Imagine you are out with a really good friend, perhaps even your best friend, and you are having a chat over coffee or a drink, when during the conversation they drop the following nuggets:
You really shouldn’t be in that job, I’m not sure you’re cut out for it
That was really stupid of you, wasn’t it?
Of course… you’re not quite as successful or wealthy as me
Just imagine your reaction.
So why do so many of us put up with exactly that kind of talk from ourselves?
Our self-dialogue has concerned me for some time now. At the start of 2020 I gave a talk describing this and the ‘imposter syndrome’ as an epidemic – little realising that a very real epidemic was about to strike – and that we should really do something about it.
So what can we do about it and how can we develop a healthier relationship and dialogue with ourselves?
Understand where your dialogue comes from and talk to it
I’m there thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m rubbish and everyone is going to see it. They’ve cast the wrong person.’ But I have come to realise that those nerves are all part of the process for me.
In describing their dialogue, people often relate to a voice or even the sense of a physical presence entering the room. They most typically describe it as a version or part of themselves, sometimes with parental traits thrown in for good measure.
I think Kate is right. It can be part of the process, provided we control that process.
The first step is to recognise that ‘it’ comes from a positive space; there is a good intention behind ‘it’. There to protect us and keep us on the right path, ‘it’ wants to make sure we are aware of expectations. Often saying something like, ‘this is a big gig for you, be careful not to screw up’, ‘it’ cares and that’s a good thing.
So we need to recognise and appreciate the positive intent behind ‘it’ first.
The next step is to have the conversation. One way to do this is to show appreciation for the intention and to firmly put it back in its place when it’s not needed. In much the same way you would deal with a family member who is overbearing or overprotective, you need to say something like:
I appreciate your concern,
I’m aware of that and I’m fine,
Thank you but I don’t need your help on this one
Notice that we control that process. We are no longer at the mercy of those thoughts, words and manifestations that I believe run untrammelled in the minds of many people in our sector and beyond.
Appreciate your inner dialogue and put it back in its place when it isn’t helping you.
Mind your language and watch out for ‘discounts’
I‘m stupid, I’m ugly, I’m dumb, I smell. Did I mention I’m stupid?
Someone I know had a habit of using negative language about themselves, especially around the word ‘stupid’. I’ve heard them say, ‘that was stupid of me’ or ‘stupid me’. I call these ‘discounts’, as we are literally devaluing our very self.
I’ve also heard people, just before giving a presentation, say things like, ‘this is probably going to be very boring’ and I’ve even heard people say, ‘why would they want to meet with the likes of me?’. These ‘discounts’ serve no positive purpose. We need to eliminate these from our vocabulary if we are to maintain a heathy self-dialogue.
How can we do that?
Well, we can start by noticing our own dialogue and linguistic ticks. Then catch the words before they take hold or we verbalise them and instead, rework them into a more resourceful form.
I made a mistake, so what can I learn from it?
I know my topic is important enough for them to have asked me to talk about and I will make it interesting
I feel grateful to be able to have a meeting with those people and they will be grateful too
Watch out for your discounts. Don’t let them take hold of your thoughts, words or actions. Develop a healthier, more resourceful dialogue whether internal or verbalised.
Stop comparing and achieve ‘grace’
I‘ve finally forgiven myself for not being Beethoven
Technology has allowed us ‘glimpses of brilliance’ into the lives of others. It’s easy to get drawn into other people’s brilliance when it’s all around us and we only see the tip of someone else’s iceberg. And it’s easy to play the comparison game, the most pointless of games and one we can’t possibly win. It’s just conceivable isn’t it, that of the billions of people on the planet, there are people out there who might be better, have more, achieve more than we do. To that extent we are all imposters.
The solution is surely to be kinder to ourselves. I prefer the word ‘grace’ which has spiritual and other meanings but for me means being fair and being willing to forgive. We should aim to be much fairer and more willing to forgive ourselves. To achieve grace.
Here are some thoughts that might help us to do that:
- Accept and show appreciation for others – be part of their success
- Do things that have meaning to you and connect to your values and purpose
- Take time to appreciate yourself and what others see in you
- Recognise when perfectionism is taking over
- Realise you are probably overthinking this
- Show grace to yourself and others
Of course, everything here is a work in progress, like the famous Forth Bridge, we need continual painting and maintenance. Our work will never be done.
And we have a choice.
Either to succumb to our inner dialogue, another victim of ‘imposter syndrome’ and other maladies or; develop a new and healthier relationship through a more honest dialogue with ourselves.
In our twitter chat I’d like to explore Why would I talk to Me like that?. Here are some initial questions for you to consider:
- What activating events most trigger our inner dialogue? What positive intentions have people noticed in their inner dialogue? What examples do people have of controlling their inner dialogue?
- How do people cope with ‘nerves’? What examples have people heard of ‘discounts’? Any techniques for helping people change their language?
- Why are we hearing more about imposter syndrome – is it on the increase or has it always been there? How can organisations encourage healthier inner dialogue?
- How can we achieve forgiveness (grace) for ourselves?
John Drysdale is an Executive Coach, Facilitator and Trainer, working mainly in the Higher Education sector. He leads an ILM accredited centre for training coaches and mentors as well as being a licensed coach for Asentiv © global leaders in relationship development.
John loves to help people be the best they can be and specifically encourages others to create a personal vision that encompasses all aspects of life. He is a musician, a runner and a charity trustee outside of the day job and lives in the beautiful Kingdom of Fife, Scotland.