My client Denise was literally sputtering with anger when she showed up on our coaching call.
She’d just gotten off the phone with her mother, who’s having health issues. When Denise told her she was going to book a flight and spend a few days helping, her mother’s response was, “I don’t think you should come. It’ll be too much for you to handle.”
“I can’t believe my mother said that. I’m the most capable person I know,” Denise said to me. After a few more minutes of fuming, she quietly said, “It really hurts that she has so little confidence in me. Her response to almost everything I tell her is, ’That’s a bad idea, it’s more than you can handle.’”
Denise was startled by my response.
“You say the same thing to yourself all the time.”
Words matter. Especially the ones you say to yourself.
I don’t blame Denise for being mad and hurt. She is extraordinarily capable.
An executive with a Fortune 100 company, she’s successfully managed multi-million-dollar projects for years and has a reputation for pulling off “miracles” with grace and humor.
She has great confidence in her professional competence. But when it comes to her personal life, she holds back, worried that she won’t have what it takes.
When I pointed this out to her, she started to say, “No, I don’t …,” stopped, paused, and said, “OMG, I do. A lot.”
Negative self-talk patterns create stuck.
In Denise’s case, her pattern showed up around setting personal goals. She was terrified she’d get stuck at the edges of her comfort zone and wouldn’t have the capacity to keep going.
Intellectually, she knew she’d be fine and that she absolutely has the ability to do whatever’s needed. There’s nothing she can’t handle at work, and there’s nothing she can’t handle in any other part of her life.
But every time she thought, “You won’t be able to handle it,” she reinforced her belief that she wouldn’t be able handle it. And so she kept talking about what she wanted but never actually committed, dipping her toe in the water and yanking it right back out.
What’s your story?
We all have our stories about what we can’t do, aren’t good at, don’t deserve, or any of the other “keep yourself small” negative self-talk that shows up.
These stories and chatter are more than just words. They’re habits that drive your action – and inaction.
And you have the ability to change them.
Use the following steps to change your negative self-talk into a positive, helpful habit:
1. Identify a negative message you frequently tell yourself.
For years I told myself I was a terrible writer. Guess how enthusiastically I embraced writing this newsletter? (Not very!) For the first few years, each article was an exercise in struggle and suffering while the commentary, “Ugh, I’m so bad at this,” played in the background.
If you have multiple messages (and most of us do!), pick just one to work on.
2. Practice awareness for one week by tracking the number of times a day you have the thought. Don’t analyze and most importantly, don’t judge. Just make a mark each time you send yourself a message.
Did I say don’t judge?!
3. Choose a new thought to replace your current one. For the next month (don’t groan, new habits take time ;-)), continue to notice each time you’re chattering away with your negative message, and intentionally replace it with a new positive message.
I replaced “I’m a terrible writer” with “I’m a perfectly fine writer, just slow, and that’s okay.” Slowly but surely writing stopped being torture. And much to my surprise I’ve gotten faster, I write more often, and I’ve actually started enjoying the process.
4. Rinse and repeat for any other negative self-talk that’s keeping you stuck.
Once Denise realized how big a roadblock her “I’m not capable of handling …” message had become, she started to create a more positive self-talk pattern. It’s making a difference!
You can too. Change your internal conversation. Get unstuck.
“Our greatest battles are that with our own minds.” ~ Jameson Frank