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Change From Anxiety to Success: The Power of Positive Talk

How to get out of your own head when anxious situations arise.

Used with permission. Stock Free Images / ID 542288
Source: Used with permission. Stock Free Images / ID 542288

Of all the voices you hear throughout the day, your own has the most impact, both positively and negatively, on you. What you say to yourself matters, more than you might give credit to. We have a way of creating self-fulfilling predictions, not about winning the lottery if we hope hard enough, but about actually causing what we either want or don’t want to happen.

Consider two applicants vying for the same in-house promotion at a company. The new position requires an internal panel interview. To make it as fair as possible, besides being interviewed by a random selection of company managers or executives, HR has decided to bring in a few people from outside firms that can help with the decision process. Both applicants are equally qualified; in fact, all things being equal with each, it’s really a tough decision for the panel to make.

Prior to the interview, let’s listen in to the internal monologue each applicant for the promotion uses to prepare for the interview:

Applicant 1: “I’m so nervous! I didn’t sleep at all last night. I can barely eat. My stomach is in knots. A panel interview for this thing? And it even includes some outside people who don’t even know me! How will I ever convince a whole group, some of whom are strangers, that I’m the right person for the job? I wish my resume looked better. I should have practiced more with sample questions. I think I’m qualified, but suddenly, it feels like I’m just not prepared. The other applicant probably will get the job. Well, it’s too late to back out now. Even though my heart is racing and it feels like I’m having a panic attack, I have to walk in that room and face them. Here goes nothing ...”

Applicant 2: “I feel good today. Got some sleep last night, had a pretty healthy breakfast. I’m ready for this thing. The panel interview will be a challenge but I’m prepared for them. My resume looks solid and I have been going over lots of possible interview questions, so I don’t think they can stump me. I know I’m as qualified for the position as my colleague. I’ll convince them that I’m their best choice. Let’s do this ...”

Here’s what happens in real life, all the time: Applicant 2 got the promotion and knows why. Applicant 1 did not get the promotion and also knows why.

Applicant #2 didn’t just win and hope. This person prepared and showed the confidence to the panel that helped them make their decision. Applicant 2 lacked confidence and it showed to the panel. Both applicants predicted their own futures.

Positive self-talk is a powerful foe against anxiety. Anxiety gives us The Little Voice that tries to convince us we are failures, bad people, and not worthy of success. Stop listening to The Little Voice!

Lebron James would never say, will never say, and has never said, ”When the championship game is on the line, I hope one of my other teammates takes the shot, I don’t think I’ll make the basket. I don’t need that kind of pressure on me. I’m afraid of failing.”

Tiger Woods never says, “I hope I don’t hit my next golf ball into the woods.” Tom Brady has never said, “I’m glad my team didn’t get into the Super Bowl; I probably would have choked.” Venus Williams never says, “I don’t think I’m very good at tennis.”

These champions certainly have fears and doubts, like every other normal human being. The difference between them and other successful people is they don’t listen to their fears and doubts for longer than the few moments it takes to replace them with positive self-talk.

With successful people, their confidence starts inside and radiates outward. They walk their talk. They don’t allow The Little Voice to dominate their thinking and subsequently, their actions. They dismiss The Little Voice before it can gain momentum and become embedded as their operating principle.

Don’t confuse positive self-talk with egotism or narcissism. It’s not either of those, because egotists and narcissists don’t really believe they can do something successfully. They have a lot of self-doubt (and even self-loathing) which they cover with false bravado. You can and should speak well to yourself and about yourself. It’s no sin to have confidence and that confidence rises when you have prepared yourself for success.

Too many people use the intensity of anxiety to give themselves a face-saving way out of difficult personal and professional situations. Once they give in to The Little Voice and it starts to spin the Failure Flywheel faster, it’s almost impossible for them to stop it and therefore, for them to succeed. They predict failure and they’re actually relieved when their prediction comes true because they can then remove themselves from the awkward situation or encounter that caused it, until the next time they have to deal with it. And there is always the next time.

There are lots of things that can make us anxious, from surgical procedures to airplane flights to giving a toast at a wedding. These events range in intensity from not that big of a deal to a very big deal. Consider the next thing in your life or on your to-do list that is starting to make you anxious. Start by having an internal conversation with yourself which is only filled with positive self-talk: “I’ve got this. I’m ready for this. I can handle this. I’m prepared. Whatever happens, I can deal with it. I’ll be just fine.“

Positive self-talk is a habit you have to develop, just as much as negative self-talk is a habit you have to stop. Give yourself permission to be successful, starting now, and use positive self-talk to help predict a positive outcome. The only thing you have to lose by trying is a lot of bad words about yourself that aren’t true in the first place. Kill The Little Voice.

Dr. Steve Albrecht is an HR trainer, security consultant, and employee coach.