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 internal conversations. Many times when someone asks us “How are you feeling?” it takes us a moment to answer, and only when we say out loud “I am angry!” or “I am sad!” we realize how we actually feel. It all happens in conversation.
In the world of conversation, there are two types: empowering conversations and undermining conversations.
Engaging in empowering conversations make us bigger, stronger and more energized. Engaging in undermining conversations, obviously, make us smaller, more circumstantial, cynical and resigned.
Sometimes the distinction between the empowering and undermining is bluntly obvious. For example, if someone thinks or says: “I am not good enough” or “I will never succeed in my career or marriage”, that is obviously a disempowering belief. But, if someone thinks or says: “Achieving my project is going to be really hard” or “It’s 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. We tend to relate to these type of comments as straightforward descriptions of the way things will be.
One of the reasons we keep engaging in undermining thoughts and conversations is that we don’t do a good job telling the difference between facts and interpretations. We often draw disempowering conclusions about past events, or think and say undermining things about present situations and/or future possibilities as if we are innocently reporting on facts, while in reality, everything we are thinking and saying is purely our interpretation.
We do it with others: “He doesn’t like me”, “She is incompetent”, “He only cares about himself” etc. And worst, we do it with ourselves: “I can’t do this”, “It will never work”, “I don’t function well with these type of people and/or situations” etc. These seemingly ‘innocent’ comments often become self-fulfilling prophecies that come back to bite us.
I was supporting a business-owner friend who wanted to double his income by end of the year. He ended up achieving 70% of his goal, which in my mind was quite an accomplishment. I tried to get him to see that even though he fell short of his goal his achievement was still very admirable. It wasn’t easy. He was disappointed and beating himself up. He kept saying things like: “What was I thinking?”, “I shouldn’t have taken on such a big goal”, “It is never easy” and “Some people make it happen and others don’t.”
From time to time we all fall into a vicious circle of negative conversations in which we draw unfavorable conclusions and assign negative meaning to events. Like my friend, if we take on bold objectives and then we fall short we forget that we were the ones who created these goals in the first place.
Furthermore, the way we express ourselves also often lacks rigor, accuracy, and self-awareness. When I ask people to share about a project that isn’t on track, they often jump to: “I am failing” and “It’s not working” rather than “I failed to achieve the outcome I promised last month” or “I tried to fix the problem with X solution and it didn’t solve the problem.”
The first implies “I am a failure, therefore most likely I won’t ever succeed and I shouldn’t even try”. The latter implies “I failed in last month’s goal, which means nothing about my ability to achieve the same goal 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 the next time.
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 disempowering, harmful and destructive.
So, how do you get free from these undermining cycles?
- Develop your self-awareness around conversations. Pay attention to what you are saying to yourself and what comes out of your mouth.
- Especially, become aware of the self-deprecating mechanism outlined here, by catching and stopping yourself in real-time when you are about to buy into 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. If what you are thinking or saying makes you feel great, it’s probably empowering. If it makes you feel crap it is probably undermining.
- Make sure you are clear that your interpretations, no matter how valid they may be, are true facts or not. This distinction will help you with the previous points.
- When you catch yourself thinking an undermining thought, have the courage to say to yourself “thank you for sharing” and don’t believe or buy into that conversation. Instead, create an equally valid thought that does empower you.
- Lastly, surround yourself with people who are committed to the same things, who will support you and keep you honest in your commitment to only engage in empowering thoughts and conversations.
The more you practice, the better you will become.
Enjoy the journey.