One of the greatest ways to become successful (i.e. accomplishing predetermined worthwhile goals that make a difference in the world) is to learn how to talk effectively to yourself. As infants and children our minds are programmed by the conditions we were raised in. As children our brains are fresh and very formative. The bad news is if we learn an abundance of “wrong” stuff our self talk is wrong and the longer we talk to ourselves wrong the harder it is to change later in life.
I was in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting meeting years ago and a young man said “If you are told you are a piece of crap long enough, you will eventually become a piece of crap and I am nothing but a piece of crap.” The same holds true for those of you who were raised in a perfectionistic environment, if you are told whatever you do is never good enough, eventually you quit trying or else paranoia sets in everytime you attempt to do something outside your comfort zone. Some of us were raised in a racist environment and were programmed that people with a particular skin type were different and should not be trusted. Maybe you were raised in an environment where you heard your parents constantly cutting down people that they “thought” had more than them. I could write a book dedicated to all of the “crap” many of us were told as children. The problem is we take all of this “crap” in and it is programmed in our brain. The brain generates thoughts and thoughts lead to actions. I learned a long time ago that alcoholics and addicts have thinking problems and recovery from these illnesses involve a change in our self talk and thinking.
As I’ve stated before, depression and negativity is at epidemic proportions in the United States. Some of this is clinical and is irreversible but the majority of it is caused by lousy self talk. About a week ago I was checking out the banquet room for our annual company dinner. The dinner was being held at an old historic building that had been renovated. As I was waiting for an elevator with another gentlemen he said “this is the slowest elevator in the world.” Then as we got on the elevator he said “this building will never be completed because it is a government project.” Then he looked up in the corner of the elevator and said “look at that cheap air freshener, why would you put that type of air freshener in an elevator?” I was like ”wow this guy has some serious self talk problems because he is not only thinking “crap” but he is quite bold in sharing it with others.” On the flip side of this situation the thoughts that ran through MY mind consisted of wondering how difficult it must have been to install an elevator in a building that was over 150 years old. I was also amazed at how much work had been done on the building the last couple of years and it was almost complete. The air freshener…well come on who gives a crap about an air freshener?
What is so cool is the fact we have the ability to change our self talk. We have the ability to change the programs we were given as children. In my years as an athlete I have numerous experiences where self talk turned into personal and team victory. Every time I shot a free throw I had a ritual where I would say to myself 1-2-3 “swish” and while saying this I would picture the ball going through the hoop. I was a career 82% free throw shooter and led the nation in free throw shooting my junior year in college. I can only imagine what my percentage would have been if I would have gotten to the free throw line and thought “I hate to shoot free throws because I am a poor free throw shooter.”
There are many ways to skin this cat and change our self talk, but the first thing that must happen is we need to recognize the negative self talk. Spend a day carrying a note pad with you and everytime you think a negative or crazy thought write it down. Examples include thinking your work is overwhelming, thinking people are out to get you, thinking you will be unable to accomplish a goal you’ve set, thinking that a person that didn’t acknowledge you in public doesn’t like you, thinking the church is out to get your money, thinking your kids don’t like you, thinking everything you do comes out wrong etc…
The next thing you need to do is spend 30 minutes a day reversing the old programs by talking to yourself in a positive way. Examples of this talk would include…”today is going to be the best day of my life, I am worthy of the great things that are going to happen to me today, I am a great employee, I am a great boss, I am a great co-worker, I am a great mother, I am a great father, I am a great husband, I am a great wife, I am a great son, I am a great daughter, I am a great leader, I am a great child of God….” I know it sounds corny, but it works. It is impossible to replace the old programs with new programs without daily practice. I remember Al Franken in his role as the psychochologist Stuart Smalley, he used to stare in a mirror and say “I’m strong enough, I’m good enough and dog gone it people like me.” We all laughed when Stuart said this but believe it or not, self talk like this is the most effective way to replace the old negative tapes.
Next, you need to hang out in spaces, places and with faces that will help you in your quest to change your programming. At the same time be on your guard and protect yourself from the spaces, places and faces that mess with your new programming. We become what we watch, read, listen to and hang out with.
Last, but certainly not least, God gave us the ability to imagine, to dream and to envision things. Did he do this so we could sit around all day and feel sorry for ourselves? Did he do this so we could envision ourselves “messing up.” No he did this because he wants great things for us. He is our Father and what father would not want his child to excel? Spending time each day with your Father by praying, reading scripture and meditating is critical to reversing the old tapes. Proverbs 4:10-12 “Listen, my son, accept what I say and the years of your life will be many. I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run you will not stumble.” Take time to ask God for help in changing your self talk. Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:7-8, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Remember it takes at least 21 days to replace an old habit with a new one and the process of changing your self talk tapes will take time. The more negative tapes you have, the longer it will take. Once you do it, you will be introduced to a world you never knew existed. You will no longer care where “air fresheners” are located instead you will be attracted to God’s awe and beauty in most every situation.