Our brain is listening to what we say
That’s why it is critical that we choose the words that impact our brains positively. Our dialogue – both internal and external – has a profound impact on what our brain subconsciously decides to take seriously. When we say to ourselves – “I can do it” or “I will try” – our brain sees through our lack of commitment. The brain interprets this information as not genuine. Our brain then chooses to focus on other areas where there is an authentic belief. The brain is constantly preserving its energy, and chooses to save that energy for things that instinctively matter to our survival. By choosing to use limiting, or even worse, negative words, we keep our brain parked in survival mode. When we choose to use positive, forward-focused, genuine words, our brain slowly moves into neutral, then hits high gear when we reinforce it over time.
Trust me, before coaching, I did not take the brain seriously. I had painful flashbacks to psychology 101 brain anatomy and physiology, memorizing useless facts. It just did not interest me. Now, having achieved my Master Coach certification, ravaged books on the brain, and having been a part of numerous coaching successes where self-talk mattered, I am a believer. By simply tweaking the words we use, we achieve far more.
Our brain is primitive
We’re only a few hundred years from our more primitive days (in most parts of the world), and our brain just has not caught up with the more complex, yet easier to survive world we live in today. Considering the time humans have been existence, the time of survival mode has dominated our existence. For that reason, our brain still sees two choices – fight or flight – both emotional reactions vs. a more rational response. Our brains have not evolved at the same pace as our evolution. We still imagine new scenarios as opportunities to meet a predator, when that is unlikely in today’s world. In a meeting with a customer, peer, or manager, we fear the worst. And, we limit our own abilities with negative self-talk that limits the outcomes possible from the discussion. Our brains are wired to fear the worst possible scenario, and actively prepare to escape or fight at the first sign of danger. Yet, running out of a meeting is not likely helpful.
So, how do we re-wire our brains?
Slow down your brain
To move from survival mode, we must interrupt the fight or flight thinking. This means we actively slow down these thoughts. The book Thinking Fast, and Slow outlines this in further detail. I actually have been practicing this for almost two years since my coaching certification, and I must say, I have slowed my reaction time now so much that it is harmful to my physical capabilities. Not that I was an athlete before by any means, but I have noticed when other parents freak at the sight of a dangerous situation, I wait and see before reacting. Although this is a dramatic example, I share this to say fight of flight is still relevant in some situations today. These situations just do not surface often, and are more of the exception than the rule.
To slow down your thinking, and respond rather than react try on some of these techniques:
- Take a long, deep breathe. Yoga and meditation practices have been focusing on this for years. The power of getting oxygen into your lungs and exhaling that carbon is real. You cannot help but feel relieved.
- Go for a walk. Leaders I coach share that being outdoors, or even walking around the work space for a few minutes helps to clear their heads, and focus on what really matters. You can avoid heightened emotions by changing the scenery for a few minutes necessary to collect your thoughts.
- Practice the pause. Don’t have time for a walk? Then, wait 7 seconds before responding. It sounds like it might be awkward, yet take the time to playback what you want to say in your head first. Ask yourself, how will this help or harm the situation? If helpful, proceed. If harmful, rephrase.
So, how do we rephrase what we really want to say? Tell our brains the words it really wants to hear.
Our brain loves genuine, positive words
Using genuine, positive words is pivotal. In the midst of an emotional reaction, or a negative self-talk reel gone amuck, reign in your brain by replacing the words you are saying out loud or just to yourself. Both are equally as harmful. Our brain believes what we choose to tell it.
Here’s a bank of phrases and words I keep in my back pocket when I am headed into survival mode:
- I will…followed by a positive goal
- I am…followed by positive word (important, smart, confident, etc.)
- I achieve…followed by a positive outcome
Think slowly about these words and phrases. What do they have in common? When we replace the negative, emotional laden words with phrases and thoughts like the ones above, it triggers our brain to bring in our rational thought, and quiets the emotional center, lulling it to a perceived safe place with the ability to think clearly. Positive affirmations often start with phrases and words above. If you have not created a list of your positive affirmations, I highly recommend it. It is game changing.
So, what happens with the negative self-talk or emotional hijack looms?
Here are some words I strike from my vocabulary completely. If I find myself saying or thinking one, I acknowledge it, and quickly replace it with a word or phrase from the former list.
- I can…
- I am going to try…
- I deserve…
- I want…
- I need…
- I should/could/would…
These words are harmful to our psyche and our own likelihood of achieving the success we are capable of achieving. They usually are followed by a self-fulfilling prophecy riddled with entitlement and half-baked aspirations that we do not actually believe are possible. That’s why the former list of positive words must have genuinely achievable beliefs following. Even if they are somewhat out of reach today, it is within reach in the short-term, telling yourself the story of what is possible will close the gap.
A Case Study
Still one of my most positively received blogs to date – Leaders Stay Positive – was my first foray into applying positive thinking to leadership. In it, I shared, “the words we use matter. We have a choice in how we perceive the world around us.” I say this all the time in coaching leaders and women. The person usually sits quiet for a minute and thinks about this. It’s kind of revolutionary when you really reflect. We have choices. Our emotions and our perceptions are completely within our control. We create our reality.
This brings to me one such story, another popular blog – Zen Jen. After much reflection, Jen shared, “I lost my way, and I realized that no one did it to me, and I am the only one who can change it.” Jen shared some things she did differently in her self-improvement journey. Simple things like pausing. She did crossword puzzles to slow down her emotions, and gained awareness of the stories she was telling herself in her head, correcting the negative self-talk. I often call this rewriting the story we tell ourselves. Asking ourselves, “how do I know that to be true?” or, “I know this based on what?” usually reveals a whole different truth. We often tell ourselves a story that simply is not true. Fear creeps in, if we let, and it prevents us from seeing our choices. Fear is what holds us back. But, that’s a choice too, isn’t it?
Jen’s transformation was not a simple overnight change. Over time, Jen learned when to recognize the emotional hijack, and negative self-talk, learning to flip the negative “it just happens to me” mindset into one of personal accountability framed around choices through a set of new positive habits. Once she increased her choices, she was able to make better decisions. She no longer felt boxed into a corner; she felt liberated to embrace choices and change. She knew she was the only one that could change it, and she did. Upon her transformation, one of her positive affirmations was, “I am Zen Jen.” It was one of her genuine, positive phrases to tell herself when she felt the fight or flight kick in, and by pausing, and reminding herself that she was indeed in charge of how she chose to perceive the situation, she was far more successful.
Leaders choose the words that matter. What is your choice?
#wordsmatter #leadership #positivethinking