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The Most Courageous Conversation You Will Ever Have

The most courageous conversation you will ever have is the one in which you confront the voice of negative self-talk


“Of all the self-help concepts I have uncovered, the concept of ‘programming’ the brain with a more successful ‘new’ picture of yourself is the most sensible… Whatever you put into your mind – in one way or another – is what you will get back out – in one way or another.”

Shad Helmstetter: What to Say When You Talk to Yourself

You can find books at your favorite bookstore on courageous conversations and courageous confrontations, and you should probably read them. But they will not tell you how to have the most courageous conversations and confrontations you will ever have: the ones you have with the voice of negative self-talk.

If you really pay attention to the dialog that goes on between your ears, you will soon recognize that the voice of negative self-talk will always be in the second person:

  • You idiot – how could you have been so stupid?
  • Don’t ask for the sale (or the date or the pay raise) because you will face rejection.
  • Don’t start the business (or write the book or try out for the team) because you will probably fail.
  • You can’t quit smoking (or lose weight or get out of shape) because you are so weak.

And why is that? Why is the voice of negative self-talk always in the second person? Because it is never the real You talking. A long time ago someone said something that hurt. Those painful words are still echoing around up there in the attic of your mind, but like any echo they have become distorted over time.

That’s what negative self-talk really is – a malignant echo.

Negative self-talk is not the voice of your authentic self. It is not your friend. It is not telling you the truth. And it is always trying to hold you back, to prevent you from striving, growing, achieving, excelling, and standing out.

The authentic you wants to climb a mountain; the fake you will try to convince you that you should stay home and watch TV or check Facebook.

When the fake you tells you that you can’t, that you’ll fail, that you’re not good enough, there is only one proper response:

Don’t tell me what I can’t do – help me do it.

Don’t just talk back to negative self-talk (although that’s a good start) – reprogram your inner dialog to support rather than undermine you becoming your best self and achieving your most authentic goals and dreams.

If you are a manager: As a leader it’s helpful to recognize that incivility, bullying, disengagement, and passive-aggressive resistance to progress is almost always a reflection of the inner negative self-talk (and thus self-image) of the person causing the problem. You are unlikely to inspire lasting changes of attitude and behavior with a performance improvement plan that does not in some way help the subject of that plan learn to reprogram what they way when they talk to themselves.

If you are a parent: Your child might take a class on public speaking in school, but they almost certainly will never take a class on the most important speech anyone ever gives – the one that they give to themselves.

If you are trying to change a culture: Recognize that culture will not change unless and until people change. Because the culture of any organization is profoundly shaped by the attitudes and behaviors of the people who work there, to sustain positive cultural transformation requires a critical mass of people being willing to make a positive personal transformation. And that usually begins by changing the script of what they say when they talk to themselves.

Another way of looking at negative self-talk is to see it as mental graffiti. In an upcoming 3-Minute Webinar Challenge I will share my Janitor in Your Attic technique for cleaning out the graffiti and replacing it with positive self-belief. Watch for it!

At Values Coach our purpose is transforming people through the power of values and transforming organizations through the power of people. We do that by helping leaders build a stronger Culture of Ownership on a Foundation of Values. 

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