The Leaders Mind: The Importance of Positive Self-talk

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You were probably taught as a child to not talk to yourself — well, throw all that out the window. Developing a strong inner dialogue that you can use to get in the groove is something I’d strongly recommend for anyone. When you stoke yourself up on positive self-talk, you’re able to foster stronger feelings of happiness and optimism.

Positive self-talk is a crucial, effective strategy they can use to combat any time of discomfort.

This is why you will often see athletes mumbling to themselves before a game. They’ve been taught how to get in the right headspace for the challenges ahead of them. The beauty of self-talk is that it isn’t just great for sports. Parents, employees — anyone, really, can use self-talk to bring themselves into a more solid and positive frame of mind.

By definition, self-talk can be private thoughts or external speech, and whether it is positive or negative guides a person’s emotional and behavioral responses to discomfort.

If self-talk is negative, reflecting back the criticism you feel from others, you will automatically impose self-limitations that may take years to overcome.

On the contrary, if the self-talk is positive, you can create a piece of armor to rely on for defense; whether it’s a work event or speaking in front of the room or seeking help from a co-worker, making new friends or defending oneself against a horrible boss, self-talk is extremely powerful.

When I was eight, I started to struggle with reading and writing. Before I was diagnosed with dyslexia, I was pulled into a group of five kids with serious learning disabilities.

A special aide came to work with us twice a day, calling us from our seats to the back of the room, where an accordion wall slid over to reveal a small side area.

The walk felt like a slow death march. Everyone could read the scarlet letters tattooed across the slow learners’ foreheads.

“Devin’s with the short bus kids,” one of my classmates snickered. The laughter and comments made me feel exposed and hurt, because there was a part of me that almost believed them. After all, I was in the special education group, so the kids were peeling the scab off a very real vulnerability.

That is why bullying is so damaging — it keys into deeply personal, truly embarrassing parts of a child’s psyche and seems to validate them. When a child utilizes self-talk as a response, he can shed the victim role and feel empowered instead.

In my case, rather than give in to the insecurity or tear my classmates down in return, I sat alone and breathed deeply. I could hear my father’s voice in my head: “People just don’t understand greatness,” he told me. “They don’t know what it looks like. You’ve just got to push through this.”

I am, I can, I will, I thought fiercely. These people just don’t understand me. I will get through this. It was important to own that I was going through a difficult time, but believe I would get through it. Those positive affirmations helped deflect some of the bullets being fired at me.

Now, as an adult, I can see how they also demonstrate the power of a parent’s lessons in self-talk.

In order for you to lead others, you have to first be comfortable who you see in the mirror.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Develop “trigger words” — a positive mantra you connect with and can repeat anytime that you need to self-soothe. Trigger words will help you feel empowered and may come from a favorite song or movie, as well as what parents and teachers instill in them. My trigger words came from my father: “I am, I can, I will.” Even as an adult, I turn to this reassuring phrase anytime I feel self-doubt, fear, or insecurity.

Learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. In other words, learn coping strategies for discomfort by placing yourself in situations (on purpose) where you must develop a skill you currently do not have. As a child, I thought the arts were unmanly — so my father made me play the bassoon. My confidence increased once I mastered the instrument, and I could refer to that experience in other times of discomfort.

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