Does Your Internal Dialogue Damage Your Success?

Kathy said to me, “If anybody talked to me they way you talk to yourself, I would never get out of bed!” My wife said this months ago, and I can’t stop thinking about it. My negative self-talk is a bad habit.

Maybe it comes from bad parenting, bad coaches, or bad teachers. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. I made it a part of who I am, and that’s bad.

This Is Insanity!

Here I am writing this article and thinking, “This isn’t going to help anyone. Negative self-talk is my problem. No one else talks to themselves this way. Just trash this, and write about something else.”

But I have learned in life, I am just like everybody else. I am not alone. So I am going to believe you do this, too. You, like me, don’t talk nicely to yourself.

You say things like:

“I’m so stupid!”

“I’m hopelessly disorganized.”

“I don’t deserve to be successful.”

“I don’t have the natural talent they have.”

Three Ways Negative Self-Talk Destroys

First, future success becomes present failure. Negative self-talk stops me cold even before I have a chance to succeed. I tell myself, “If I am too stupid to change, then why try?” So I fail, and I didn’t do the first thing to succeed. My life becomes a fait accompli.

In January 2009, I gave a presentation called “How startups can succeed and grow in this economic collapse.” I did a lot of research from which I determined the markets would bifurcate and the middle market would disappear. The message was, “If you are selling to the middle market, you’ll die.” Then I watched it happen.

I remember thinking when the Dow was at 6,500, “If I invest in the stocks used as my examples, I’ll realize terrific financial returns over the next three years.”

Then I said to myself, “What do you know about the stock market? You always lose money.”

I didn’t invest in those stocks, and today I realized I would have had 6x returns in some of those investments. Instead, I failed without the chance of succeeding.

Second, good ideas die in place and are forgotten. I have had lots of great ideas in my lifetime. I just can’t remember any of them.

When I get a good idea, the analysis engine kicks in. I start getting excited about what the new idea could mean to me and others. I start talking; then I hear the negative feedback.

“That’s been tried before.”
“I don’t think there is a big enough market for that.”
“It’s not worth your time.”

Then I start on myself.

“What do I know? There are so many smart people out there. They would have done it already.”
“I am too old to pull this off.”
“I don’t want to risk this much. Why do it?”

So the idea dies and with it a bit of my idealism. This is criminal.

Third, life becomes a series of routines with no excitement. The negative self-talk ultimately eliminates all idealism. If I continue this self-talk, I may find myself no longer willing to succeed. Worse yet, I may find myself not willing to fail. When I get to this stage, all that’s left is a life of routine.

This is my greatest fear. Every day is void of the big idea, the big vision, the big raison d’être. This fear will have me traveling, playing golf, giving advice, eating, and sleeping.

No risk.

No success.

No impact.

All of this happened because of a negative self-talk narrative.

I’m Going Positive!

Here’s my plan for the next 30 days. Join me.

  1. Listen to your self-talk.
  2. Ask for help from loved ones to stop and correct your negative narrative.
  3. Correct yourself by stating out loud what you would say if a loved one said what you just said to yourself.
  4. Carry index cards with you, and write down the encouragement you or your loved one gave to you.
  5. After creating a new index card, read every one in the stack.

One final note: As I was finishing this article, I received an email from a very successful entrepreneur who is doing volunteer work for a ministry organization. Here is what he wrote to me, “Charlie, I stink at writing these but…” Enough already!

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9 thoughts on “Does Your Internal Dialogue Damage Your Success?

  1. Charlie, you can also be an encouragement partner for someone else, with a morning text message to help them start their day off right. By reminding someone else of the things they have to be thankful for, or even just showing them you’re walking along side them, you are being positive not only for them but for yourself too.

  2. My negative self talk is all about not knowing how to do something new. I procrastinate, tell myself all sorts of nonsense, and end up saying, “I really didn’t want to do it” or “It really won’t work.”
    Talking to God to get back on track helps me reevaluate the value, purpose, and direction. Then starts the real work.

  3. Charlie, This is so true and a lesson I learned many years ago. There are three other habits that we use to derail ourselves which along with negative language are described in the “Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. They are: Keep your words impeccable, Make no assumptions, Always do your best, Don’t take anything personally. This short book (a very easy read) literally changed my life. I have given several copies to friends who were stuck in a downward spiral of self doubt, depression, anxiety. If you are not familiar with this book I encourage you to look it up. I think you will find that it is very consistent with your advice.

  4. Charlie – thank God for Kathy!!! If only we would heed the advice we give so freely to other people, we would be healthy, wealthy and wise.

  5. I recently had to prepare a presentation for a large audience of Travelers employees. My internal dialogue hit the Redline. My co-presenter had given TED Talk presentations that wow everyone up to the Chairman, and I’m a relative newcomer. The anxiety was palatable. But, I prayed and has peers pray. I also learned a trick from a friend. Gratitude. Before the presentation, I flooded my brain with Gratitude. I heard that it was not possible to feel fear and gratitude at the same time. It worked. We brought the house down. I used an Oreo to describe the Travelers Geospatial Strategy. It was the best presentation of the day. Crazy but true. Afterwards, people said they were proud to be a part of the organization. I felt proud to have evoked that emotion. Thank you God.
    My Friend, Martha said…What is amazing is that you can just direct your mind to start thinking of things you feel grateful for x, y, z. Gratitude actually increases both dopamine and serotonin. Gratitude can become a mental habit which feeds itself in a kind of positive loop – you start to look actively for things to be grateful for, especially in the moment (I’m grateful for my family, my faith, this job, this opportunity to present…). If I notice I am having negative thoughts again, I will choose to focus on x, y, and z, instead.” It’s a powerful feeling to realize that we have a lot of power to direct our thoughts, and therefore our moods. A Course in Miracles says, “You are much too tolerant of mind wandering.” We are responsible for our thoughts – no judgment and beating ourselves up about it, just a mindfulness in any given moment that we have a choice and we can re-direct and (again) re-direct our thoughts in a gentle and consistent way.

    • Thanks for including me as part of your prayer team in this big presentation. I also thank you for sharing this advice on gratitude. I never thought about trying to hold fear and gratitude in my mind at the same time. Now I know I can’t do it. Thanks for sharing. Great article!