Talking Heads; Who's living in your head?

We all have a voice in our head which encourages us, instructs us or sometimes berates us. 

Ron Weisinger on LinkedIn drew our attention to a Wall Street Journal Article on Self Talk.

This suggested there are two types of self-talk:

Instructional self-talk, where we are explaining to ourselves how to do something such as when we are going to a new place and we say ‘get off at the next stop’, ‘turn left here’.

Motivational Self Talk, where we are saying ‘keep going, you can do it’.

However, many of us find that this voice is critical. It berates us, telling us off when we get things wrong, perhaps calling us ‘stupid’, saying we are ‘going to be found out for being useless’ and so on. This critical voice, rather than improving performance, can promote a feeling of fear and ultimately result in lower performance. There are two great books which I recommend to people I am coaching when this critical voice is loud and persistent.

The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey is a great book. As a tennis coach he describes how getting to great performance requires you to silence that inner voice and go with your body’s instinct and ability. He provides great techniques for helping to focus on your ability rather than fear failure.

The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women by Valerie Young is another excellent book. It is a must for people who suffer from imposter syndrome, which put simply means, feeling you do not deserve to be where you are and an accompanying fear of being found out. Whilst aimed at women, it has much to offer men who feel this way too. It suggests that it is not uncommon to be successful but to feel that success was a ‘mistake’ or ‘accident’ and you are not really good enough to be there. Hence you live in fear of being exposed. She gives examples of some famous people who appear to suffer from this syndrome which is really enlightening.

If you have a critical voice in your head, here are my three tips to help you get started with positive self-talk:

Firstly, practice recognising when you do something well and always make a point of telling yourself you did well. Use your name, ‘that was great Jennifer’, ‘fantastic presentation Paul’. The reason being that it helps you to view this feedback as objective (rather than using ‘I’). We do tend to value what others tell us more.

Secondly, whenever you get any feedback view it as a gift, it is a positive chance to do even better. So thank the person and look for one thing you can change which will move you forward. So using this approach, pre-empt the critical voice in your head by always asking yourself, what ‘gift of learning’ can you take from this [Jennifer/Paul]?

Thirdly, the voice in our heads can sometimes represent a critical parent, or someone who has had influence over us in the past. If you are not sure, try listening to the phrases being used, do you recognise them, where did they come from? If this is the case then change the voice. Identify a good friend, someone you trust and rephrase what you are hearing in the way they would talk to you.