The way in which you address yourself can make a big difference in career success or failure.
One night I got caught in a harrowing blizzard in a remote area of the North Carolina Mountains without snow tires or four-wheel drive. I couldn’t stop or pull off the road, and my car was skidding on ice. Clutching the steering wheel, I had to drive another 30 miles straight up and around steep treacherous mountain curves. At first, I heard my Inner Critic’s reprimands, I hope you’re satisfied, dummy. You’ve done it now. Before the harshness escalated, I was aware that my Critic had tangled up with me like a ball of yarn. I took a deep breath, moved into coaching myself with kindness, Okay Bryan, easy does it. You’ve got this. You’re going to be just fine. Just breathe. That’s right, Bryan, just keep it on the road. Awesome job!
Back in the day, people who talked to themselves were considered “crazy.” Not anymore. Today, psychologists consider self-talk to be one of the most effective tools in just about anything we do—especially during our workday. Obviously, I made it home safely because I’m here to tell the story. But I survived because of the way I spoke to myself. By the same token, the science of self-talk has shown time and again that how we speak to ourselves can either foster or impede our careers. Negative self-talk can lead to anxiety and depression, and positive self-talk mitigates dysfunctional mental states, perpetuating a thriving career. A body of research also shows that optimistic self-talk enables you to scale the career ladder faster and farther than pessimistic self-talk. Condemning yourself after a mistake or job failure is like attacking the fire department when your house is on fire. It further diminishes career success.
1. Coach Yourself With Kindness
How many times has your Inner Critic jumped in and said, “You’re not going anywhere with this” or “Nobody wants to hear your ideas” or “You’re an impostor.” While these judgments are likely untrue, one thing is certain: you’re not alone. Many great leaders allude to that eviscerating voice that makes them feel like a fraud. Even Maya Angelou, one of the greatest writers of the 20th century said, “Each time I write a book, every time I face that yellow pad, the challenge is so great. I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.’”
The subjective Inner Critic’s voice is egocentric and distorted: “You don’t know what you’re doing” or “You’re a terrible colleague” or “You’re a lightweight.” When it rakes you over the coals, it eclipses the objective, big-picture truth about your creative capabilities. If you’re like most people, you believe what the Critic tells you simply because you hear it in your mental echo chamber. But psychologists have discovered that talking back to the Critic gives you distance from it—along with a more objective truth—that provides calm, clarity and confidence in just about anything you do.
2. Edit Your Story
“Story editing” is a form of self-talk that preempts your Critic from seizing control of your career with its bludgeoning feedback. When the Critic’s made-up story circles in your mind like a school of sharks during a pressure-cooker project, observe it much like you would inspect a blemish on your hand.
Story editing creates a self-distanced versus a self-immersed perspective and helps you overcome the egocentric impulses of your critical voice. Self-distancing revises the Critic’s negative story in your mind just as you would revise a written report: “Bryan, you can do this. You’ve overcome bigger obstacles than this before.” After you edit, the Critic’s story is no longer the only story circling in your head. Story editing takes you out of the worker role and catapults you into the narrator of your career—the objective, bird’s-eye perspective of an outside observer as if it’s happening to someone else. Using this self-distancing tool separates you from the critical voice and keeps you from reverting into that negative loop over and over again, making room for you to work from your C-Spot—that centered place where calm, clarity, confidence and creativity reside.
3. Practice Self-Affirmations
In 2014, enter Clayton Critcher and David Dunning at the University of California at Berkeley. The psychologists conducted a series of studies showing that positive affirmations function as “cognitive expanders,” bringing a wider perspective to diffuse the mind’s tunnel vision of self-threats. Their findings show that self-affirmations helped research participants cultivate a long-distance relationship with their judgment voice and see themselves more fully in a broader self-view, bolstering their self-worth.
4. Cultivate the Perspective of a Detached Observer
Expanding your perspective as a detached observer of your job and career promotes self-distancing between you and your Inner Critic and keeps your success channels open. Here are several ways to expand your perspective: