I am a big fan of the concept of ‘self-talk’. While I have utilized the support of a coach on and off for about ten years, I realize my coach cannot be with me for every decision in every moment. When it’s unrealistic or perhaps inconvenient to utilize a coach, then perhaps one might turn to a good friend. We have all had those moments where we are so infuriated, so frustrated, so angry, so sad, so something… that we find ourselves desperately dialing the phone to a friend, a partner, a trusted relative, just waiting to unload an incident that happened to us, a situation that left us with intense emotions that we really do not want to process alone. But what happens when they don’t answer and we are left alone to deal with our spinning thoughts? This is when self-talk becomes important. Why are we so desperate to reach our friend? Because they would listen to our story, validate our emotions, and likely ask us questions, giving us a chance to further examine our situation from additional angles. In turn, they would help us gain perspective. With practice, we can learn to do this for ourselves.
What does self-talk look like? Say for example you have your annual review at work. Your boss goes over 4-6 things that you are doing great. She then moves on to one area that you might be able to improve on. She tells you that you are doing good, but she see’s room for increased efforts here and wants to strategize a few ways that you might be able to improve. You leave the meeting ruminating about the last part of your review. All you heard was that you need to improve, you need to “increase your effort” which you interpret as, ‘my boss thinks that I stink, that I am lazy, and that I am not good at my job’. Then you become angry thinking about all the effort you put in over the past year, all the work you did that she didn’t notice or comment on, and that you honestly gave it your best. You think ‘how can that not be good enough!?” What kind of self-talk would be helpful here? What questions could you ask yourself?
Self-Talk Sample Questions:
How am I feeling right now? Is it fear, anger, sadness…? It’s good to understand what our dominant emotion is. Only then can we ask ourselves “What am I afraid of?” or “What angers me most?”
What are the facts? What is true? (Did my boss actually say I wasn’t good enough? Did my boss say I was good at anything? Did my boss say I wasn’t doing a good job?)
What’s my biggest fear in this situation? (I’m worried that my best is not good enough and that I will be replaced, or I’m worried that my boss hates me and has it out for me.)
What’s likely going to happen as a result of the incident? (Likely, I will spend the next 6 months continuing my good work and seek ways to improve on the one area my boss suggested.)
What would ____ (my coach, my friend, my partner) say about the situation?Cultivating the voice of someone we trust can be helpful.
If my friend came to me with these concerns, what would I ask them? How might I respond? What would you tell your friend if he came to you with the same concerns?
The important thing to understand about utilizing self-talk is that it must be practiced. When I work with my clients, I encourage them to spend some time everyday, questioning their thoughts. Writing out answers to these questions slows our thoughts even further and stops the “spiraling.” The process of questioning our thoughts, helps us to learn how to examine our situation from different angles and overtime as well as gain perspective and increased peace of mind.