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April 2018

10 Strategies for Relieving Negative Self Talk



Everyone at some time or another experiences negative self talk. As sapient creatures, aware of ourselves, unlike most animals we have immense capacity for self criticism. But it is not just our awareness of ourselves – and our flaws – that creates this self talk. It is also our ability to compare and contrast. Our grasp of time. If an animal suffers a horribly injury, such as losing a limb, it does not spend its days moping around for very long. It gets on with it. This is not to say that animals do not “feel” or possess emotions, for there is strong evidence to suggest that they do, but they are not able to bemoan their fate, or look back on halcyon days. Nor does the animal reprimand itself for its mistakes – it does not blame itself for the loss of limb, this is simply something that has happened. So, our intelligence as human beings is at once a blessing – empowering us to do amazing things – but can also be a curse, crippling us with self doubt and negativity.


The first character who speaks in the Bible is God. At Genesis 1:3 God says, “Let there be light”, and just as He speaks, the reality manifests. This is a pattern of God's language: he frequently speaks in imperatives, or what we might call commands. That's hardly surprising as He is God.


The first question in the Bible, however, is spoken by another character: the serpent – the Devil – who says, “Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?” And there we have it, the first question, the first, doubt, expressed by the Devil. Whether you want to believe in this literally is irrelevant to my purposes in this article; what is clear is that psychologically this is profoundly true. There is a Devil, a Satan, within all of us, and this being questions us, pokes holes in our arguments, mocks our sense of self importance. There is a reason we so often associate the “nasty little voice” in our heads with the demonic powers. In the case of the Garden of Eden, the Devil is casting doubt on the need for Adam and Eve to restrain themselves, and not eat the forbidden fruit.


Asking questions is all too often threatening to others, and all too often symptomatic of doubt in us. Whether that be doubt about our political institutions and their validity, or doubts about our partner or colleagues or bosses, once the questioning mode starts we all too frequently lose faith in someone or something, and our feelings about them become divided.


Nowhere is this more important than in our thoughts about ourself. Once we start serially questioning our own motives, our own talents and abilities, our own – and this is deepest of all – self worth, then we are in serious trouble: we cannot succeed at anything. To use the New Testament psychological insight: the house divided against itself cannot stand. We call this deep questioning of ourself 'negative self talk', and for some people it a permanent condition of torture.


How, then, can we lessen or even remove this thorn in our flesh? because every one at some time or another experiences this problem. Here are ten great ideas to help you relieve negative self-talk.


One, move, or more accurately, break the body set. What this means is that once we start being negative about ourself we find that a certain rigidity or tension creeps into our body and its posture. Thus, at its simplest level, going for a brisk walk is a good idea. Take those strides, feel those arms swinging purposefully side to side.


Second, be in the here and now. In other words, stop regretting the past or worrying about the future. Easier said than done? Yes. The key technique for being in the now is meditation and focusing on your breath. This can be aligned to point number one if we consider disciplines like yoga, chi gung or tai chi: in these the breath is central, as is breaking the body set, all the while slowing down and enjoying the moment.


Third, exaggerate the problem – yes, you heard right: exaggerate the problem! So, you are telling yourself that you are an unattractive person, that nobody would like you? Dead right – you're Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Frankenstein’s monster, or whoever – and as the picture, the cartoon almost, forms in your mind, its very exaggeration starts becoming comical. If we can laugh at ourself, then we can offset the sting of the negativity.


Fourth, undertake physical exertion. This is slightly different from point one, because here we are talking about more serious and heavy physical exertion: some serious gardening, for example, is quite different from going for a brisk walk. And so might be a serious house clean. It will be different for every one of us depending on our age and fitness and health; nevertheless, physical exertion always takes our mind away from the negative ramblings of our mind.


Fifth, create your own safe place, or haven, or as I like to call it, my den. Where can you go where you feel at peace, at one, and safe? This may be a room in your house or flat. It may be, as it often is for people, a spot in nature – a park, a beach, a forest. Beauty always heals.


