Is Self-Talk Stopping You and Your Team From Performing?

Want to lead people well? Then don't under-estimate the power of your self-talk (those internal conversations you have with yourself) on your performance as a leader

Self-talk is the conversation that goes on in your mind

about your performance and behavior

Your thoughts build your self-talk. Apparently, we each have 50,000 thoughts per day. (Who is it that measures these things??)

Unfortunately for many people, the majority of those 50,000 are repetitive, negative thoughts. Focused on the things you should have done, things that went wrong, how you aren't good enough etc.

How's the quality of conversation in your mind?

Each conversation that you have with yourself reinforces in your mind who you are; what you are capable of.  And, most critically, builds or demolishes your self-esteem and self-worth. So, what?

Here's so what! The higher your sense of self-worth and self-esteem the better able you are to cope with challenges and upsets.

Even better, you'll go after more significant goals. With high self-esteem as you dream bigger you'll also believe you've got a greater chance at achieving those dreams.

If your self-talk is filled with self-doubt and criticism, you are unable to see the best and bring out the best in yourself or those around you.

Your self-talk creates a self-perpetuating cycle

As you can see from the diagram below, there is a self-perpetuating cycle which occurs.

Your degree of self-acceptance and self-approval dictates the type of conversations you have with yourself. Your inner dialogue strengthens your self-worth and so governs your performance.

Self Talk

Self-Talk Replay is Dangerous

Have you ever done something wrong and then played it over and over in your mind? "How could I have been so stupid, why didn't I keep quiet, why didn't I say ..." Well, that's your self-talk in action.

The problem is you often don't repeat it once or twice. That event goes into playback mode in your mind for weeks on end in side your mind.

As you are doing this, you are recording the event like it is happening again. As you dwell on the negative, this builds a belief of 'how I am' in that situation. I bet you've heard yourself say, "Yeah, I can't help that, it's just how I am!"

We are hardwired to find fault with ourselves

Unfortunately, we humans are hardwired to find fault with ourselves. However, our instinctive mode isn't necessarily what we need for 21st century life. Imagine if you didn't ignore the times you 'messed up', but you put a lot more focus on the times when you 'did good'.

Find what you are doing right and build on it!

Imagine, if the tape inside your head focused on celebrating the times when you got it right. Because here's what we know. What you focus on you draw to you. Not only that, it's the core of solutions-focused coaching. Find what you're doing well and build upon it. 

What you need to do, within your inner world, is to spend more time on dwelling on your brilliance. On the times when you shined. The times you want to repeat and use more regularly. Because when you keep focused on you being at your best, that is where your performance will go.

If you paint a clear enough picture, fill it with emotion, then you end up with reality.

Self Talk Formula:

Vivid Picture + Intense Emotion = Reality

Control your self talk so that it is constructive, uplifting, enriching and enhances your belief about what you can do.

When your performance/results are less than you would like, set yourself up for future success by changing the conversation in your mind about that event.

Don't focus on your limitations or dwell on your fears. Put your energy on focusing on what you want and who you want to be.

What to do When You Make a Mistake

When you've made a mistake and your performance is less than you desire, your next critical step is to address the issue in a 'charge neutral' way. Get rid of the judging, critical voice in your head. That voice doesn't serve you or help you improve. 

Instead calmly state/write out the facts of what you got wrong then turn your attention to what you are going to do differently next time. This simple technique is guaranteed to improve your personal power and performance enormously.

Train yourself to look at situations and experiences with a very pragmatic view.

This doesn't mean that you ignore your faults or problems. You put your focus on the change you want to make. Visualizing yourself into the improved version of you. Of you getting better results.

Do Not Under-Estimate the Power your inner mind has over your performance

Instead of berating yourself for messing something up, ask yourself, "What am I going to do differently next time?"

Or even more powerful, say to yourself, "The next time I intend to...." Then paint a vivid picture of yourself acting in a way that brings you the results you desire.

Your belief about yourself and your Self-Talk grows from a very young age

When you were younger, you were strongly influenced by the way people around you spoke to you and about you. Because they had the 'power', you would have absorbed and probably agreed with the messages/beliefs they gave you.

