Yikes! Was my initial reaction when my six year old sprung this one on me during a walk back from the shops. “Errr… what does it say to you?”, “well you know, I just think about how great of a sister I would be to my friend Ellen, how funny I am and how much you and dad love me… and then… well my mind gets tired and I go asleep!”
How great would that be? Going to bed and contemplating all the positives, lulling yourself to sleep with comforting thoughts. Now, this particular child of mine is brimming with self confidence – she is outgoing, gregarious and believes everything she says and does should be marvelled at- all without a trace of arrogance. When she makes a mistake – spills something/writes somewhere she shouldn’t/ gets her homework wrong – she simply acknowledges it and starts looking for a solution – she doesn’t ever dwell on the negative but rather how she can fix things, there is very little self reproach and heaps of optimism – “Not to worry Mom, I will get 10/10 next week”
Our conversation put me in mind of Tim Gallweys – Inner Game of Tennis, a fantastic little book that uses the medium of tennis to highlight life lessons that should be considered and taken onboard by everyone. The book was written to enable the reader to improve their performance on the tennis court but every insight is applicable to life and business. The first such lesson and one I believe is fundamental to how we move forward and achieve success involved this notion of self-chatter – or as Saoirse eloquently puts it – your mind talking to you.
We work in a world where as managers and leaders we are coached to encourage and motivate our teams. The use of negative language is frowned upon, even in the case of poor performance or costly mistakes the law binds us to investigate rather than castigate. Years of studies have told us that encouraging, positive and curious language will motivate people and drive performance – thereby adding value.
Tennis is a solitary sport – there is no team, your coach isn’t on the court roaring encouragement at you – so what happens when you miss a shot? – Well that all depends on what your mind is saying to you. Generally we do not show ourselves a fraction of the respect we show others – the same rules of engagement don’t apply it seems.
Think about it– what happens internally when you make a mistake – your mind starts chattering – judging you, chastising you for making the mistake, calling you names, and shouting at you in a manner which you would not accept from others – how on earth are you meant to perform with all this going on in your head?
In the case presented by Gallwey the consequences of this are that the confidence in your ability drops, the head drops, your play gets worse and you lose the game – instead of actually focussing on the task at hand, you are too busy telling yourself how useless you are, entering a rather vicious circle – mistake – self reproach – loss of focus – another mistake – move vehement self reproach – loss of confidence – more and bigger mistakes…
If you could eavesdrop on the internal conversations that occur when you have made a mistake and assume it was between two people what would your reaction be? I made a conscious effort to do this and I was horrified – bloody idiot I wouldn’t be long about telling them where to go so why was I accepting it on a regular basis from myself?
The short tete-a-tete with Saoirse really drove home the benefits of positive self chatter – yes she is six and doesn’t really have a care in the world but she has a wonderful happy disposition that touches everyone she meets – she is proud of herself and most importantly she tells herself this. And you know what, she achieves – she does get the 10/10 the next time! So give yourself a break and allow your mind to say some nice things to you – you may be surprised at the outcome.