Throughout your career there are many times when you will doubt yourself. Am I worthy of a promotion? Will my boss laugh at me when I ask for a pay rise? Can I really do this project that I have never done before? Will the audience really want to listen to what I have to say? Can I manage people who are older and more experienced than me?
For over 12 years I have coached leaders and developing leaders about the power of positive self talk. In simple terms, the words that you say to yourself in your head promote an image of success or failure in your mind. This image influences your performance.
Imagine that you were asked to do a presentation to senior management on a project that you had worked on. Throughout your university degree and career you have done your best to avoid presentations because you think that you ‘suck‘ at them.
In this example you are cornered. You can’t ‘run away‘ from this presentation. You have to do it. Imagine your self talk. “I’m going to be terrible doing this presentation. The senior management team are all going to know that I’m a terrible presenter. My future here is going to be damaged. Oh my god why did this have to happen to me!“.
No matter how much practice you did, if you maintained this type of self talk you will have created a self-fulfilling prophecy. Moments in to your presentation your mind will go blank. Then it will fill with the words, “See, I knew I wasn’t any good at presenting and now look at what has happened! My mind has gone blank and the senior management team now thinks that I am useless!“
When your performance matches your self talk it re-enforces it which in turn re-enforces the image that you have of yourself either succeeding or failing. This can result in either a virtuous or vicious cycle that affects your performance.
The point of leverage is your self talk. You don’t have to create ‘fake‘ self talk. This is the type of self talk that even you don’t really believe. In the above example, ‘fake‘ self talk would be something like, “I’m going to be the best presenter the senior management team have ever experienced. I’m going to have them eating out of the palm of my hands.“
You might have this type of self talk if you were already an accomplished presenter, but if you were coming off a low base then this type of self talk will be ‘fake’ and actually won’t help you (because you won’t really believe it!).
A more effective form of self talk is something like, “I’ll be the best presenter that I can be today. Period.” This type of self talk is believable and gives you the opportunity to see yourself as a ‘learner‘ rather than an expert. When you see yourself as a learner and you make a mistake it is far easier to recover than if you have used ‘fake‘ self talk.
However, self talk is not enough. It must be balanced with doing the right work and focus. The right work in this example relates to learning how to do an effective presentation and putting what you learn in to practice before you do your presentation to the senior management team. Focus refers to the skills and structure that support the action that you are taking. In this example your focus would relate to the core message that you want to convey, the key supporting arguments that you have for your message and the call to action that you want the senior management team to adopt.
These self talk principles can be applied to any situation.
If you aren’t doing the right work and don’t have focus, then all the positive self talk in the world will amount to nought.
How do you manage your self talk?
Gary Ryan enables talented professionals, their teams and organisations to move Beyond Being Good.