Dave Conrad: Our ‘self-talk’ shapes the way we think

November 30, 2018

Dear Dave: There is a lot of negativity where I work. So many of my co-workers are “gloom and doom” people who think the worst of everything and tell themselves how bad things are. I am usually quite upbeat, but I am finding it quite difficult to be positive when people are telling me and themselves how bad it is and how we will never make it, and so on. Maybe I can’t change the other employees, but I really want to make sure I don’t always walk around muttering to myself that everything is bad. Suggestions needed. — C

Dear C: I know what you mean and I, myself, try to stay away from these defeatist “self-talkers.” However, I find that I need to interact with them and work on things with them, and I cannot avoid that responsibility. Basically, the only thing I can do is, prepare myself for what I will hear and try to make sure I do not start talking to myself the way they do.

We all tell ourselves stories and phrases at work about our work, and these stories and phrases shape the way we think, interact with others, and make decisions. If we come into work every day and tell ourselves we will have a rotten day, guess what — we will have one. Not only does our negative self-talk have impact on the way we will view things, our tormenting personal conversations start rubbing off on the people we work with. It is both palpable and contagious.

For example, if we dwell on the belief all day that “This company and my job stinks” then, the company and our job will stink — it’s as simple as that. Then, our precious and possibly vulnerable co-workers will witness our attacks on ourselves and may start telling themselves the same things.

This is especially true for new people in the company. These new workers are looking for strong people in the company that have a positive mindset and are motivated by the purpose of their job and the company — they are looking for mentors. If they have contact with workers who are growling about management, customers, suppliers, etc., they have a choice: they can mimic the self-talk of these newfound bad examples, or make a plan to involve themselves with others who do not keep telling themselves that everything is terrible.

I play golf with an individual — and he really is a nice guy — but every time he has a bad shot, he beats the living pejeepers out of himself and calls himself every name in the book. I have learned that I am not a good golfer and when I have a bad shot, I tell myself how privileged I am to be able to get out and golf and enjoy the weather. This same type of thing happens at work and we can either go along with the “negative self-talking Nellies” or keep repeating some positive mantras to ourselves that may reflect gratitude, a positive attitude, and the ability to apply our crafts and expertise at work.

Things are going to go wrong

I believe we need to realize that things will go wrong and we need to face them and not let them rule our thinking. Negative “self-stories” will not help you, and the negative self-stories of others certainly will not help us succeed at our jobs or help us have a good day. Without overanalyzing ourselves, we need to separate what may be good things to tell ourselves and what may be bad. I think we can do the same thing when we listen to — intentionally or unintentionally — the mutterings of others. This “sorting out of our thinking” is crucial to our well-being.

Then, we must decide just how bad something, or a series of things, really are. If things are bad, I believe we have a duty and responsibility to tell ourselves, “Gee … that really sucked. OK, I said this, now I need to pick myself up and get on with the show.” Simply, we must acknowledge that things are bad when they are bad, but not ruminate over them and let them disrupt our attitude and actions.

Things go wrong and they may even be in a pattern of getting worse, but beating ourselves up, or going along with the rants we hear others tell themselves, will not solve the problem(s). Our new self-talk must be one of separating fact from fiction, determining what the damage is if something went wrong, and start talking to ourselves about how we are going to fix things. All of the negative self-talk in the world will not repair anything.

Once we realize that our behavior — and the behavior of others — stems from stories we construct and go over and over again, will we be able to invent positive stories that lighten our load. We may not be able to avoid negative self-talkers at work, but, we can learn to tell ourselves motivating stories.

Our thoughts are powerful things and we try to verbalize and use them to either make ourselves feel like crap or take the high road of being constructive, determined decision-makers and problem-solvers. My self-talk for today is to employ positive stories for any bad things I may face.

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