"I Used To Think That Positive Self-Talk Was BS"
Last month, I spent three days in Cincinnati with a group of friends and new acquaintances who – just over a year ago – said yes to joining Craig Gross’ Collide Mastermind group . We met three times over the course of the year, and dedicated each session to learn from, provide accountability for and challenge one another’s growth in family, life and business.
During our third and final meeting a few weeks ago, a guy from Tennessee drove up from his hometown to talk to the group about his business. His story is insane. He grew up in the 7th poorest county in the country. His family couldn’t afford anything , and the only luxury that his mother consistently purchased for her son was a pair of nice shoes, which were meant to act as a deterrent to the fact that she couldn’t really afford them at all.
When he was a kid, he wanted to be a post-office worker, because his uncle was a post-office worker, and that vocation reflected wealth to the onlooking child with no other reference point for what “good money” might mean (not that there's anything wrong with being a post-office worker – I’m simply paying a story forward, as his uncle’s job was the most luxurious opportunity he could have possibly imagined in their context).
Years later, that kid became a man the same age as many of us (or, at 29... exactly my age), and he owns multiple, multi-million dollar businesses. He got started shortly after high school, working with a partner who had a credit card with a $600 limit to purchase clearance items from Walmart and resell them on Amazon. Year one, they made a return of one million dollars. Year two, two million. By year four, ten million.
The point is not about the money (although, by golly, it sure is tempting to envy that kind of “success," right?), but to pay forward something he said that has stuck with me ever since:
“I used to think that positive self-talk was bulls**t – it is not.”
Growing up, I got the sense that people in my world looked with condescension on all things “positive / inspirational / self-help-y.” By “people in my world,” I mean: Christians. And I’m not about to go into a bash-session. I know it’s incredibly popular to speak poorly of all things “Christian” right now, which is not my aim (and as a Christian, myself, bums me out). At the same time, I’m learning more about what to keep and what to shed.
And that condescension is something I’d like to shed.
I assume the thought inherent to such an attitude was due to the “fact” that those “inspirational” books or talks or whatever were “bootstrap” theologies that didn’t accurately reflect the depth of human depravity and/or the necessity for a gospel of grace. I don’t want to have a theology war today (with myself or anyone else), and I know that followers of The Way have plenty of opinions about our current condition as human beings. But as I’ve considered this more over the last month, I find myself saddened by the fruit growing on my tree. (Not blame-shifting, just looking at roots that seem relevant to the formulation of my brain’s patterns.)
Lately, I’ve been more and more aware of the ways that I allow negative self-talk to sabotage my life. Mental chatter and a debilitating case of imposter syndrome always seem to deteriorate at the days I spend attempting to create something that I’ll deem worth putting out into the world. I suppose, after ten years of living the life I’m living, I assumed that creeping sense of inadequacy would have subsided by now. I guess if the Neil Gaimans and Neil Armstrongs of the world continue to battle the same demons , I shouldn’t judge myself so harshly beneath the shadow of my idealism.
Yesterday, I finished the Joe Rogan interview with Naval Ravikant . There’s a moment where Naval is talking about how humans love to be consistent with the promises they put out into the world – it’s one of the reasons why accountability is a key ingredient to actually accomplishing... anything. He talks about the way that he worked at a company he didn’t love, and told people that he was leaving to be an entrepreneur. But months later, he hadn’t done that, and coworkers began to mock him for it. In an effort to remain consistent with the person he believed himself to be, he took the leap.
He spoke similarly of happiness, detailing the way that he began to describe himself as “a happy person.” He said that happiness would follow naturally due to the inherent need for a human to be consistent with oneself.
This morning, I finished Andy J Pizza’s recent Creative Pep Talk about getting your work out into the world. You might want to listen to it yourself if you want the full context, but one of the points he makes is that Clark Kent is Superman's alter-ego, and not the other way around. “Superman is the true person.” In short: it is not the self-consciousness and anxiety that we experience as creators (people in general) that makes us who we are. Rather, self-consciousness and anxiety are merely imposters that hold us back from who we actually are.
His conclusion? Put your true self out into the world. The vulnerable, authentic you. Speak confidence more loudly than the insecurity that you feel. Speak ability more loudly than the inability you’ll otherwise continue to remain convinced of.
Speak it out. Say you’re what you want to be / are and allow your person to come into agreement with that statement, because you will be forced to if you want to remain consistent with the words you’re promising yourself (and others).
In that way – speaking of consistency and for those who need it – these principles actually are on track with the gospel-centric idea of becoming who we are.
In our mastermind meetings, each person has the opportunity to participate in something called a “Hot Seat.” Essentially, you get to ask a specific question about a problem you’re facing in your business, and then you hit record on your phone and everyone has fifteen minutes to weigh in with their answers. The question I asked last month was,
“How do you deal with negative mental chatter – and the ensuing lack of confidence / paralysis it can cause – in your business?”
The answers were many, but congruent among them all was this: tell yourself a different story than the one that’s keeping you trapped in your mind. Assess whether or not what you’re believing is a lie. If it is, repent (turn around) and believe (follow) the truth about who you are.
Anyway, my 2019 has looked dramatically different than my years have for the past decade, and I have dealt with insecurity and self-propagated defeat because of it. Here, I seem to be learning something specific from a collision of voices who are in no way related to one another, albeit preaching the same sermon. I try to pay attention when I recognize that happening. I tend not to see it as happenstance, or accidental, but a needed and necessary opportunity for me to receive, learn and act.
This morning, I walked into my room and announced to my barely-awake wife,
“Brandi, I am a capable and creative person who’s work in this world is not over.”
It was my effort to choose to tell myself a true narrative instead of the endlessly negative feedback loop I’ve dug as lying, neurological trenches that I’ve habituated myself to believe for so long.
My mom often addresses the responsibility we all have to take our thoughts captive. I don’t know if this all sound like some version of fake-it-till-you-make-it, but I am tired of the fruit of negativity, pessimism, and endless mental chatter that only reinforces self-criticism and despair, and I’m really working on her reminders.
I know not all of us can help it. Or perhaps we are more naturally / chemically / medically inclined to wrestle with lies that speak more loudly than truth. This is not to say it’s as simple as tricking yourself into a new frame of mind (although, perhaps it might be, for some). I, for one, still need medicine to help me practice movement, and would wholeheartedly agree with my roots about the vanity of a message as pithy as, “You just need to practice positivity, brother...!”
And yet, at the very same time, I’m really starting to believe that you do . Me too.
I – at least – am challenged by what I’m learning, and I hope that just writing this can, perhaps, be a step toward moving past education and toward action.
Perhaps we can combine perspectives.
Here’s to the grit and grace needed for becoming who we are.
P.S. I would be super interested in hearing from you guys about what you think of these thoughts today. Frankly, I didn’t mean to write all of this when I sat down at my computer a couple of hours ago, but I’m glad I did. Do any of you deliberately tell yourselves things that you’re working on believing? Do you actively fight against lies that infiltrate your headspace? If so, how? Do you have certain practices, mantras, prayers, etc? Would be a rad thing to hear about both your struggles and your victories.
P.P.S. The thumbnail image used for this blog was taken by the wonderful Joseph Bulger at Bulger Creative.