram our self-talk to reap the benefits. Negative self-talk has been linked to poor performance and anxiety.
Positive thoughts and a positive attitude will take you a long way in your career and in life. A positive mental atmosphere will help you feel confident, relaxed, and happy when faced with any challenge. You’ll make better decisions, react appropriately, and persist through setbacks.
So, are you ready to change the conversation in your brain?
Step 1 – Confront:
The first step is like flicking on a light switch in the basement: a few cockroaches and maybe even a rat scurry to get out of the light. You need to start to listen to what you are telling yourself. Turn the light on your thoughts. Expose where you are mistreating yourself through constant criticism, beratement or even name calling.
If you’re having a hard time hearing your inner-voice, try this: start with a positive affirmation. A positive affirmation is a positive statement or a positive belief. We are going to talk about these in more detail later, but for now, start with something like, “I am a talented writer/accountant/sales professional,” “I am capable and determined,” “I deserve the job of my dreams.” Say it out loud to yourself and listen to all the excuses, objections or caveats that your brain comes up with.
Write these down and spend some time reflecting on where these negative beliefs came from. Time-travel in your mind to the point in time where you remember developing this negative thought. Was it a specific person who said you weren’t good enough or a specific experience that has flogged your confidence?
Become aware of what you’re telling yourself. Rather than constantly criticising yourself, be your own coach, tell yourself that you’re doing your best and getting better every day and with each learning experience. You’ve come so far and still have a lot of growing to do.
Step 2 – Refill:
While the first step is being aware of your negative inner-dialogue, the second step is to refill your mind with positive self-talk. It’s a vicious cycle: when your mind is filled with negative self-talk and imagery, you are more likely to view situations and relationships from a negative perspective. You will be less optimistic and less likely to see the good side of a given challenge. In order to break the pattern that you recognised in Step 1, it’s time to refill you brain with positive words and images.
Warning: this may cause you internal embarrassment but you’re literally going to have to get over yourself! When you first start using positive affirmations, you may feel lame or dorky: saying nice things to ourselves seems so hard to do! On the flip side, you may notice how easy it is to belittle yourself with negative affirmations. It’s much easier to say, “I am not strong enough/ not experienced enough/ not smart enough to do this,” than to give yourself some credit and build up your own confidence.
Once you’ve identified your core negative beliefs about yourself and done some detective work to find out the root cause of the belief, you can start using positive affirmations to refill your brain. You can literally turn your negative affirmations into positive ones and then play them on repeat.
- “I am too inexperienced for this managerial position,” becomes, “I have worked in this industry for years and am ready to tackle new challenges.”
- “I didn’t get the job last time I had a job interview, I am going to fail this time,” becomes, “My mistakes do not define me or dictate my future success.”
Say your affirmations in the morning while you get ready for work or an interview.
Cue words can be general (“never give up”) or specific (“upsell your product”). These words are simply a short and gentle reminder to yourself to direct your focus onto your goal, performance in that moment or overall mood.
Cue words work great for job interviews, especially when you have identified a specific area of weakness in your previous interviews. You can gently remind yourself to address anything you may often forget or overlook.
Develop a few cue words that have personal meaning for you that you can use in at crunch time or phrases that remind you to keep your eye on your goal. It’s important you are firm and direct in using these words in your head with the right tone and body language to complement the phrase.
You probably know your mind is extremely powerful, but most people don’t realize the impact of what they input. What you watch, see, and hear dictates the general atmosphere in your brain. Have you ever scrolled through Facebook or Instagram before bed, gone to sleep, and then randomly dreamed about someone or something you saw on your feed? Whatever you input remains in your mind’s eye.
The truth is that the news, TV, and social media can paint a negative backdrop that becomes the basis for our internal conversations. Actively avoiding negative news and media that doesn’t serve you can change your outlook. In place of images of dismay, unfortunate circumstances, and human depravity, you can use visualization to change your mental tone.
Practice visualizing what you desire to happen in your life, career related or otherwise. Paint a mental picture of yourself excelling in your current job or getting hired for your dream job. You can also visualize something peaceful or serene to calm yourself in stressful times.
Have you ever made a vision board? There’s a reason this helps people achieve their goals. If you can see something and picture yourself doing it, you’ve started the process.
So, fill your brain with positive words and images. Read positive books about people you admire accomplishing things. Create a career-oriented vision board. Visualize the details of your dream work day. Before you know it, you may be living out one your visualizations. At the very least, refilling your mind with positive words and images will set your internal compass towards self-compassion and optimism.
Step 3 – Ban:
Back in 1943, a psychologist called Abraham Maslow wrote a paper titled, “A Theory of Human Motivation” that became very famous and is still relevant in 2018. Maslow proposed a pyramid of human needs, at the top of which was self-actualisation.
According to Maslow’s definition of self-actualisation:
“It may be loosely described as the full use and exploitation of talents, capabilities, potentialities, etc. Such people seem to be fulfilling themselves and to be doing the best that they are capable of doing… They are people who have developed or are developing to the full stature of which they are capable.”
In other words, the happiest, most-fulfilled person is someone who focuses on her talents and strengths. Not someone who constantly dwells on their downfalls or weaknesses.
At some point after you’ve recognized and confronted your negative beliefs and refilled your mind with positive things, you have to break the pattern. You can use a tool called re-framing to shine a positive light on negative thoughts or you stop the thought dead in its tracks.
So, how do interrupt your line of thought when your inner-conversation turns dark?
Re-framing Negative Thoughts
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”- Henry Ford
Perspective is a hell of a tool. If you can stop a negative line of thinking and find a way to be positive, you can literally flip a situation on its head. An obstacle can become an advantage. Take something negative you often say to yourself and re-frame it in a positive way or visualize how you wish the situation looked.
“I’ll never be able to find a job that I love because I’m not exceptional at anything,” becomes, “I will find a job because I am passionate in working with xyz.”
“I am going to do horrible at my work presentation because my boss told me that I did poorly at my last presentation,” becomes, “I’ve worked hard to prepare and improve my skills, so I will do much better.”
Before you judge yourself, another person or a situation, look for the bright side. You can intentionally counteract negative messages with positive truths in your life. Don’t give up if you don’t find them quickly. For every negative message there is a positive truth. These truths always exist; keep looking until you find them.
In some circumstances, you may need to stop yourself and ban negative thoughts from your brain all together. The brain often latches onto a train of thought and refuses to release its grip. Below are a few ways to ban a negative thought when the mind has its jaws locked and won’t let go:
- Say “stop” firmly to yourself
- Say one of your cue words or positive affirmations with a strong, unrelenting tone
- Use movement or a new activity to distract your mind. Use a physical cue such as clapping your hands, whistling, or snapping your fingers in a way as a signal to move on and start being confident.
You must be disciplined. Don’t berate yourself in your head. Stop that line of thinking and find a way to be positive or visualize how you wish the situation looked. Before you judge yourself, another person or a situation, look for the bright side.
Now, take a moment to intentionally counteract those negative messages with positive truths in your life. Don’t give up if you don’t find them quickly. For every negative message there is a positive truth that will override the weight of despair. These truths always exist; keep looking until you find them.