Have you ever made a mistake? Maybe you missed an important deadline, or embarrassed yourself in public. Whatever the case, we’ve all had times whenwhat we did wasn’t up to par with what we wanted to do.
Making errors is a fundamental aspect of the human experience. Plus, it’s good for us. Humanity’s greatest achievements are born out of lessons we learn from our mistakes and missteps.
But in the moment of that failure, many of us begin to beat ourselves up. As people who pursue peak performance, most of us set very high standards for ourselves. When we don’t measure up, we “punish” ourselves like a tough coach would. It’s as if we cannot believe that we would make such (seemingly) simple mistakes, we say things to ourselves like “you’re an idiot,” or “damn, you messed up again.”
These words are meant to motivate us to succeed, but in reality, we may be doing more harm to ourselves than good. This self-criticism is a form of something called negative self-talk, and it isn’t just limited to when we experience failures.
Facing a tough challenge, having moments of difficulty or memories of bad experiences,
even looking at ourselves in the mirror can spark an internal tirade of self deprecation.
Sometimes we even vocalize these negative thoughts. For example, I used to be terrible with names. Every time I would meet a new person, I wouldn’t be paying enough attention to remember their name. So when I saw them again, I would apologize and say, “sorry, I’m terrible with names” while asking them to repeat themselves.
This inner (and sometimes outer) monologue of negative self talk becomes a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Jim Kwik of kwiklearning(dot)com says that “your brain is a supercomputer, and your self talk is the program it will run.” In a similar vein, Henry Ford (you may have heard of his company, Ford Motors) is credited with saying, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t — you’re right”
Both of these men are touching on the same idea – that your brain is listening to how you think about yourself.
If you tell yourself “I can’t” at every uncomfortable challenge, your subconscious will believe you and you will be much more attuned to any evidence that supports your attitude. Even when the task in front of you isn’t all that difficult, your brain will habitually make it seem harder than it really is — you’re unintentionally making mountains out of molehills.
The good news is that self-talk also works in the opposite direction. We can re-wire our brains with the belief that we can do all of the things that we dream of doing. If we do this, facing the trials that we must inevitably face becomes less daunting. Every hiccup in the process will be another obstacle that we surmount, adding to our momentum so that we get stronger as the journey gets harder.
But there’s no such thing as a free-lunch in life. You have to put in the work to instill the habit of positive self-talk.
Every time you feel yourself beginning to fall into negativity, replace the negative phrase or thought with a positive one. Do this Every. Single. Time.You have to be vigilant. Repetition and consistency are the keys to habit development and this is no different.
A good way to remind yourself to practice positive self-talk is to wear a rubber band around your wrist. Every time you begin to dwell on negative thoughts, snap yourself with the rubber band and deliberately re-frame the thought into a positive.
This may sound weird, and it definitely looks weird when you do it (I got a lot of strange looks when people saw me snap myself with the rubber band), but it works.
After a couple weeks (it took me around a month), you’ll notice that you’re being less negative about yourself. This, extrapolated over many months, will become your default mode of thought. Positive self-talk will become effortless. Try it out, you may surprise yourself.