Sixth, review the sounds that surround you. Do you have music that is beautiful, that is healing, that restores you? Not to put to fine a point upon it, there are some musical styles which are ugly, discordant, aggressive and manufactured to maximise unhappiness in your soul. Avoid these. Instead, listen to the opposite; that may include some popular and modern music; but do not forget the wonders of JS Bach. As Roberto Assagioli put it in his marvellous book, Psychosynthesis: “The music which can especially produce this kind of healing influence is that of JS Bach ...” and he cites Albert Schweitzer who calls a composition by Bach, “an expression of the Primal Power which manifests itself in the infinite rotating worlds”. Bach is “a song of love, unfolding itself in the light of intelligence, and impelled by will. That is why it enriches so much.”


Seventh, talk with someone. A good friend can correct our erroneous views of ourself, can restore the correct balance to our thoughts, can enable us to see the good when all we can grasp is the bad. This is especially important for men who have a tendency to bottle things in, regard 'sharing feelings' as unmanly, which is clearly a mistaken and negative thought in itself.


Eighth, consider other people. One of the problems with negative self talk is its tendency to promote self-obsession at the expense of true self love. Who can you help? Who needs your assistance or support? Once we think like this we begin to realise too that whatever we were thinking our shortcomings were, there may be somebody else who has it far worse than we do. This, bizarrely, though not good in itself, relying as it does on comparison, yet can get us to re-evaluate our own position.


Ninth, take a nap, and indeed sleep more. Sleep is nature's healing balm, and we need more of it. In our pressurised Western life styles some people do not get enough sleep – which should be at least seven hours a day. If you know you are only getting five or six hours, ensure you steal naps during the course of the day. You'll feel a lot better and negative thinking will recede.


Finally, and possibly controversially, learn to pray. If meditation is listening in the silence to the voice of the universe, then prayer is asking and focusing with intention on the universe to help. There are no atheists in fox-holes, as the saying goes, and developing humility through prayer is paradoxically one of the single most powerful things you can do to feel better about yourself. It's counter-intuitive, but it's true, as many testify. Pray – for as it says in the First Epistle of John 3: 19-20: “We set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” Surely, that is a staggering thought that silences doubt even as we begin to contemplate its majesty?


Even if we do not accept prayer in the denominational sense, or a higher power, we can all do with asking for help. Sometimes, we cannot talk to people, because people are so subjectively predisposed. We can feel like we already know exactly what words and advice will pour from their lips before we’ve even asked them. In addition, we can sometimes feel too self-conscious about our negative self talk and feelings to adequately put it into words. We Brits, in particular, downplay ourselves, including our problems, leading to people assuming we are “okay”. Speaking to the universe, however, the unified cosmos, can be far more liberating. And if you believe, in your heart, that there is something out there listening with “Sublime Compassion”, then to quote the Buddhists, you are all the better for relieving your negative state.


This motivational webseries will continue in two weeks' time, with an article on Six Problems with the "Success Syndrome". Thanks, as always, for dropping by! And if you have any thoughts or strategies for relieving negative self talk, be sure to leave them in the comments. 


The Need for Productivity


Why do we want to be motivated? So far, in this web series, we’ve discussed numerous ways in which we can get motivated, and maintain our motivation levels through stressful experiences, but it’s worth also pausing and considering why we want to attain motivation in the first place. There are so many reasons, but one key one – at least from a business standpoint, as opposed to the personal and spiritual sphere – is performance and productivity; the two go hand in hand.


Performance is about being on top of one’s work, of being able to achieve things both for oneself and for the organization, and inevitably, as night follows day, if we perform at a high level for any length of time we start becoming extremely productive. So being productive means that we produce ‘stuff’: products, services, ideas, innovations, value and profit. Possibly, then, being productive is the number one thing that employers want from their employees; it’s self-evidently mission critical.


