August 29, 2012
Are you a negative or positive self-talker? To succeed, love yourself
In a Harvard Business Review blog post this week, strategic adviser Peter Bregman wrote about the right way to speak to yourself. Although you might think his topic is too touchy-feely to be a critical career issue, it is, in fact, directly connected to your chances for success.
Much is made of the hard skills necessary to be successful in work and in life -- those that center on education, experience, and technical or other expertise. But what about the soft skills?
It often seems like the people we know or come into contact with are divided into two camps. There are those people who seem endlessly, naturally and effortlessly positive. Everything seems to fall into place for these people. Anything, judging from their attitude, is possible.
Then there are those for whom everything seems challenging. Even when things should be simple, they're not. These are the folks we walk on eggshells around.
How we behave is connected directly to how we feel about ourselves. And the problem, according to many experts, is a lack of positivity toward ourselves. Negative self-talk (the voice inside your head repeating all the bad things you think about yourself) is especially active during times of stress or challenge, such as unemployment, work difficulties or job searching.
"Does the way you talk to yourself reflect your love for yourself? Or does it reflect annoyance, impatience and frustration?" asks Bregman, after describing an idyllic classroom situation he witnessed that modeled the attitude of love he says we should all be fostering toward ourselves.
"When we feel loved, appreciated and cared for, we try harder, take more risks, work more collaboratively and perform better. Sure, it would be ideal if our managers and leaders treated us with love and respect. But before asking that of others, I think it's important to ask it of ourselves," he writes.
How? Act first by noticing the voice in your head, Bregman says. Do not reward negative behavior by focusing on your faults and shortcomings, but instead redirect your thoughts and get busy doing something else.
When you succeed at something, stop and take notice. Congratulate yourself and reinforce the behavior, Bregman writes.
The positive thinking that typically comes with optimism is a key part of effective stress management, which is linked to better physical and psychological well-being, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Common forms of negative self-talk include filtering (you magnify the negative aspects of a situation and filter out all the positive ones); personalizing (when a bad thing happens, you always blame yourself); catastrophizing (you always think of the worst-case scenario and assume it will happen); and polarizing (you see only good or bad, black or white, never any middle ground).
Four tips for being more optimistic from the Mayo Clinic:
Identify areas to change and then start small, with one area such as work or your commute.
Check yourself periodically throughout the day by stopping what you're doing and evaluating your level of negativity. Then try to redirect negative thoughts once you've acknowledged them.
Surround yourself with positive people. Instead of being annoyed at those people for whom everything seems simple, get closer to them.
Rephrase negative self-talk into positive self-talk. For example, instead of saying, "It's too complicated," say to yourself, "I'll tackle it from a different angle."
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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