After years of working in HR, I decided to leave my safe, lucrative corporate gig to become a career coach. Lots of people thought I was crazy. Admittedly, there were plenty of times when I questioned my decision too.
One of the most interesting and valuable parts of my coach training was around Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP). It's when you help people identify and understand their thought patterns so they can reshape them to get different, better results. As an Engineering Psychology major in college, the idea we could retrain our brains to think differently so we could act differently made complete sense to me. I've used NLP on myself and in my coaching practice ever since. Especially, when it comes to battling negative self-talk (NST).
4 StepsTo Killing Your NST
First off, it's important to note everyone has NST. I don't care how successful and confident a person appears to be, he or she has NST - just like you. The difference is, they've likely conditioned themselves to actively address it. Which means, you can too. Here's more good news: It's not rocket science. But, it does take practice.
It works like this:
Step 1: Catch yourself in the act of NST. You need to recognize when some unhappy, unproductive thoughts are dominating your brain. It's amazing how good we can get at ignoring negative self-talk. But, if you really pay attention, you'll see the signs. If you're agitated, moody, emotional, or can't sleep, you can thank NST for that.
Step 2: Write it all down - ALL of it. Grab piece of paper, or hop on your computer and start writing out everything you're thinking. Don't filter. Just keep writing until there's nothing left. Ignore the randomness of your thoughts. Don't judge the scattered statements running through your head. The point is to relieve your brain of the NST tsnami overwhelming your thoughts.
NOTE: For this to work, you must physically write out the NST. Don't think you can just ponder it. Let's face it, that's what you've been doing thus far and it's failed you. Plus, as you'll see in the next step, there's more writing to do that you definitely can't do in your head (yet).
Step 3: Challenge every assumption. Our thoughts are subjective. We interpret our situation to help us rationalize i.e. to make sense of our world. Unfortunately, it's our human nature to avoid pain and failure, so we tend to create negative thoughts designed to keep us from taking risks. We make assumptions and broad generalizations to help us cope. We create NST. It's time to call out your NST for what it is - lies designed to hold you back from going after your dreams. How do you do that? Ask yourself two questions about every thought you wrote down as follows:
A) Where is this NST coming from?
B) What concrete proof do I have that this assumption is valid?
Here are some examples:
NST: I am not successful enough.
CHALLENGE: Says who? What definition of success am I using?
NST: I am not smart enough to achieve my goals.
CHALLENGE: What proof do I have I'm not smart enough?
NST: I am a failure.
CHALLENGE: Am I really failing in all areas of my life? What's my definition of success?
By questioning the source and validity of the NST, you can start to see how your brain is manipulating your thoughts. Which means, you can fight back as follows:
Step 4: Re-write and repeat for sixty seconds. Now, take your NST and re-write each statement into something objective, and if possible, positive. Then, read and repeat in your mind for one minute the new, better self-talk.
ie. I'm not a failure. That's a bogus generalization and I need to stop acting dramatic and see the progress I am making. I'm learning and growing as a professional. I am getting better every day. I believe in Experience + Learn = Grow. And, I need to keep trying if I want to succeed.
If You Don't Fight Back, Who Will?
There's nobody inside your head, but you. If you want to be more positive, more confident, and ultimately, more successful, you have to train your brain to think in a way that will motivate your actions. The more you mindfully practice the technique above, the easier it will be for your to squash NST when it pops up.