What makes a highly productive employee? Who are the highly productive employees? If we remember the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 Rule, we will be clear that these highly productive individuals can be up to 16 times more productive than their less successful counterparts. Sixteen times! That is a staggering achievement especially if we are dealing with, as we frequently are, people being paid the same standard salary. Further, and awfully, the Pareto Principle also clearly means that 20% of our employees produce 80% of our profit (or value-add), and sadly, 80% produce only 20%. The challenge, then, is to skew this law so that it works more in our favour: imagine how much more productivity and profit would be possible if instead of 80-20, we had 70-30 or even 60-40. In other words, imagine what would happen for our organization if we doubled the number of employees who are seriously productive?


But how do we find these 'productive' individuals? Productivity is a people issue. People make things happen - or not. This seems to be a revelation to some managers, as if merely pushing people around and simply paying them a wage leads to high productivity. The reality is that this approach leads to subtle sabotage and non-vocal resistance: lip-service to the organizations and its goals, but at root a deep dislike and resentment. Eventually, of course, it leads to outright hostility and then we go down the line of cost: somebody quits and we have to start all over again. Alternatively, bad managers take the view that they can discount their people because technology will do it all – how misguided can one be?


People are in one sense like bees: they like being productive, they like being in a well-tuned hive where everyone and everything has its place and all is purposeful. It produces honey and sweetness, and the sense of a life well spent. But what is productivity and where is it in the scheme of things? Now that’s the interesting thing; that’s the thing which if all managers understood they might get real about leading their employees instead of just paying them.


Productivity is what it says it is: it is the ability of the individual (and teams) to produce something – to create: be that a product (a thing), a service, or value. In short, productivity is about adding to the sum of existence: something that wasn’t there before is now there, and as a direct result of the individual’s efforts. You’d think everybody would want to be productive, not least because it boosts one’s own self-esteem; but if you think so, you’d be wrong. That said, however, the important thing to grasp is the position of productivity in the scheme of organizational activities.


For productivity sits midway between the two other vital ‘P’s: performance and profit! Productivity is the bridge to profits! As Dr. Alex Krauer said, “When people grow, profits grow”. We need high performing people to start with. We need therefore to focus on recruitment in the first instance and how we go about that. But clearly, productivity must involve employee performance too; there is no way round it. We have to go back to first principles. Yes, we want the profits and we can anticipate and plan for them, but we can’t just kick people into being productive; they need to be high performing individuals and teams. So if we are not happy with our current levels of productivity, then how are we going to change the situation? By doing some serious thinking about the performance of our individuals!


This can be done on an individual level, team level, and on the organizational level. But here is a quick, personal aide-memoir to ask yourself, and then to ask yourself about your employees: what one skill, if you had it now, would make the greatest impact on your own productivity? This could be anything - a technical, or interpersonal, or strategic skill. Whatever it is, now you’ve identified it, how are you going to bridge the gap? 


Similarly, what one skill if your employees had it now would make the biggest difference to the productivity of the whole? Remember that the whole point about the ‘one skill’ that would have the greatest impact is that we are invoking the Pareto Principle – a small number of things, one even, can have a disproportionate influence on everything else.


Skills are one necessary thing; the other is motivation – what’s your plan to increase your own and your employees’ motivation? Without it, even the skills will wither: there is no alternative!


Three Tools for Personal Development



In the modern world, there is, more than there ever was before, a drive to constantly achieve new things and get to the next stage of ‘life’ and ‘success’. This can manifest in all kinds of ways: sometimes it is material, in that we want the next car or promotion or house; sometimes it is creative, in that we rush from one project to the next without pausing to reflect on the achievement of having completed the first one. Creative people are especially vulnerable to this. They disregard their own back catalogue of triumphs. How many times have you heard a creative person say: ‘Oh, that’s my old stuff. You should check out my new projects, they’re much better!’

Stephen King once joked that ‘As far as my fans are concerned, I might as well have died after I wrote The Stand.’ But the thing is, that book was and remains a remarkable achievement, and while he has gone on to complete 0ther, arguably equally remarkable works, it’s not shameful to be associated with an iconic former triumph. Of course, the other side of this are the ‘has-beens’, people who live off of former achievements without feeling the need to contribute anything new. Many creative people are paranoid about morphing into these parasitical individuals, and hence push themselves even harder to get to their next endeavour.

