When was the last time you mentally called yourself an idiot (or some other colourful expletive)? Was it in the last week? The last day? The last hour? For many this is something that happens a lot, but has become part of the “scenery” of our day – we don’t even notice when we are doing it. Negative thoughts we direct towards ourselves have an impact that we should be aware of, because this is something everyone does at some point and you may be surprised to discover how often you do it (and who it impacts).
Start with data (as opposed to opinion, especially for those of you saying to yourself right now “This doesn’t apply to me”…test that). As you go through your day make a check mark for every time you have a negative thought aimed at yourself (in a note book or whatever you take with you consistently to meetings). Do this for a week, although a few days worth of tracking may be all the data you need. With that data in mind think about the impact of hearing something negative about you that many times a day. How does this impact you emotionally? Would you do that to another person in your life? Would you point to every perceived flaw, annoying behavior or mistake? No you wouldn’t, because if you did you’d get to have a lovely chat with the folks in HR. But that is not the only reason we don’t do this to others, it’s also because we know it does not serve a useful purpose. Humans are perfectly imperfect and no one expects anyone in their life (work or personal) to be 100% all of the time. So why are we so hard on ourselves?
Likely because we do this reflectively in our own minds and feel it impacts no one else. Is that the case? If we can see (by looking at the data, all those check marks) that negative self-talk is present we can then view this information in a new light. Is it holding us back in life? Is it making us more emotional, stressed, or keeping us from stretching ourselves? Likely it is, in small and subtle ways that we may not be able to perceive, but may sound like “I’ll skip this meeting, I need to focus on getting this work done well” or “I need more experience in this area before I’d take on that assignment”. Think about the ways you “talk” yourself out of potential opportunities because of a consistent current of negativity from the one person who knows you better than anyone else - you.
Bashing ourselves mentally with our flaws impacts others as well. In today’s workplaces nothing happens in isolation, if you are being hard on yourself it is likely “peeking out”, visible to your colleagues and boss (you are reluctant to take on new things, or don’t contribute as much as you could in meetings). Likely it is visible at home too, creating behavior patterns that may impact our friends and families (self-exasperation or testiness with others as examples). How we show up for ourselves and provide self-support for what we do is very important. It is the foundation of our self-confidence and allows us access to more in work (and in life) than any other single resource. It’s also important to view self-support as the key-stone to being able to support the people around us. Imagine a world where “mistakes” become “new things we’ve learned” and where insecurity points to a gap that (now identified) can be addressed. We can create that world for ourselves, no one else will. Negative self-talk won’t disappear entirely, but it is up to each of us to manage it when it is present and turn it to something useful rather than allowing it to bludgeon our energy and confidence, impacting us and those we come in contact with everyday. Be mindful of how often you may be wielding a mental cudgel – awareness is key and a simple step that can provide unending benefits. Gather the data and see for yourself.