Self Talk

Self Talk

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When self-talk defines your professional identity.

About 18 months ago, I realized: so much talent gets wasted when we don’t know what we want in a career. You know what I mean? We rarely set aside the time we need to answer the big questions like:

  1. Where am I going with this?
  2. Am I clear on my non-negotiables?
  3. Is what I’m doing now making me happy?
  4. What else out there might be better for me?

Instead, our time and attention are spent on the work we’re doing now, instead of thinking about the work we actually want to do. Surprise surprise, we limit our career potential.

Here’s the kicker: we eventually forget to ask the big questions altogether. “Just never got around to it.” Has that happened to you before? It’s happened to me. Instead, we cement the professional identity born from just “going with the flow.”

Then the real trouble starts. Our inner beliefs and how we see ourselves get shaped by the path we’re on (the one we haven’t thoughtfully mapped out).

I realized that making the most of my “talent” starts – and is pretty much based on – my self-talk.

Let’s get into it.

Reflecting on professional identity.

I recently came to grips with being more than a “salesman” and started wrestling with my actual goals. My kicker: I’d convinced myself I fit into a salesman’s stereotypes when I didn’t.You know what I mean when I say a salesman and stereotypes in the same sentence. It’s as ugly as it sounds.

Thing is: even though it was my job title, I didn’t have to think of myself that way. I let it slip briefly and completely forgot to revisit my professional identity.

Self-talk is the bullshit story we tell ourselves. I once told myself things like “I’m unorganized, a scatterbrain,” and more. That’s how salespeople were, apparently. I took the easy way out.

Figuring things out was tough. Weeks of frustration, confusion, and uncertainty around what was next followed. You probably understand how anxious it can be. Image: you’re good at what you do now, aren’t sure about what’s next, but have a lingering feeling of doubt that you’re slowly costing yourself a better and brighter future. Worst part: you don’t understand why.

It happened to me because I “forgot” to reflect on my professional identity and my self-talk (my bullshit story), was the biggest limit on my potential.

Was I all those stereotypes at the time?

Yea. Definitely. I believed my own bullshit. Losing sight of what could be, I convinced myself wrongly. Have you ever done that?

Why we default to limiting self-talk.

Because it’s easy. It’s a heuristic. A helpful (but damaging) mental shortcut that (almost always) poorly describes a complex topic.

Here’s what happens: the mental effort of describing complexity makes the human mind default to simplicity. Our brains just want to save energy. Self-talk doesn’t get a special exemption.

Facing the baggage of old language.

Here’s what you need to know, and it took me years to figure out: self-talk is a habit. To change self-talk, we need to understand changing our habits.

The challenge with self-talk in particular is that we’re in our heads 24/7. The level of focus required is so much more than something like drinking enough water or going to the gym. You can’t hit the number and say “okay I’m done now.”Monitoring self-talk at all times is extremely difficult.

Fixing it.

The first adjustment was the hardest. I stopped talking about myself. I know what you’re thinking “Why is that so hard for you?” Right? I get it. That’s a different letter. Chances are that you’re similar in that way but don’t want to admit it.

Back to the solution: if you talk about yourself less, there are fewer opportunities for negative self-talk to appear. This makes catching it easier (cause going 9/10 is easier than going 90/100 when there’s only so much energy in a day).

Obviously, it’s not that simple. Dealing with it was a little roundabout, but I got there eventually. At first, I kept my brain so busy I wouldn’t even have a chance to think about myself.

Again, I know what you’re thinking. You’re right. This is not healthy in the long term. The thing is: you just need to do it for 33 days. That’s how long it takes to add a new habit or remove an old one (such as my excessive thinking about myself). What we do first is remove the bad habit, or as many of its repetitions of that bad habit as possible, before adding good habits.

From there, I took 10 days off and reflected on the big questions (see above again). By creating clarity around the big questions and what positive self-talk meant to me, I really started crushing it.

This was the order:* Stay so busy there’s less opportunity to talk about myself. (33 days)* Take 10 days to reflect on the big, important questions. This will mean thinking about yourself again. Positive only.* Apply 33 days of significant focus on positive self-talk based on your new clarity.

Can be affirmations in the morning, reminders throughout the day, or being around people with shared goals and talking with them regularly. All of these can help. You’ll have to find the one that works best for you.

Wrapping up.

Improving my self-talk had a big impact. When I cut phrases like “I’m in sales and we’re unorganized” to justify missing something, I suddenly didn’t have that crutch anymore. My personal organization improved. Being more mindful of self-talk has made me feel more open to new challenges and greater self-awareness. Not having a “default” means no crutch to fall back to.

But what if you don’t know what you want, but want positive self-talk? This might be a bit too simplistic for you, but here it is:

Never tell yourself you can’t do something. Always keep it positive. It’s not necessarily tied to a goal, but it should help you develop that openness to new experiences. Eventually, you will back to, and answer the big questions.

A year into changing my language has already reframed how I see myself, and how my colleagues see me too. The turning point was understanding why people do this in the first place.

All the best to you through to the next stage of your career.

Thanks for reading.