5 Steps to Cultivate Supportive Inner Dialogue
By Georgina Miranda, guest contributor
Photo courtesy of the author.
The alarm clock goes off and it’s time to start a new day. Those first initial thoughts and words that run through your mind will play a factor in how your day carries on. Just like those parting thoughts and words before you dozed off to sleep the night prior likely had an impact on the quality of your night's rest. Are you waking up to and going to sleep with a critic or a friend each day? It can be easy to run though the daily motions of life never really taking an honest look at our inner monologues and thoughts that are shaping our current reality. The over 6,000 thoughts that flow through our mind daily impact our health, overall mindset, and perspective on life.
While always an optimist, I realized that my inner dialogue seemed to be upbeat and positive when things were going well in life and work, but quite harsh when I wasn’t meeting my own personal demands and goals. I had the ability to equally be my best cheerleader and worst critic all in one. The reality was when things got tough, my inner words mattered more than ever--it could make the difference in making it through the challenge or giving up entirely.
My mountaineering adventures were always a reminder of the power of my mind and words. I started a dream of climbing mountains not being able to run a mile at the age of 26, fast forward to 30 and 32 I found myself climbing Mt. Everest, where every word, breath, and step would play a critical part in my success. I had a failed attempt and a successful attempt, with the key differentiator being a practice of mindfulness in my training between the two. In both, I experienced hypoxia, and in one I was able to shift my mind and breath to overcome the symptoms that led me to reaching the top of the world in the most unlikely of circumstances as my body was faltering.
Developing a healthy inner dialogue is a practice and a way of living. This year I was diagnosed with severe asthma, which for a mountaineer was gut wrenching. As I have started to train at altitude again, I have had to make the decision to climb with a friend each time I step on a mountain, although a critic stands by eagerly waiting for its turn to keep me company on my journeys. Recently on a route I realized how much strength and confidence I had lost and needed to recoup since my diagnosis in January. I reached a tricky section where I felt like it was best to turn around and let my friends carry on without having to wait for me. The desire to turn around was not about lack of ability or fear of danger, but thanks to the critic speaking ever so loudly, “you can’t do it, you are too slow, you are holding everyone back, give it up already, you’re not how you used to be, quit.” I really wish I could have recorded the conversation of what felt like three people deciding on whether I should continue or not, as I was clipped into safety with just my toes on the edge of a rock cropping and one hand hold, with hundreds of vertical meters below me. It took every bit of will to release my inner critic free and become my own friend again in that moment. My words shifted to, “come on Georgina, you got this, comparatively speaking this is nothing, sure you are weaker than before, but every step builds up that strength again, give it another go, breathe, focus, it’s all in you.” Minutes later I was through the tricky section. My friends looked down and smiled, knowing they had just witnessed me being my own mental coach.
As an entrepreneur and leader, I climb different mountains daily, as likely you do. The moment I just described on the mountain replays in a variety of different ways for me and my clients--faced with the same opportunity to release the self-critic and connect with a fellow friend. There is always a way through the tricky and tough situations, especially when our inner dialogue is one that propels us forward rather than one that stops us in our tracks.
5 Steps to Make Your Inner Dialogue Part of Your Leadership Toolkit
- Take an honest look. Step one is total self-awareness. It’s taking time for reflection as to how you speak to yourself daily both in the good times and the bad. Writing down any repeating thought patterns or conversations that arise. Include how your dialogue makes you feel in general, does it induce feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression? Reflect on whether your own inner dialogue impacts how you speak to others at home or at work. Be vulnerable and compassionate with yourself through his process. Leaders often feel the weight of not being able to show any sign of doubt, fear, or weakness in their roles. You have an opportunity for complete openness and honesty.
- Reframe. Develop a new dialogue or mantra. For those repeating thoughts that are not supportive of your wellbeing, find a way to reframe them to develop a new mindset and more positive inner dialogue. For example, if your repeating thought is, “Nothing I do is good enough,” you can shift that to, “Today I did the best I could, I know I did the best I could.” Make a list of every negative thought that needs to be reframed. You can create a sheet with two columns--one with the old thought and one with space to create a new thought or mantra. When I start to feel the effects of asthma on my climbs, I have developed a new mantra to keep me calm and strong which is, “I am happy, healthy, and well. I am happy, healthy, and well.” I keep saying this until I am able to regulate my breath again and carry on. You could create your own mantra for any topics that cause you stress or anxiety, like speaking in public, performance reviews, or creating company wide communications.
- Keep track. Only with awareness can we drive change. Now that you are aware of your inner dialogue and have taken the time to create a new one, keep track of how you are doing. It’s ok to slip! We are human and our minds are extremely powerful--use the tool mindfulness and awareness to bring you back to the present and connect again with your reframed thoughts and mantras. The key point here is to catch yourself when falling down the spiral of negative self talk in order to hit pause and consciously reset. You might have to do this several times in one day or in one hour even--that is OK. Remember to show yourself compassion and patience. This takes commitment.
- Develop a Practice. As you grow in self awareness of your thought patterns and inner dialogue develop a practice that helps support you for the long-term. Meditation is a powerful tool to help grow in overall awareness along with providing a plentitude of health benefits to reduce stress and anxiety. Write yourself new daily, weekly, or monthly matras that support your overall wellbeing and help you through challenging moments. Put them somewhere you can see and connect with them daily. Keep check-in with yourself and your thoughts. Make it a practice to go through the reframing exercise outlined above. You can even do this reframing exercise with your teams, as a team with a healthy positive mindset can accomplish more together. It also creates space for vulnerability and collaboration.
- Reflect and celebrate. Shifting our mind and self-talk is no easy feat, yet it holds tremendous power for our lives, work, and beyond. Take a moment to reflect on how you were able to overcome new challenges, attempt new endeavors, shift feelings within yourself as a result of your efforts. Maybe you were able to give that presentation with less fear and anxiety, or have that difficult conversation you have been avoiding, or finally made time to prioritize movement of your body versus saying there is not enough time in the day. Celebrate the little wins, your personal little victories and summits as you navigate the peaks and valleys life presents. Get feedback from those at home and peers at work--you might be surprised how shifting your own inner dialogue has also had a positive effect on those around you.
As in my moment on the mountain caught in a sea of self-doubt, the possibility for a positive outcome was only available with my mind and self-chatter on my side, not against me. Our words matter and have power, especially the ones we say to ourselves. While there may be many things around us that we are unable to control, our inner dialogue is definitely one thing we can control. So take advantage of this opportunity and create space for positive shifts to become available to you from the inside out.
Georgina Miranda is dedicated to helping people, companies, and societies transform for their highest and best good across the globe. She is a social entrepreneur, mountaineer athlete, international speaker, writer, transformation coach, consultant, yogi, mindfulness and energy practitioner, activist, and founder and CEO of She Ventures. She is known for producing transformative experiences and for developing proficient, conscious leaders, entrepreneurs, and companies alike. Her client roster spans Fortune 500 companies globally. She also serves as the Explorer in Residence (EIR) at 4xi Consulting, impacting the Future of Work around the world. Follow Georgina on Instagram or connect with her on LinkedIn.