This is part of a series looking at microskills – changes that employees can make to help improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Registration for 2017 has now closed. Winners will be announced in Spring 2017. Sign up to receive an e-mail about registration for 2018 at www.employeerecommended.com.
What do you say to yourself when you look in the mirror first thing in the morning?
Whether your response is positive or negative, the science of self-talk suggests that your inner voice's opinions and evaluation will have a major impact on how you think about yourself. This ultimately will have a direct impact on your confidence in personal and professional situations.
The goal of the microskill of self-talk is to increase the positive conversations you have with yourself that can positively impact your mental health at work and at home.
Self-talk can be destructive or constructive. Individuals with destructive self-talk are critical of themselves: "I'm a failure; I should have figured out how to get the agreement done." This type of constant negative self-talk that devalues your self-worth can have a negative impact on your mental health.
Constructive self-talk focuses on facts and looks for the positive: "We didn't come to an agreement this time, but I'm pleased I held my position. There will be another opportunity."
Self-talk research suggests that the more you put yourself down, second guess yourself, and view change as a negative, the less likely you will be able to cope and solve problems under pressure. This research also suggests that individuals with active destructive self-talk are more likely to quit and have more stress than those who practice positive self-talk.
One consequence of destructive self-talk is confirmation bias. In the example above, after the person quits and if no one challenges their decision, this confirms their hypothesis that they are unable to find an agreement and there's no sense in trying again.
Shaping your self-talk starts with understanding the kinds of internal conversations you have on a typical day. Getting a baseline requires keeping score of your self-talk. For each negative thought give yourself a minus one point. Each time you say something positive, give yourself a plus one point. At the end of the day, your score will be either positive or negative. Get your average over three days.
If your self-talk mercilessly judges you negatively, this is not helpful for your overall mental health. Only you can decide if you want to impact your positive self-talk. One way is to work from an internal locus of control, believing you have power over events in your life. If you're not clear on your current locus of control, complete this locus of control quick survey. You may not be able to control your environment but you can control what you think about it, and what you think about yourself if you practice.
Learning how to turn off negative self-talk and replace it with positive statements doesn't happen overnight. It takes focus, persistence and patience. The good news is that with practice it can become a habit that can have a positive impact on your mental health.
Catch and release
When you catch yourself saying something negative, ("I'm stupid; I should have known she wouldn't ask me to be a part of the project") challenge it ("What are my facts that she doesn't like me? Why else could I not have been picked for the team?"). Once you challenge the thought, you're ready to release the destructive self-talk and replace it with constructive self-talk. You can create the story you want: "I would like to have been picked; however, I'm sure she has her reasons. I'll keep working hard, she will notice and maybe I'll get picked for the next project."
Smell the roses
Life moves fast. When you notice something simple that you enjoy, practice acknowledging with your internal self-talk what's positive, why and how fortunate you are to have the moment. Whether what you notice is perfect is not the point; find the good and enjoy it for a moment. Look for one of these moments each day. It's OK to give yourself permission to smile outside and inside during these moments.
Anchor positive self-talk
Recall positive personal experiences that inspire you. Positives are all around us, we just need to notice: from the clean air we breathe and water we drink, to family and friends. When you have time, such as while commuting, pick and play a positive story or event that makes you feel good and proud of yourself. Focus on this moment as long as you can. The more you do this, the more anchored this story will become in your mind.
Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto. He is also the president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S.
This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award.
This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.
You can find all the stories in this series at this link:http://tgam.ca/workplaceaward