March 9, 2021

How to Be Your Own Cheerleader

Article by Cecilia Meis

If you’ve ever heard some well-meaning but flat phrase like “Chin up!” or “Be happy!” just know this isn’t that.

That being said, positivity and encouraging language truly can have a physiological effect. According to the Mayo Clinic, positive thoughts hold myriad benefits, including increased life span, decreased rates of depression and distress, greater resistance to the common cold, and better cardiovascular health. Sounds great, right?.

Of course, positivity isn’t as straightforward as throwing out some glass-half-full phrases and seeing what sticks. For many, positive self-talk is a Level 14 skill, and we’re still on Level 2, dealing with that nasty inner voice that thinks we can’t do anything right. That’s the voice that whispers, “You’re a fraud,” after you land a big promotion. It screams, “I knew you couldn’t do this!” when you falter on a big project. It laughs when those anxious feelings creep in because you stopped your exercise and meditation routine.

This voice is one of our biggest obstacles. To be our own cheerleader, we must first politely escort this disgruntled spectator from the stadium. The important thing to note here is that we’re not trying to silence or permanently rid ourselves of the critic. That’s quite impossible, and you’ll only frustrate yourself trying. Rather, the goal is to take away its power, its microphone, its real estate in your mind. Here are a few strategies backed by research to get you on the right path:

1. Notice and Name That Salty Inner Voice

Have you ever stopped and thought, “I’m really angry right now”? Did you notice that just having that simple thought made you feel less angry? The same concept applies here. Just by noticing when we’re giving a stage to our inner critic, we reduce its power.

Now, give that critic a name: Karen, Brian, Rudy, whatever you like. The goal is to make it a habit to notice your inner critic as soon as it flares up. The name allows us to dissociate the thoughts from ourselves: “I don’t think this; Rudy does.”

2. Gain Perspective of the Conversation

There are four types of negative self-talk, and pinpointing the one we’re currently engaged in allows us to gain perspective and ground ourselves in reality. Then, we can choose to let the negative thought go and give power to other, more positive voices.

Filtering: This is when something good happens, but Rudy filters out every positive aspect of the situation until we’re left with a mutated view of the situation.

Catastrophizing: You’re living in worst-case-scenario land. For example: You forgot to go to the store last night and you’re out of breakfast food. You have to skip or make time to stop, which will make you late for work. Rudy decides that this one act will ruin the rest of your day. When you give Rudy power, that catastrophic thought becomes prophetic.

Personalizing: Something bad happens and you immediately assume you were its cause. Maybe a project was canceled because of a lack of funding, but Rudy decides it was because you failed to deliver.

Polarizing: You let Rudy color your vision in black-and-white extremes. Something is either good or bad; there’s nothing in between. Maybe your friend canceled dinner because she is dealing with her own Rudy and needed some self-care time. That isn’t about you, nor is the situation really good or bad. It simply is what is.

3. Track Your Internal Conversations

After gaining perspective and contextualizing your negative self-talk, record it. You could do this by meditating, journaling, or speaking the negative self-talk aloud. The goal isn’t to ruminate on all the nasty things Rudy said to you today. Rather, you’re aiming to keep track of your wins. You now have a record of every time you noticed Rudy, gained some perspective, and gave a different thought more power.

4. Form an Alliance

It’s hard to acknowledge our wins without Rudy creeping in to throw shade. One tactic is to name your inner fan, just as you did your inner critic. Imagine what your inner fan looks and sounds like. Sometimes, it’s easier to receive a compliment from a friend than it is to compliment yourself. That’s where — we’ll call him “Barry” — comes in.

Every time Rudy starts to rear his head, invite Barry over to offer some positive thoughts. For example, you just landed a big promotion. Use steps 1-3 to dissociate with Rudy, and then let Barry identify three positives to focus on.

You’re going to feel uncomfortable when you first try this strategy, and it may not be the one for you. However, it’s important that you make positive self-talk a priority. Work through various strategies until you find one that works for you. Here are a few more we learned from three entrepreneurs who have struggled with negative self-talk:

Brenden Fitzgerald, Founder and CEO of Planet Protein, Inc

Negative words can manifest a negative outcome, so I work to speak to myself in a more forgiving manner. No entrepreneur is perfect because no human is perfect. As long as we are learning our lessons, good things will follow.

Journaling has had an incredible impact on my positive self-talk. Keeping a daily journal has allowed me to express myself in the rawest and purest form. My thoughts, expressions, and emotions pour into this journal, which I can reflect on down the road. These positive words, reread in the future, allow me to see just how far I’ve come.

I prefer to celebrate wins with the people who helped make them happen. From employees and mentors to friends and even customers, the people who support an entrepreneur’s dream should always be part of the celebrations of their success. It’s important to me to show them gratitude, give back, and continue to fire them up about our business.

It’s obviously critical to have big goals in mind, and I encourage entrepreneurs to write them down. However, it is equally important to go easy on yourself. Do not kick yourself if you don’t meet every goal on time. Putting aside your expectations is the best piece of advice I could give fellow entrepreneurs. Learn to have fun with it and grow each day.

Emily Landsman, Founder and CEO of della terra shoes

I spent 16 years working for footwear corporations, resigned to the fact that I could never start my own shoe line. I had a set of well-rehearsed sound bites I would run through whenever the subject came up. I would detail why the business was too risky for someone like me to enter.

Then, I found myself in my apartment recovering from COVID-19. It was then that I realized there was a need in the fashion footwear world not being fulfilled by any of the “more qualified” people or companies. I decided that there was no better time than the present to begin. Once I started, the pieces fell into place.

I am a firm believer in balance. Beginning on a positive note is extremely important. It sets the tone for what’s to come — the rest of the meeting, day, week, month, season, year. When things are challenging, I try to hit the reset button on the vibe. I have moments of self-doubt and impostor syndrome, and I try to use these as opportunities to exercise a power mindset. I have realized I need to let the impostor have a moment. I assess whether my fears and doubts are valid. Then, I formulate a plan.

First, begin. The rest is easy. Next, keep going. Recap and remind yourself what you’ve accomplished today, this week, this month, this year. If it wasn’t a bit scary, it wouldn’t be worth doing.

Thor Wood, Founder and CEO of Snapshyft

By all accounts, there is no logical reason to subject oneself to the pain and torture of #startuplife: sacrificing friendships, familial relationships, hobbies, financial security, risking everything for the chance to make a difference and maybe create a legacy. I really struggled during the first couple years and was always benchmarking myself and our company against others. This behavior built up a reserve of toxic self-talk.

Now, I focus on keeping an even keel as much as possible, which allows me to better handle my positive and negative internal dialogue. In fact, I have worked hard over the past four years to reduce positive and negative self-talk. I like to keep it about 80 percent neutral, 15 percent positive, and 5 percent negative. Being my own champion invites others to participate with me. Other founders can feed off this, which might help them do the same.

We’re all looking for subtle indications of whether we are on the correct path. Building a company really is had, and I am not impervious. Adversity is par for the course, so we must learn to deal with it. Yes, this is a life of sacrifice, but rewards exist along the way. My goal is to revel in the journey. I try to keep my head down and only take small bites. I work toward getting 1 percent better each day, and I take moments throughout the day to breathe it all in, smile, and appreciate how fortunate I am to be doing what I’m doing.

Versions of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com and in the March/April 2021 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

Cecilia Meis is the integrated content editor for SUCCESS magazine and SUCCESS.com. She recently earned a bachelor’s degree from the Missouri School of Journalism. A Kansas City native, Cecilia enjoys sand volleyball, new stationery, and a heaping plate of burnt ends.

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