If you’ve ever heard some well-meaning but flat phrase like, “Chin up!” or “Be happy!” just know this isn’t that. Now, that being said, it’s important to know that positivity and encouraging language can have a physiological effect. According to the Mayo Clinic, positive thoughts hold myriad benefits, including increased life span, decreased rates of depression and distress, greater resistance to the common cold and better cardiovascular health. Sounds great, right?.
Of course, positivity isn’t as straightforward as throwing out some glass-half-full-phrases and seeing whether they stick. For many, positive self-talk is a Level 14 skill, and we’re still on Level 2 trying to deal with that nasty inner voice that seems to think we can’t do anything right. That’s the voice that whispers, you’re a fraud after you land a big promotion. It screams, I knew you couldn’t do this when you falter on a big project. It laughs when those anxious feelings creep in because you stopped your exercise and meditation routine.
This voice is one of our biggest obstacles. To be our own biggest fan, our own cheerleader, we must first deal with the angry fan who must be politely escorted from the stadium. The important thing to note here is that we’re not trying to silence or permanently rid ourselves of the critic. That’s quite impossible and you’ll only frustrate yourself trying. The goal is to take away its power, its microphone, its real estate in your mind. Here are a few strategies backed by research to get you on the right path.
1. Notice and name that salty inner voice.
Have you ever stopped and thought, I’m really angry right now, and just that simple thought made you feel less angry? The same concept applies here. Just by noticing when we’re giving a stage to our inner critic do we reduce its power. Now, give it a name. It can be anything: Karen, Brian, Rudy, whatever you like. The goal is to make it a habitual thing to notice and point a finger at your inner critic as soon as it flares up. The name allows us to dissociate the thoughts from ourselves. I don’t think this; Rudy does.
2. Gain perspective of the conversation.
There are four types of negative self-talk, and pinpointing it allows us to gain perspective and ground ourselves in reality. Just by identifying and categorizing them, we can choose to let that thought go and give power to other, more positive ones.
- Filtering: This is when something good happens, but Rudy filters out every positive aspect of the situation until we’re left with a mutated view of the situation.
- Catastrophizing: You’re living in worst-case-scenario land. For example: You forgot to go to the store last night and you’re out of breakfast food. You have to skip or make time to stop, which will make you late for work. Rudy decides that this one act will ruin the rest of your day. And when you give Rudy power, that catastrophic thought becomes prophetic.
- Personalizing: Something bad happens and you immediately assume it’s because of you. Maybe a project was canceled because of a lack of funding, but Rudy decides it was because you failed to deliver. This is an ego response.
- Polarizing: You let Rudy color your vision in the black-and-white extremes. Something is either good or bad, no in-between. Maybe your friend canceled dinner because she is dealing with her own Rudy and needed some self-care time. That isn’t about you and it’s not really good or bad as it pertains to you. It’s simply what is.
3. Track the conversations.
After gaining perspective and context to your negative self-talk, record it. You could do this by meditating, journaling or saying it aloud. The goal isn’t to write or meditate about all the nasty things Rudy said to you today; rather, it’s a log to keep track of your wins. You now have a record of every time you noticed Rudy, gained some perspective, and gave a different thought more power.
4. Form an alliance.
It’s hard to celebrate ourselves. It’s hard to acknowledge our wins without letting Rudy creep in and throw shade. One tactic is to name your inner fan, just as you did your inner critic. Give him or her a name. Imagine what your inner fan looks and sounds like. Sometimes it’s easier to receive a compliment from a friend than it is to compliment yourself. That’s where—we’ll call him Barry—comes in.
Now, every time Rudy starts to rear his head, invite Barry over to filter in some positive thoughts. For example, you just landed a big promotion. Use steps one through three to dissociate with Rudy, and then let Barry identify three positives to focus on.
You’re going to feel uncomfortable trying this strategy, and it may not be the one for you. But it’s important that you’re making positive self-talk a priority and working through various strategies until you find one that works for you. Here’s a few more we learned from three entrepreneurs who have struggled with negative self-talk.
Founder and CEO of Planet Protein, Inc
West Palm Beach, Florida
Working for negative words can manifest a negative outcome, so I work to speak to myself in a more forgiving manner. No entrepreneur is perfect because no human is perfect. As long as we are learning our lessons, good things will follow.
Journaling has had an incredible impact on my positive self-talk. Keeping a daily journal has allowed me to express myself in the rawest and purest form. My thoughts, expressions, and emotions pour into this journal, which I can reflect on down the road. These positive words, re-read in the future, allow you to see just how far you’ve come. You will even start to see how your business reflects your own personal growth.
I prefer to celebrate wins with the people who helped make them happen. From employees to mentors to friends and even customers, the people who support an entrepreneur’s dream should always be a part of the achievements and celebrations. It’s important to me to show them gratitude, give back and continue to fire them up about our business.
It’s obviously critical to have big goals in mind, and I encourage entrepreneurs to write them down. However, it is equally important to go easy on yourself. Do not kick yourself if your goals are not met. Removing expectations during this journey is the best piece of advice I could give fellow entrepreneurs. Learn to have fun with it and grow each day.
Founder and CEO of della terra shoes
I spent 16 years working for footwear corporations, resigning myself to the fact that I could never start a shoe line. I had a set of well-rehearsed sound bites I would run through whenever the subject came up. I would detail why the business was too risky for someone like me to enter. I was at my apartment recovering from COVID-19 when I realized there was a need in the fashion footwear world, not being fulfilled by any of these “more qualified” people or companies. I decided that there was no better time than the present to begin. Once I started, the pieces fell into place.
I am a firm believer in balance. Beginning on a positive note is extremely important as it sets the tone for what’s to come—the rest of the meeting, day, week, month, season, year. Even when things are challenging, I try to hit the reset button on the vibe. I have moments of self-doubt and impostor syndrome and use these as opportunities to exercise a power mindset. I have realized I need to let that impostor have a moment. I assess whether there is validity to my fears and doubts. Then, I formulate a plan.
First, begin… the rest is easy. Next, keep going. Recap and remind yourself what you’ve accomplished today, this week, this month, this year. If it wasn’t a bit scary, it wouldn’t be worth doing.
Founder and CEO of Snapshyft
By all accounts, there is no logical reason to subject oneself to the pain and torture of #startuplife; sacrificing friendships, familial relationships, hobbies, financial security (i.e. risking everything for the chance to make a difference, and maybe create a legacy). I really struggled during the first couple years and was always benchmarking myself and our company to others. This builds up a reserve of toxic self-talk.
I focus on keeping an even keel as much as possible, which allows me to better filter my positive and negative internal dialogue while setting the stage for me to promote the positive at opportune moments (during bouts of self-doubt). I have worked hard over the past four years to get positive and negative self-talk reduced. I like to keep it spread about 80 percent neutral, 15 percent positive, 5 percent negative. Being my own champion invites others to participate with me. Other founders can feed off this, which might help them do the same.
We’re all looking for subtle indications of whether we are on the correct path. It helped me to admit how hard building a company really is, and that I am not impervious—adversity is par for the course, so deal with it. Yes, this is a life of sacrifice, but rewards exist all along the way—my goal has become to enjoy the journey, and to revel in it. I strive to focus on keeping my head down and only taking small bites—working toward getting 1 percent better each day, and taking moments throughout the day to breathe it all in, smile, and appreciate how fortunate I am to be doing what I’m doing.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Photo by kalebeastphotography/Twenty20.com