I learned many years ago that how we think and speak about ourselves and others determines the space and mood we live in. Speaking, thinking and even feeling are really very similar in nature. They all involve having a conversation. Thinking and feeling are speaking with yourself. We wouldn’t really know how we feel if we didn’t say to our self “I am sad”, “I am scared” or “I am angry.” And speaking is verbalizing our conversations to others in an interaction.
In the world of conversation, there are two types of conversations: empowering and undermining. Engaging in empowering conversations make us bigger, stronger and more energized. Engaging in undermining conversations, obviously, make us more circumstantial, resigned and cynical.
Sometime the distinction between the empowering and undermining is bluntly clear. For example if someone thinks or says: “I am not good enough,” “I am not smart enough,” or “I will never have a really great marriage or career,” that is obviously a disempowering belief. But, if someone thinks or says: “achieving my project is going to be really hard,” or “its going to take me a really long time to realize my dream,” it may not be as apparent that this too is an undermining paradigm.
One of the reasons why we keep engaging in thoughts and conversations that have a negative impact on us is we don’t do a good job telling facts apart from interpretations. We often engage in undermining conversations about past events, present situations and future possibilities as if we are merely innocently reporting on facts, while in reality everything we are thinking and saying is purely our interpretation.
In fact, many times we set ourselves up for invalidation when we take on an aspirational goal. If we fall short in achieving it, we get sucked into self-deprecating thoughts and feelings about the goal and ourselves.
For example, I have seen people who wanted to better themselves set a bold objective of doubling their income, but ended up achieving 70% of their goal. Even though their achievement was still admirable, they said things like: “What was I thinking” or “I shouldn’t have taken on such a big goal.” I have seen this with many types of goals.
The vicious circle of undermining conversations thickens when we add uncomplimentary conclusions and assign subtle negative meaning to these events. Many times I heard people say things like: “I am just unlucky,” or “Someone like me can’t have that type of success.” These comments are often subtle, but they are harmful. We forget that we are the ones who made up the game in the first place. (Many references to the vague “people.” Do you have a specific story that could work here?)
Furthermore, the way we express our conversations is also often disempowering. When people refer to yesterday’s shortfalls, they often say: “I am failing with this result” or “this is not working” rather than “I failed to achieve this result last month” or “it didn’t work last time.” The first implies “I am a failure,” hence most likely I won’t ever succeed. The other implies “I failed in last month’s goal,” which means nothing about my ability to achieve it in the future. In fact, the second allows us to learn from our shortfall and identify what could be changed, corrected and/or improved in order to succeed in the future.
Lastly, any type of conversation in any area of our life with an explicit or implicit reference to “I am not good enough,” “something is wrong with me,” or “I should be different,” is untrue and more important harmful and destructive.
So, how do we get free from these undermining cycles?
- Develop your self-awareness around conversations.
- Become aware of the self-deprecating mechanism outlined here, by catching yourself in real-time when you entertain undermining conversations.
- Start telling the difference between facts and interpretations.
- When you feel, think or say things ask yourself – “is this empowering or disempowering me? You will be able to tell by how you feel about the conversation.
- Make sure you are clear that your interpretations no matter how valid they may be, are not true or facts.
- When you acknowledge an undermining feeling, thought, or conversations, have the courage to say to yourself “thank you for sharing” and don’t buy into that conversation.
- Instead, create an equally valid conversation that does empower you.
The more you practice this the better you will become at it.
Enjoy the ride.