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How to cut the negative self talk at work

Do you relate a bit too well to Ferris Bueller's best friend, Cameron Frye? Image: Paramount Pictures

Ever received a slight piece of negative feedback, lost place during a presentation or slipped up in your job only to spend the next week thinking about it? 

You’re not alone, but this behaviour isn’t healthy and should be stopped, says leadership specialist and author of The Power of Real Confidence, Michelle Sales.

Overthinking is one of the “killers of confidence”, she told Yahoo Finance, right up there with perfectionism in its ability to shatter self esteem. 

“As human beings, we have about 65,000 thoughts a day on average. And so there's a lot of thinking that goes on and if something happens to knock our confidence, that negative self-talk… can really get on top of us. 

“The overthinking can - particularly when it's negative - can really spiral out pretty quickly. So it's really important that we are aware of our self-talk and how much we are thinking or overthinking about in particular.”

She said the spiral can relate to perfecting something, but it also frequently plays out like this: you receive nine pieces of good feedback, one piece of bad feedback and you focus exclusively on the bad. 

Okay, how do I chill out on the overthinking? 

Hermione Granger is another famous overthinker. Image: Warner Bros Pictures

Sales says one of the best things overthinkers can do is to reframe the situation. 

American psychologist and author Martin Seligman introduced the theory of learned optimism, which centres around the belief that a talent for joy can be grown like any other. It’s meant to contrast learned helplessness and overcome negative self-talk. 

As part of this, Seligman believes the way we explain the things that happen to ourselves, and whether they’re caused by internal or external forces comes into this. 

For example, do you blame yourself for failure but give away the credit for your successes? 

Being able to reframe your situations, feedback and experiences in a more healthy way can boost confidence, Sales said. 

“The other reframing which is good, is questioning: ‘How much of my life is this impacting? So how big is this really? And also, how much control did I have or how much am I to blame in this in terms of what's my role in it versus others?’”

And noticing the overthinking is the next step. 

Sales said that she often works with people struggling with negative self-talk, and when she asks them how long they’ve been struggling with their negative framing, they’ll say six months. 

That’s why being able to catch the spiral early is important. 

“But it starts with noticing where your self-talk is at, and reframing it. 

“A great process is also practicing gratitude, because that can literally rewire our thinking to look for the good things in our day. Whether it's just at the end of the day or on your own or with a family, just talk about what are the three things you're grateful for today. It can really help you.”

Sales said these skills are also talents that people can build. 

“It's not something that one person has and the other person doesn't. So all of these are small skill-sets we do to build resilience and build positive thinking and ultimately build confidence.”

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