Many years ago I read a popular self-help book called “What to say when you talk to yourself”. The book is all about “self talk” : how the things we tell ourselves and others make an impact, both positively and negatively, on how we live our lives. It challenges the reader to examine their own self talk and modify it. For example, I remember at the time thinking about how I normally reacted when people asked me “How are you today?” I’d usually respond with something like “Oh, not so bad” – a bit of a negative expression really. So I resolved to make a new habit (which has lasted since then) of responding with something more like “Good thanks” or “I’m OK”. This helped lift my spirits and therefore made a positive difference for me as long as I what I was saying was “true enough” and not too “overdone”.
I believe that if we want to permanently change our talk (both internally and externally), we need to do it step by step and in a way that’s personally authentic. Some people, in my opinion, have taken the self talk thing a bit too far and tried to tune it into a kind of self-hypnosis tool to achieve instant results moving from one extreme to another. I don’t think that’s what the author of “What to say when you talk to yourself” necessarily intended but of course we all interpret things in different ways. I remember a colleague of mine who was reading the book at the same time as me coming in to work one morning and responding to my “How’s it going?” greeting with a massive “cheshire cat” type smile (although not in his eyes..) and a loud “Absolutely brilliant, Frank… and it’s getting better!”. An hour later he was complaining about this and that and I could tell he was straining with the whole positivity thing.
Last year, I came across an excellent book by Michael Heppell called “Flip it“. It’s a great read…well thought through, very engaging, practical and easy to understand. He suggests ways in which we can “flip” our thinking (from negative to positive) in many areas of our lives, leading to better actions and outcomes.
Near the beginning of the book, he talks about the power of our language (including self talk) and the difference our choice of words can make in turning negatives into positives. He includes a few examples of how to “flip” phrases to illustrate what he means. When I first read them they really resonated with me because he “keeps it real” and allows the authenticity through rather than going too far into “xtreme self-talking”.
Let me give you a couple of my own examples based on the kind of approach he suggests:
Starting point: “I feel ill” (true/negative)
Strong self talk: “I feel really well” (lie/positive)
Authentic: “I’m looking forward to feeling better” (true/positive)
Starting point: “I’m shy”
Strong self talk: “I’m very confident”
Authentic: “I know I can become more confident and that’s what I’m going to do”
Using this “authentic” approach produces great results for my coaching clients (and has for me too!) because the language we use when we talk to ourselves is positive whilst at the same time acknowledging the truth/reality of the current situation. This makes it easier to take that step forward in thinking and doing. It’s believable.