How you talk to yourself sets the stage for how you communicate with others.
Alright! I know some of you might dismiss this as some new-age mumbo-jumbo about mental health, faking it till you make it, or reminding yourself of all the nice little things your mom says about you. But I'm going to let you in on a secret, if you're one of those people, you're wrong. And that's exactly why you should keep reading. Heck, you should keep reading even if you don't fall into that category, and here's why:
All forms of communication start internally. Even in the times when it feels like your brains is on autopilot or your are blurting out everything that comes to mind, there's still an internal component that jumpstarts everything we do and say. Think about it! We never do anything we don't think about first. And the same goes for what we say. Whether or not you realize it, if you're communicating it, you're thinking... even if that means thinking very little.
Sure, it can be a quick process. You're in the middle of a conversation, something comes to mind, and almost instantly it leaves your mouth. Some people call this "having no-filter," but it's really just a lack of thought and preparation. And that's a topic for another day entirely.
Instead, I want to go back even further--before you're blaming your blabbering on lack of a filter and spewing out whatever comes to mind. I'm talking about the way you talk to yourself. Yep! That little voice in your head that criticizes the hell out of you, convinces you to participate in karaoke at the bar, and tells you not to blow it whenever you're about to do something big.
Like I said at the very beginning of this post, the way you talk to yourself sets the stage for how you communicate with others. It's the weapon of choice most people use to process their thoughts. But it's either a weapon of self-destruction or self-production. Let me explain.
If you're a human, or anything like me when I originally started this blog under a different title, your self-talk can get pretty negative. And that same self-talk goes on to shape your self-image, which has a drastic impact on your non-verbal communication and the way you carry yourself. The truth is, what you tell yourself most frequently is most often reflected in what you believe and your overall perspective of the world.* (see footnote)
That's why it's so important that you maintain positive, confidence-boosting self-talk. So that those same thoughts and self-spoken feelings of positivity and confidence can manifest themselves in how you carry yourself and what you have to say when you inevitably open your mouth.
A smart audience or individual can sniff out a lack of confidence like a hungry bear can smell a snickers. Okay, forget the hungry bear. Most people just call this there BS-meter or "that feeling" in the pit of their stomach. The point is, if you lack confidence, the audience will know it. "Can't I just fake it," you might ask yourself. Well, of course; you could fake it. But eventually, you'll start to feel like a fraud and your self-talk will beat you into a corner because now you're a fake and a fraud and you simultaneously destroy yourself using the very weapon that could be your greatest asset.
So, the question is, how do I self-talk my way to confidence, positivity, and overall communication badass-ness? I'm glad you asked.
It starts by telling yourself that you're on the path to becoming the person you want to be. When I played college baseball there was a saying my pitching coach used to tell our starting pitchers, "you're always one start away from throwing a perfect game." And the same goes for you. You're always one step away from becoming one step closer to the person you want to be. But you have to start. And do you remember what we ALWAYS do before we actually do something? Hint hint, I said it above. No one ever does anything they don't think about doing first.
The way you think about yourself and, more importantly, the way you talk to yourself will shape the way you talk to others. If you tell yourself you're unique, creative, and confident you will then speak from that mindset. Say what you will about affirmations, but they work. Each day you wake up and repeat a few statements of confidence about yourself and what you want to see more of in your life, you start living and communicating from that mindset. And it gets stronger each day. I've used this technique numerous times and it's helped me blow the roof off speeches and performances for the largest crowds and audiences.
If you really want to be a good communicator, you must also have a good relationship with yourself. And that starts with self-talk. And before any older readers even start to tell me that they've already mastered self-talk and that this is irrelevant, let me go on record by saying your self-talk can always improve. As life and it's circumstances change, we will always be faced with new challenges and situations that require us to redefine and reshape our self-talk.
So, here are four simple ways to improve our overall level of communication by first improving our self-talk:
Get the negative self-talk out of your head and onto paper. Don't have a journal? Buy one, start one on your computer or in the notes section of your phone. I can't emphasize this enough as it's the first step to clearing your mind and organizing your thoughts so you can prioritize what thoughts bring confidence and positivity. At first this might feel hard and you might not know where to start, but don't let that keep you from starting altogether. Just pick an area or aspect of life to start with and go from there. Another useful tip is to write down literally whatever comes to mind. That's right--anything and everything! This might be the only time I would ever recommend turning off your spellcheck or grammer filter. If you think about pink butterflies, write about pink butterflies.
Start practicing affirmations. Affirmations are statements said with confidence about a perceived truth and they can help reprogram your brain to believe those stated concepts. I admit, this may seem like "faking it till you make it" when you start out. Give it time. Rome wasn't built in a day. When used properly, affirmations have the ability to uproot our deepest negative feelings and fears, most of which we don't even know exist. For more insights into the positive results of affirmations, check out Psychology Today's 5 Steps to Make Affirmations Work for You.
Choose a few qualities that you want to define your communication style. At a certain point, you must choose the qualities you want to other people to notice when you walk into the room. This is essentially the foundational phase of building brand. Do you want to be cool and collected? Maybe you're the type to play the wildcard of unpredictability. Perhaps you're the strong and direct type? Whatever it is, you have to start thinking about those things before they naturally come out in your communication style. And again, that starts with self-talk. Tell yourself, "I'm confident, strong, and polished." I'm serious, literally say it out loud a few times a day. When I perform, people often tell me, "you're so creative," but that never happened until I started saying and believing statements like, "you're a creative mastermind. The world just hasn't seen it yet."
Move from thinking to being. I realize this point is somewhat ironic. All I've talked about throughout this entire post is how important it is to think the right things and improve your self-talk. But my goal is to help you improve your communication and at a certain point, if you're really going to improve, you have to start being after you've practiced all that thinking. So, next time you wish you were more creative, go BE more creative. I couldn't be more serious! Get out and create something, anything! When you catch yourself wishing you were more of a natural public speaker, GO speak in public. Any audience will do, even if that means giving your next keynote lecture at the local pub to a few pals. The quickest way to build familiarity with a specific quality or skill is to experience it.
Politics aside, Barack Obama is an excellent communicator. And I can guarantee you that he never prepared for a speech by telling himself he was a sucky speaker. He couldn't, there was too much riding on his every word. And neither can you. The way you communicate frames how you're received by the world. It impacts those around you and their perception of you as a person and professional. It shapes your interview for your dream job and it affects the energy you attract from others. But it all starts with your self-talk. Remember, it can either be the most self-destructive, or the most self-productive thing in your life.
*This idea is based on George Gerbner's Cultivation Theory and his thoughts about how the media messages that are consumed most frequently are also most frequently reflected in the consumers world-view.