When it comes to your work life, how many times do you think to yourself ” I can’t do this” or “I have to learn more about x in order to be more competent”. Or even, ‘I should have gone down x route and chosen a different career’. You get caught in the spiral of beating yourself up internally. That’s where self-talk comes in…
What is self-talk?
So self-talk is a common phrase in the world of sports psychology and looks at how we talk to ourselves internally when we are having negative thoughts…usually in the most inconvenient of times! Like just as we have started a new role or perhaps when we are job searching.
Traditionally, it has been thought that we can replace our negative thoughts with a more positive thought, through mantras, affirmations or statements. On the whole this is a positive thing to do and works much of the time. However, other research has shown that when we replace a negative thought with a positive one, it can actually produce more negative thoughts. Counter-productive huh?
The good news is that there is a branch of positive psychology known as ‘Acceptance and Commitment Therapy’ (ACT) which isn’t focused on whether our thoughts are positive or negative. Nor whether they are good/bad/indifferent/pleasant/right/wrong/optimistic etc. Neither does it care if our thoughts are motivational, instructional or neutral. Rather, it looks at whether our thoughts are helpful and workable i.e. if the thought you are having does not help you mindfully reach your goal with values-guided action….then it is not helpful to you.
How does acceptance help your self-talk?
We cannot control our thoughts (have you ever heard me liken them to clouds in the sky?) and so instead, self-talk is about acceptance (which our theme this month). So, when you are telling yourself you can’t do it; that you’re not good enough or that you will never ‘get’ this skill….the idea is that you don’t replace them with ‘I can do it’ or ‘I am good enough ‘or ‘if I keep trying I will conquer this’...instead you observe with curiosity and accept your thought for what it is…a thought. It is no more than a string of words. Much like this sentence is; it has no bearing on anything and cannot influence anything..unless you allow it to.
True acceptance is not about tolerating something or putting up with it. It is not about avoiding something or admitting defeat. In fact, true acceptance is being open, interested (curious) and receptive to the fact that a thought is *just* a thought. You do not need to fight them, control them or run away from them. In fact, you needn’t pay much attention to them at all.
There are going to be times in your career where you aren’t as good at something as you would like to be or where it’s challenging. There will also be times when it feels amazing, smooth and calm. The key is to acknowledge you are where you are on your journey and that is OK.
So a final thought on your career…
When it comes to creating a career you love (or in any other situation) remember that if your thoughts are helpful – then great go ahead and use them. If you find mantras and positive affirmations useful – use them. If, however your thoughts are unhelpful then accept them for what they are (words) and let them be. Some people find that tricky, it that’s you then be logical and look for evidence of where the thought is correct..if it isn’t, well then you know what to do.
I usually do this with clients by asking when have you been successful in your career? What did that look/feel like? And then extrapolating that feeling/observation to the present moment.