Success from Survive or Thrive Part 5 – “Your Self-Talk Could Be Killing Your” 

Mark sits alone at a bar. He has closed the doors on his business, a business that was successful beyond his dreams for over a decade. However, the economy has taken a turn for the worse, and Mark’s
company couldn’t weather the storm. The failure of his business is taking a toll on his marriage. Mark’s wife says she is tired of living like this. She is frustrated and doesn’t understand how they came to lose the business; she wasn’t involved in the day-to-day business events. Because Mark has a master’s degree in business, she wonders how this could have happened. Their relationship is awkward and distant.
The banks and vendors are calling daily to get some answers— and to get their money. Mark looks into the mirror and sees a defeated man unable to provide for his family. He voluntarily took his BMW back to the bank because he didn’t want the neighbors to see the repossession truck at his house. Mark is understandably embarrassed, humiliated, and suffering from the loss. Mark’s self-confidence has plummeted, and he questions his future. Mark feels depressed and unable to function—in short,
a failure. He is sure that his family, friends, and co-workers see him as a failure and a loser, too. Mark is questioning his religious training and faith. He is now in a bar, hoping that the alcohol will
deaden the pain. Just getting through the day is painful. Mark is in survival mode, and this is where he will stay until he sees that his negative self-talk is beating him down.

Is Mark creating a fictional world that will soon become his real one? How does his “I’m a failure and a loser” motto keep him feeling sad and depressed? His story is based on little fact; yet he is behaving as if it were a true story. He is guessing what his family, friends, and co-workers think. But does he really know? Where do these thoughts come from? They come from our self-talk. “Self-talk” is a term for the internal dialogue we rehearse regarding what we believe about ourselves. The way we think about ourselves is powerful and has a direct result on the way we live. In Mark’s case, his self-talk is sending him into a deep depression with feelings of inadequacy. If Mark continues with this type of self-talk, he will soon create exactly what he is thinking. In the end, he will create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Mark is stuck trying to survive the closing of his business. Mark’s identity is wrapped up in the success of his business, too. This happens to a lot of people. When their plans succeed and things are going well, they get a certain level of praise and honor from friends and family. However, when circumstances change for the worse, they tend to lose their way. For most people, their jobs and titles provide them with identity. When the job is lost, they lose some of their identity. To survive a job loss, people need to manage the stories that come from their self-talk. For Mark to move through this survival-thinking toward
thriving-thinking, he must first manage his self-talk. What Mark tells himself determines what he feels, how he acts, and who he will eventually become.


Self-talk is very powerful, so understanding how we can manage it helps us control our feelings, attitudes, and actions. Our self-talk can be negative, positive, or neutral. In Mark’s case, his self-talk
starts with his understanding of facts versus stories. So, how does Mark’s negative self-talk keep him from moving on?

Let’s look at the facts of Mark’s story and then look at his thoughts. What do we know about Mark that we could say is true? What are the facts? We know that Mark had a business that lasted
a decade and that Mark closed his business due to a downward turn in the economy. We know that he is married, has kids, and has a master’s degree in business. The bank and vendors are calling Mark. He had a BMW that went back to the bank. These are the things that we know to be true because we can verify the facts.

So, what is Mark’s negative self-talk?
Mark is thinking, “I lost my business, so I am a loser and a
failure. My wife wants to leave me and thinks I am a loser.” Mark’s negative self-talk is creating a fictional story. The question that needs to be answered is whether or not Mark is a “loser.”

Let’s take a closer look. Mark is a self-starter, has incredible ambition and drive, and has critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. He can negotiate conflict well and can manage relationships between family, employees, and vendors. He can plan and execute a strategy, stay on task, and complete and bring closure to a plan. He can balance work and family and somehow still find time to volunteer for good causes. He can also sell products, prospect for new customers, train employees, handle advertising, and navigate
complicated conversations with his CPAs, attorneys, and banks.
Does this sound like a loser to you?
Mark needs to change his negative self-talk to positive self-talk. His facts are true, but the story he creates from the facts are causing him to slip into the darkness of depression. Mark should grieve the loss of his business; this is a normal process in the survival mode. However, Mark can create a different outcome by examining the facts and managing his self-talk and story.

