5 Strategies To Change Your Inner Dialogue From Critic to Advocate

In May, mental health is top of mind with Mental Health Awareness Month and the upcoming 13-19 May Mental Health Awareness Week. Don’t miss our previous post on How to Protect Your Mental Health When Starting a Business.

Did you know that your inner dialogue can significantly impact your state of mind and ability to achieve? We asked entrepreneur and best-selling author Al Zdenek to share how he changed his negative inner dialogue into a positive force to help him reach his goals.

I have been a stutterer since my early teens. Almost every spoken word was a painful challenge to deliver. I recall moments, frozen in time, when I was forced to speak on the phone. My “inner voice” would warn me: “You are going to mess up, stutter like you always do!” as I desperately stood frozen, attempting to eke out one word — just one word — tongue-tied. Or, if I managed to blurt out a word or two, hearing that shrill, screaming tone inside of me mocking any effort to converse, saying, “Uh-oh, there is an “L” or “R” word coming up — you know you stutter with those.”

Indeed, I rarely disappointed my internal critic.

School was especially painful, being laughed at or receiving pitying looks from teachers and classmates when I attempted a halting answer when called upon, or worse, the paralyzing fear of giving a presentation. In my early professional life, I felt terror being in a room of colleagues where everyone introduced themselves, seeing the judging looks when I sounded like an idiot. Then, the shame of not being able to get past a word when talking to clients.

Even friends and family were unforgiving at times, laughing at me. It deeply damaged my confidence and self-esteem. It hurt.

Dialogue with Yourself

It may sound silly, but I certainly was not aware that I was having “talks” with myself. Thoughts were just there. As I explored coaching during my career, I was surprised to learn not only did I have these conversations with myself, but everyone else did, too.

Right now, your “inner voice” is bombarding you with comments and judgments on what you are reading! I learned that effective communication goes beyond the dialogues we share with the world. At the heart of our actions and reactions lies a non-stop, intimate, and very judgmental conversation with ourselves. Most are not aware of this conversation and the tremendous power it wields.

My stutter journey is just one among countless other narratives I and every other human have navigating our inner voice. “Effective Communications With Yourself” is not merely introspective — it is about challenging and reshaping your internal conversations to determine the life you wish to lead.

Not All Internal Conversations are Negative

You can have positive internal conversations, too. “I handled that well,” or “They really liked me.” Any athlete will tell you their mental attitude is crucial: “I will hit that ball” or “I will win this race.” But it seems that positive thoughts are often in the minority or revert very quickly to “I will lose this race” or “My opponent is better than me.”

As a judgmental creature, you can be your own worst critic, generating negative or ungenerous thoughts that seem more abundant and entrenched. Negative thoughts can do real harm to your judgment, decision-making, and self-worth.

“Am I Good Enough?”

Many battle crippling thoughts, including, “I am not good enough,” “I cannot do this,” or “They are better than me.” From school corridors to corporate boardrooms, these ungenerous internal exchanges have a pervasive presence. For some, it is a feeling of inadequacy amidst peers; for others, it is the haunting fear that clients will “find out” you are not as competent as you appear.

As a young professional, I remember client presentations where my thoughts were primarily, “Did they like me?” or fearing they would fire me rather than being straight-forward and caring only that they were getting the best advice. These internal dialogues stifle potential and shadow achievements with lingering questions of adequacy.

My personal confrontation with self-doubting thoughts that revolved around my stutter opened the door to other negative conversations like, “There is something wrong with me” or being resigned: “I guess there is nothing I can do about it.”

The fear of stuttering, spurred by my relentless inner critic, could have derailed my dreams. But by actively challenging “me,” I unlocked a life beyond the confines of this and other negative dialogues.

How I Actively Changed My Inner Voice

  1. Awareness: I became aware of having this always-talking, always-judging internal dialogue. Whether it was the recurring dread of stuttering, feelings of inadequacy among peers, or impostor syndrome at work, I started to recognize these and other detrimental conversations.
  2. Challenge negative thoughts: I started to challenge “me.” Were these thoughts reality or were they mere echoes of past experiences and unfounded fears? For instance, while my stutter was real, the anticipated reactions and perceived judgments were constructs of my mind, not necessarily reality.
  3. Change the conversation: I started to imagine situations where I was confident, competent, and in control. For instance, when I prepared for a speech or client presentation, I practiced and also visualized how I would deliver a powerful talk without stuttering. When I had success, it built confidence, and I began living in that reality.
  4. Seek feedback: For me, discussing my fears around stuttering with others provided insights that were transformative. I engaged coaches, and I let mentors and people around me know it was ok to talk to me or even joke with me about it.
  5. Mind-clearing: I adopted this practice before any speech or meeting. Alone or with staff, I would list all the things that could go wrong. Then, I would visualize how I was going to make this encounter a powerful and valuable one for the listener. I still practice mind-clearing to this day.

Over the years, I’ve realized that our most consequential conversations are the ones we have silently, inside our heads. Sometimes, we’re our best cheerleaders, but most times, we’re our harshest critics. But the beauty is, we all have the power to shape and reshape them.

One key takeaway: Be generous to yourself in those inner chats. Give yourself a pat on the back. We all face struggles — whether they are stutters or moments of doubt. Recognize your struggles, learn from them, but also celebrate and give yourself credit for the successful journey you have accomplished. After all, the best stories — the real stories — are the ways we contribute to others throughout our lives and how we allow them to contribute to us. Have a daily conversation about that!

Contributed to EO by Al Zdenek, an author, speaker, mentor, wealth entrepreneur, and best-selling author. This article first appeared on Al Zdenek’s LinkedIn page and is reposted here with permission.

For more insights and inspiration from today’s leading entrepreneurs, check out EO on Inc. and more articles from the EO blog

Categories: Best Practices Coaching Entrepreneurial Journey HEALTH

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