This post was written by Hannah Morris, Director of Assessment & Advancement at The Latimer Group.
A lot has changed since I wrote this post three weeks ago, and for me the topic is even more critical now. Managing our self-talk in situations of anxiety and uncertainty is essential in allowing us to function – both for ourselves and for those around us. Let’s all do our best to be thoughtful about that narrative and focus on practical steps we can take to contribute positively to this sad and frightening situation.
Whether or not we choose to discuss it, we all have voices inside our heads.
In fact, each time we read something, our brain creates a voice inside our head that produces similar brain functioning as when we are listening to an “outside” speaker. In moments where we feel vulnerable and exposed – for example when we stand up to present in front of a large audience – our “Inner Voice” often has a lot to say. And that voice has a script and a tone that impacts the way we feel and function.
Many of us give quite a bit of airtime to our Inner Critic, who finds flaws in everything we do and it compounds our fears. “I can’t believe you just said that. They are never going to listen to you.”
The Critic chastises and scolds us for our perceived mistakes and in the end undermines us and makes us feel less self-assured. The Critic anticipates (and predetermines) failure and embarrassment. Then if we lose our train of thought or struggle to find a word, the Critic makes it harder for us to regain composure.
Some people replace the Critic with a Cheerleader, who gives support and praise in an enthusiastic tone, encouraging us: “You can do it! You’re the best! This is going to be fantastic!”.
If the Cheerleader works for you, then have at it. But there is a possible downside. Some believe that the overabundance and ubiquity of praise can actually make us dependent on affirmation and in turn inhibit the learning and growing process.
Our best approach, perhaps, is to send the Critic and the Cheerleader by the wayside and hire a Guide, a neutral, process-focused Guide. In a calm, balanced tone, the Guide lists a series of steps to focus us on the task at hand.
At the start of a presentation, for example, the Guide can run through a list of those elements of our delivery – in our voice, our wording, and our body language – that will help us demonstrate conviction and establish credibility. “Stand up straight, slow down, make eye contact, breathe…” And if the Guide identifies a behavior that could be distracting or undermining, such as filler words, qualifying language, fidgeting or rising tone, it can address the behavior without judgement, enabling us to correct it instead of dwell upon it.
The Guide doesn’t build us up or put us down; it leads us forward.
The Guide allows us to put ourselves out there more often, and contribute and interact more freely and successfully. And the Guide also allows us to make the most of the rich learning that comes from our moments of challenge and our less successful endeavors. As these three voices – the Critic, the Cheerleader and the Guide – audition for airtime, we must remember that the casting choice is ours to make. Become the Director to your own Inner Voice, write the script, and set the tone that will be most effective for you.
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