You may be asking why I am spending so much time discussing this statement. I do so because I believe it to be foundational to exceptional leadership. It forms the basis for your personal development and for the coaching you will provide to those you lead.
Now that you understand the reality and power of Self-Talk, it is critical that you come to a point that you begin to master it. That may be easier said than done. The problem is that our self-talk is so automatic and convincingly true in our own minds that we seldom think to challenge it. But we have already demonstrated that our self-talk is not always true. It is often an emotional reaction to an event, or a biased perspective not based in fact. In fact, our self-talk can be outright lies we have become convinced to be truth. All of these result in the emotions that often form the foundation of our responses. Without analyzing or challenging your self-talk you will tend to be more reactive than you are to have an appropriate response.
It is so difficult to master control over our self-talk that I have produced a written exercise that has proven to be quite effective if practiced with discipline. I call it the Self-Talk Monitor. Some experts have actually created computer based training programs to guide people through this process. These tools have have proven very effective in the treatment of all kinds of emotional problems. This Self-Talk Monitor is designed as a written exercise because it requires discipline, repetition and regular practice to first convince us that we do it, and then lead us through the process to change it. Though normally laid out in a table format, I will just explain it here.
First of all, it is important to recognize that events, situations or problems do not cause emotions, as is so often thought to be the case. In other words, the fact that someone calls me a poor author (the event) does not result in my emotions of sadness, anger, or disappointment. The event simply triggers my self-talk, which can lead to any number of emotions. If I am vested in your approval, it may lead to the previously described emotional responses. If not, I may simply appreciate your feedback as constructive criticism for my own improvement.
The table we use ask participants to begin by analyzing their emotions first because when we feel anger, sadness, despair, or any other emotions we can usually track them back to a situation, event or personal interaction that led to them. Step one is to write down the emotion. Clearly state your feelings using words like, anger, frustration, rage, sadness, despair etc. Step 2 is to identify the action that followed the emotion. In the above example your comment about my authorship may have “made me” angry, resulting in my sending you a scathing e-mail defending myself. I use the quotations because you cannot actually make me angry. Step 3 is to identify the the situation, event or personal interaction that led to that emotion, i.e. your comment about my authorship.
Now that you have the emotion and situation that led to it identified, write down the self-talk that led you to experience this emotion (Step 4). Now, you will need to ask yourselves the following questions: “Is this how you wanted this to turn out?” “Is this how you want to feel?” “Is this feeling working for you in a productive way?” “Is this going to contribute to my success and effectiveness?” If your answer is “NO”, you’re ready to make some significant changes that will lead you to greater success and effectiveness.
The next step (Step 5) in this process is probably the most difficult. Remember, our self-talk is automatic. We don’t even give it much consideration. It happens so quickly that we don’t even recall that we had a conversation with ourselves. We just react to it with our emotions and behaviors. On top of this, we actually are in love our automatic self-talk. We believe it is accurate, truthful, and the best response to the situation at hand, so much so that it is difficult for us to challenge it. That is why it takes discipline, and sometimes coaching to come up with alternative self-talk. And it is this skill that separates the exceptional and successful from those who cannot get out of their rut of living a reactive life.
Speaking of “ruts”, there are some people who are so comfortable in their ruts that they have carpeted and furnished them, and have even invited the decorators in to spruce them up a bit. But that does not have to be the case with you.
The great thing about searching for alternative self-talk is that the options are wide open. It is kind of like brainstorming. Get creative and begin to consider other things that you could say to yourself that would lead to different emotions; other perspectives on the event that may be equally as true as your original one. The point is for you not to get locked into the destructive emotions and subseqent reaction. If your self-talk has been destructive, filled with cynicism, bitterness, obsessions with your failures and lack of effectiveness, you definitely have some work to do to break free from this destructive Strong-Hold.
I love what the Bible says on this subject: The Truth Will Set You Free, but that is a topic for another discussion.