I was never someone who chastised themselves in front of others. I did it privately instead.
I preferred to do that in the comfort of my own mind where I could use words like ‘stupid’, ‘silly’ and ‘ungrateful’ and no-one would tell me otherwise. But it’s a continuous process to change my (silent) self-talk from something negative into something positive; from something useless into something effective.
Training in non-violent communication has helped me see this even more – how language shapes our reality, and how by re-conceiving how we think of language we can start to see reality completely differently.
When it comes to your creativity and self-worth, one of the most effective changes you can make to your self-talk is avoiding (or eliminating) the language of moral judgements.
I’ve heard my clients say (and I’ve said it too):
“I’m bad at organising myself.”
“I’m no good at keeping on top of things.”
“I should be able to stay on track more.”
“I ought to make more effort to network.”
“I never seem to do social media in the right way.”
“I always introduce myself in the wrong way.”
These phrases are stuffed with moral judgements: good, bad, should, ought, right and wrong.
Moral judgements are a very easy way to teach children what to do (or not to do) and a very ineffective way to help ourselves develop and grow as people.
Good, bad, should, ought, right and wrong are, in my mind, part of this cluster of ‘fixed mindset attributes’ which I mentioned last week. If you are bad, that’s it. If you’re good, that’s it. There’s no dynamism there. Fairy stories replicate this fixed view of the world – rarely does the ‘baddie’ learn the error of the ways and even more rarely do you see a ‘goodie’ royally fucking it up.
But good, bad, should, ought, right and wrong are not fixed. What is morally reprehensible in one generation is acceptable the next. What you thought was ‘bad’ as a kid might now be something you do every weekend.
When you talk to yourself negatively, and use words like good, bad, right or wrong, you’re asking:
“What is wrong with me?”
“What is bad about me?”
“What isn’t right in me?”
“What isn’t good in me?”
These questions identify a ‘something’ but that’s it. They help you point out a flaw but they don’t encourage you to move forward with healthier, happier ways of being.
A more effective, useful and powerful question is:
What am I trying to achieve?
When you catch yourself in a pattern of negative self-talk, you can ask yourself “Okay, what I am trying to achieve here?”
You might say, “I’m bad at organising myself. I’m so disorganised. I always lose things and forget things.”
So what is it that you are trying to achieve instead?
“I’m trying to become more organised.”
Then ask yourself the question again. What is it that you’re trying to achieve with become organised?
“I’m trying to show that I can do all my projects and make sure my work is the best it can be, rather than rushed.”
Ask yourself the question again. What is that you’re trying to achieve with doing all your projects and making sure your work is the best it can be, and not rushed?
“I’m trying to feel calmer and enjoy my work more.”
Eventually, you will get to a point where the answer to “What am I trying to achieve?” feels, intuitively, right and powerful. Keep asking yourself the question until you get there.
With that answer in mind, you can look at ways to move forward on that issue. You can’t do that with moral judgements.
If your ‘achievement’ is about feeling calmer and enjoying your work more, you could:
- Buy a diary and spend time every evening planning out the next day
- Set a date in the next week to spend a couple of hours filing
- Tidy up your folders on your desktop
- Practice meditation or mindfulness during your work day
- … and a thousand other ideas!
Asking this question shifts your self-talk and mindset in three ways.
It moves you towards a growth mindset and away from a fixed mindset. A growth mindset is key to continued resilience and happiness.
It turns a negative blaming or chastising statement into a positive one – something to work towards – which means you are more likely to work on it, and feel good about it.
By seeing what you’re aiming for, you can think of specific things to work on that will help you get there.
You can’t work on ‘bad’, ‘ought’ or ‘wrong’. But you can work on small tasks like tidying up or meditating to help achieve your aim.
You can work on specifics. You can learn how to do those things. Truly, you can! You can grow and expand without limit.
But when you pin yourself down like a butterfly on a board with words like good, bad, should, ought, right and wrong, you can’t fly. And you were built to fly.