Despite my earlier diatribe against positive self-talk in the shallow Anthony Robbins style, it has its place if framed properly.
Cognitive Therapy can help us escape the paralyzing grip of negative thinking. Positive self-talk is a remedy for taking the next step for action. The ABCs and DEs of Cognitive Therapy helps in adopting a positive explanatory style – or more usually, helps overcome a negative style when we need to take positive action.
People with a negative explanatory style convince themselves that any action they might take is likely to result in failure and so they protect themselves by not taking any action at all. They think of all the things that could go wrong. But a person adopting a CT strategy for taking positive action not only disputes whether the adverse consequences will happen in reality but even evaluates that, if it were to happen, what does it really matter.
I do a lot of career counseling and the most important thing for job searchers to do is to make networking calls – whether ‘cold calls’ or calls to people they already know or have been referred to. In either case people find it difficult to make those calls – I know, I find it difficult to make those calls myself – they find themselves falling into a negative explanatory style. I ask them – I do it myself – to go through the ABCs and DEs of CT. It is typical to harbour beliefs such as, “I don’t have anything to offer really”, “she’s going to be too busy to answer my call, or even to pick up – especially if she has call display”, “I’m interrupting his busy schedule and he will be annoyed with me”; we think of all the possible negative consequences to our self-esteem and we protect ourselves by not making the call. But instead of going to the fridge one more time, or replenishing the bird feeder, or checking LinkedIn for some miracle, we should ask ourselves what are the real consequences of making that call? (The consequences of not making the call are obvious enough!) The person you are about to call is probably not a monster. Most people want to help. More often than not they too have experienced job loss and the fear of networking and they will respond generously. If you make your call interesting, if you have a certain lift in your voice, most people with be willing to listen to what you have to say. They may be busy, they may not have any ideas at the moment, but they won’t think you are an idiot, or a failure, or a loser. And if they do – they weren’t worthy of your call. Your self-esteem is still intact. So make the call.
So when you’re feeling stuck, and start to go into the negative cycle first reverse it, then shift to a positive set of possible outcomes. Recall the times when you have dealt with a similar adverse situation and experienced a positive outcome and emotion (see, they weren’t all bad!). Reconstruct all the likely positive outcomes from taking the intended action (as opposed to the negative notions we can imagine).
Remind yourself of the skills, abilities and other attributes you have which will be engaged in the endeavour; anticipate the positive feelings of self-worth you will have from doing those things you know you are good at, or will become better at for doing it. This is the source of authentic happiness.
Applying basic disputation techniques of Cognitive Therapy and substituting positive anticipation for