About 8 years ago, I started reading every self-help, motivation, and success book I could get my hands on. At the time, I was working in an office full of HIGHLY dysfunctional people, and I was trying to find a way to counteract all the negative feelings I felt around them. I also had illusions of being able to turn the business around if I could just find a way to change the way these people approached their work. (That’s a REALLY bad idea, by the way. I’ve since learned through experience that the best thing to do for business success is to first surround yourself with the RIGHT PEOPLE. Read Good to Great for a scientific explanation of how to go about doing that.)
It seems like almost every book on self-development suggests that you take control of your inner dialogue – that stream of self-talk generated by your brain. You comment to yourself on almost everything, and virtually everybody I’ve had a conversation with about it says that the self-talk is mostly negative. There are some serious problem with that: (1) it colors your view of existence and often blinds you from noticing all wonders of life surrounding you; (2) the self-talk often comes out in the form of “other-talk” – the things you say to people often sound like the things you say to yourself and you aren’t always much fun to talk to; and (3) negative self-talk seems to take the form of “I can’t” way too much of the time – leading you to pass up opportunities for accomplishment that people with positive self-talk would likely take on.
About 3 years ago I decided to take the advice offered by many of these personal development authors and actually try to change my self talk. I tried two approaches. The first was to learn to stop it. That’s more or less what Zen disciples try to do, and I find it VERY difficult. Sometimes during meditation I can live in the space between the thoughts for a while, and that’s a very enjoyable feeling. But out in the real world, since I find it almost impossible to stop the dialogue, I’ve learned instead to replace it.
Instead of saying “that guy who just cut me off is an a**!” I try to say to myself, “Boy, he’s in a hurry!” Instead of saying, “So and so (somebody I’m working with) will probably screw this up,” I’ll say, “Let’s give her a try and see if she gets it done.” And probably the one thing I’ve learned to say to myself that’s made the most powerful difference, the real game changer, the thing that’s helped me get more done than ever before, and to take on new and more profound personal and business challenges, is, instead of saying, “I probably can’t do that,” I say, “I can definitely do that if I approach it the right way.”
Quitting is hard, but it can be really helpful. Ian and I wrote about it in our new book 101 Ways to Kick Your Ass Into Gear. But if you can’t quit, then you can try to replace your current habits with ones that help you become happier, more motivation, and potentially more successful!