What really is your deepest fear?

Negative self-talk attracts a lot of … well … talk.  We are cautioned against it, shown how to spot it, and given a myriad of ways to stop it.

And all of those things are very important. I agree with them all. Negative self-talk is unhelpful, and unhealthy. It is something I would encourage everyone to stop.

I’ve noticed something interesting over the years however, and that is sometimes our talk outlives the behaviour. In other words we can get caught up in the stories we tell ourselves, and repeat them in the same way we always have even when our behaviours have changed.

Confidence is an interesting example. I’ve spoken to more than one person who has lacked confidence, done a lot of work on it, and then carried on with the same description of themselves even though their behaviour has changed. They are now putting themselves forward for new jobs, socialising more, or generally behaving like someone with a reasonable degree of confidence, but how they describe themselves hasn’t changed.

I find it intriguing, and a bit concerning. If they persist in the same negative description, will the change last? Is it not likely that the behaviour will revert to the old reticent and timid version of themselves?

Luckily in my experience drawing someone’s attention to the fact that they are now behaving differently is usually enough for them to update their description of themselves too. Most people are only too happy to note the mismatch and enjoy the benefits of the changes they have made.

But not everyone. There are some who react badly, almost angrily to this knowledge. It’s as if they have been robbed of something rather than having gained something. For a while, in the early days of my career, this surprised me. But then I realised they felt this way because of course they have lost something. They’ve lost the excuse not to try. They can no longer hide in the shadows of not feeling good enough, and have to step out into the light. It’s bright out there. And a bit scary. Well actually it can be very scary. To face up to one’s potential can be way more frightening than bemoaning the lack of it.

So how up to date are your descriptions of yourself? When did you last check them out? And here’s a beautiful piece of writing from Marianne Williamson that says it all, so eloquently.

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