“The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make
ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.”
Carlos Castaneda

Here’s another example. One day I had a conversation with my oldest son, who was home from college for the summer. We discussed his need to find a job. He agreed and a few days later reported that
he had stopped at several companies to fill out a job application. A few weeks later I noticed that he still didn’t have a job. I was getting upset at his lack of motivation. So I asked him how the job hunting
was coming. He said he hadn’t done anything since filling out the applications. Immediately I started creating negative stories. I found myself getting upset and angry.
My thoughts were critical:
“He’s going to turn out to be a lazy bum.”
“He thinks gas money grows on trees.”
“He is so irresponsible and immature.”

These thoughts are just stories created from my opinion of the facts. The things I was telling myself about my son and his situation were not very flattering, nor were they based on the person I know
him to be. My self-talk was immediately negative and created a fictional story that got me all worked up.

So what were the facts in this example?
He needed to get a summer job.
He needed extra money.
He did go to several companies and fill out applications.
He did speak to several managers and ask them questions.
The cure for my negative self-talk was to neutralize the fictional story I’d created by looking at the facts again and getting more information from my son.

With an open and relaxed body language and tone, I talked to my son about the situation. Starting with the facts, I said, “Son, a few weeks ago we agreed you needed to find a job. You need gas money.
You said you went to several companies, filled out applications, and spoke to several managers. [These are the facts.] I am thinking that you don’t really want a job and that you are assuming I am
going to give you gas money. [This is my story.] Is this true?”

My son answered. “Dad, I’m honestly not sure what to do next. I walked in off the street, talked to the manager, and filled out an application. They said they would call, but they haven’t. [These are
the facts.] Maybe they don’t like me or want me there. [This is his
story.] I don’t know what to do next.”

I could tell by the way he spoke that his confidence was very low. No one had called back after the initial interviews. My son was focusing on his own negative self-talk. I looked at him and asked him if he felt stuck. He said yes. He wanted a job but didn’t know what to do next. Then we spent the next hour talking about interview strategies. The conversation was open, honest, and fun. The next day my son was working on a new plan and felt much better. His confidence increased. Eventually he
got a great job.

Consider what my attitude and tone would have been if I had acted on my negative self-talk story before I looked at the facts. I would have wasted my time with him, fuming over his laziness. Then I would have taken my emotional shotgun and blasted him with hurtful words. A father-son war would have been just around the corner. Imagine what impact this incident could have had on our long-term relationship if I hadn’t stopped to separate the facts from my own fictitious story.

“Our real blessings often appear to us in the shape of
pains, losses, and disappointments.”
Joseph Addison

Stinking Thinking

All of us suffer from “stinking thinking,” another term for negative self-talk. I once heard sales guru Zig Ziglar at a seminar. He said something that I would never forget. He said that you have to do
a check-up from the neck up, because it’s all happening between your ears. Psychologists tell us that we act based on what we’re feeling. If you feel sad, you act sad. But where does the sadness
come from? What we feel will be determined by what we’re telling ourselves.

In my work, I have to do a lot of phone soliciting to get orders for my business. Calling someone I don’t know and trying to get them to buy from me is a mental challenge. Recently I called a phone number and got someone who said they were not interested in our product or our services. They were rude and indifferent. When I got off the call, I had to separate the facts from the story. My story could have been, “If I make any more prospecting calls, they are all going to reject my products or services. I bet that guy I
just spoke to hates people like me.” How was I feeling now? Angry and depressed, and perhaps
scared that I was not going to make enough money that month.
What were the facts?

I called a number.
A guy answered the phone.
I introduced myself and my business.
He said he wasn’t interested.
So what is the positive self-talk story?

How about: “I have made thousands of calls in my career, and many of these calls resulted in customers or friends. Our products have helped many people and companies generate more revenue and navigate through difficult times. Surely this guy will be interested someday, but not today.”

Look at the following:
If we start with negative self-talk, we will create a negative feeling or emotion. This negative emotion
will manifest itself in negative actions.
However positive self-talk will create a positive feeling, which will produce a positive behavior.
Likewise, neutral self-talk helps us suspend what we are telling ourselves so that we can control our feelings until we get more information about what we think is true or fictional.
In summary:
Negative Self-Talk _ Negative Feelings _ Negative Actions
Positive Self-Talk _ Positive Feelings _ Positive Actions
Neutral Self-Talk _ Controlled Feelings _ Logical Actions

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Stepp Stevens Sydnor
B2B Sales Trainer/Coach | Sales Transformation Specialist | Author | Speaker