So, in the light of this and the upcoming release of my second motivation book: Mapping: Motivation for Coaching, co-written with Bevis Moynan, and now available from here (and for a 20% discount enter the code: FLR40 at checkout), I decided to revisit some all important lessons from my previous book, Mapping Motivation. Here are three personal development tools, explored in detail in the book, that you can use to inform your motivational practice. The thing about revisiting old material is that, hopefully, good things remain relevant for a long time, sometimes even forever. The bad stuff, you can leave behind.

Mapping Motivation has a chapter on Leadership which provides a new model that has, at the heart of it, the surprising fact that motivation and the ability to motivate others is at least 50% of what a leader is required to do. This is counter-intuitive and not what we expect; and not what most other models claim is the essence of effective leadership. The model is called the '4+1 Model' and I direct you to Chapter 8 of the book to get a full account of it, but for now trust me if I say that the '1' of the '4+1' model is all about personal development and growth, and that without this growth, the leader cannot function well even if they have the other necessary skills (the '4'). So how do we grow as people, as leaders?

All growth and personal development begins with self-awareness: the self being aware of itself, becoming aware of dissatisfaction with its self, and projecting, therefore, changes that will enable it to ‘improve’. In other words, to engage in a creative process with itself. There are three primary and creative tools of personal development that follow from this self-awareness.

One, desire itself: seeing our own condition we desire to improve, rectify, and enhance it. Desire is not motivation but it precedes it. The consequence of this, then, is that our emotions are vital to our development, and are not playing some subordinate role to our thought and logical processes. It is desire at its intensest level that leads in most situations to the solving of the most pressing problems that we encounter, including our own problem!

Two, imagination: the self produces images that begin a process of manifestation. The etymology of the word manifestation is from the Latin for “hand” - we can ‘handle’ thoughts via manifestation. Manifestation, then, is the process by which material reality comes into existence as a concretization of what the mind has ‘seen’, or, if you will, 'pre-seen'. (There is a wonderful story about Roy Disney, who after his father's death, and the opening of Disney Land, had some sympathiser murmuring: 'If only your father had lived to see this'. To which he replied: 'But he did see it and that's why you’re seeing it now'.) Hence, it is too that we find that the visible things depend upon the invisible things for their existence. There is a wonderful line from the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead which expresses this: “All the world which lies below has been set in order and filled in contents by the things which are placed above; for the things below have not the power to set in order the world above”.

Three, expectations: our beliefs in future outcomes, or in short, faith. What we believe, especially about the future, has an inordinate effect upon that future and upon the outcomes (of life) for us. So much so, our belief – faith – may be considered a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Meditation is the process and the objective by which self-awareness is maximized. This leads to the interesting reflection that altered brain wave patterns – not the everyday beta brain way patterns (which are in the range of about 13-40 Hz) - are intimately connected with developing self-awareness. Deepak Chopra made the profound observation that: “It is possible to spend a lifetime listening to the inventory of the mind without ever dipping into its source”. Clearly, any leader in this non-creative state is likely to be (a) highly ineffective, and (b) ego-driven, with all the terrible consequences that implies.

Two corollaries, then, of this are: first, relaxation is therefore essential not only to human development but human happiness too. Secondly, the ultimate relaxation is in sleep, and sleep itself requires both the non-being (as it were) state of non-consciousness AND the dream state. In fact, the dream state is every bit as essential as the non-conscious state. Why? Possibly because dreams themselves, remembered or otherwise, are primary agents shaping our desires, imagination and expectations. Bizarrely, then, the real changes we want in our life, and even the fact we want them, derive from the invisible, intangible, insubstantial and nebulous world within us.

If we want to be leaders, then, we need to pay attention - much like Sherlock Holmes - not to the obvious details of everyday life, but more intently to the small creative things that have in the longer term such a huge impact on reality.

Tune in next week for another webseries blog on the need for productivity.