If the people around you had high self-esteem and self-worth, your regular messages would have been:

  • "Aren't you wonderful"
  • "Look at what you can do ..."
  • "You can do whatever you want"

Whereas, if people with low self-esteem and low self-worth surrounded you, the messages would have been along the lines of:

  • "You are a bad child"
  • "You are no good at ..."
  • "You will never amount to much"

When you are little, it is hard not to believe those messages.

But guess what?

Now you're an adult you have the opportunity to reclaim your power. It is up to you to decide if the messages others are sending you are helpful or not. It is up to you to determine whether 'they' are going to 'keep doing a number on your success'.

If you are unfortunate enough to have someone around you who, because of their low self-esteem puts you down, it is up to you to decide whether to accept or reject their opinion. Because to be very clear only people with low self-esteem put others down.

This doesn't mean ignore all feedback. This is about being discerning about whether this is the 'truth', or whether it is someone else's self-worth talking to you.

You don't necessarily have to stand up to that person. It is the conversation that you hold within your mind that is critical. Although, as your self-confidence and self-worth build, you may find that you do start to stand up for yourself out-loud as well as internally.


So How do You Control Your Self-Talk?

The process itself is quite easy. However, it does take discipline. Here are four tools that help shift your thinking:

Real success occurs when you feel great on the inside. When your beliefs and thoughts align with your highest good.

The more you fill yourself with love, acceptance, and appreciation, the more you can be a positive energy for yourself and others.

Organizational Self-Talk

Organizations also have self-talk. Listen to the way people talk as they stand around the coffee machine or lunch area. What are their conversations about? Are they positive and uplifting? Or ripping and tearing at each other, other departments, managers etc?

Organizations such as these seem to be able to win consistently

Organizations' such as Southwest Airlines, Virgin, Apple, Microsoft (particularly under Satya Nadella's leadership)  each have very positive self-talk.

This is one of the reasons that they are some of the most sought after companies in the world, by prospective employees.

These are not coincidences: the profits, levels of customer service, high employee retention. These businesses are successful because of the way people within them talk and feel. 

Contrast that with organizations that you know that vibrate very negative energy. Are they the sort of companies that you want to work in? Are they successful?

Many people do not understand the impact of their inner mind chatter on their performance. A great gift you can give to others is to help them build their sense of self-worth. You do this through redirecting negative self-talk patterns you hear.

For example, say you hear a colleague saying:

"I'm so completely hopeless at that. I never get it right".

You could provide powerful leadership by saying something like:

"Maybe this isn't one of your strength areas right now. But completely hopeless is a bit strong. Look you got this part of it right. How could you improve on it next time around?"

As with your own self-talk, it is a matter of stopping the negative and turning it into positive. 

Quickly negate negative self-talk, and move it to a focus on where you want to head on how to 'make this a better place to be'.

As a Leader, it is up to you to say things like: 

  • "Ok we need to fix this bit, but next time we'll do this ..."
  • "You know, that is how we used to be, but now we are ......"

This Doesn't Mean Ignore Problems and be "Pollyannerish" 

What it does mean is you don't permit whingeing and whining. That type of behavior doesn't move anything or anyone forward.

If you shy away from doing this you'll wind up with a team that falls into learned helplessness - and you're the one to blame!

As a leader, you must hold a strong vision of the future, not of the past. The past is gone, get over it - there is nothing you can do about the past.

The only thing you can do is to focus on where you are heading.

When you hear people whining and being negative, then step in and say "Stop that, we are better than that." Then get them focused on what they can do to improve the situation.

If you, the Leader, doesn't/can't/isn't focused upon improving your organization's self-talk then who will?

Growth Opportunity

  • 1
    Keep a note of the quality of the self-talk in your mind - is it positive and uplifting or are you dragging yourself down?
  • 2
    When is your self-talk more likely to be negative/self-defeating?
  • 3
    What impact is self-defeating self-talk having on your life?
  • 4
    What is the self-talk like in your organization? Are people working to support each other and build each other up? Or are they more inclined to put each other down?
  • 5
    How does the self-talk in your organization make people feel?
  • 6
    What could you do to keep the self-talk in your department moving toward your goals?

In this video, Brene Brown discusses Shame and its impact on your life. Its thought-provoking, life-enhancing and very much related to self-talk.

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