One of my favorite strategies for creating constructive and encouraging feedback and preventing destructive dialogue is to imagine a coach of a little-league team saying the same thing to one of the players. This works incredibly well!
The reason this works probably has to do with our innate empathy for children. Even someone who engages in a lot of self-deprecation will recoil at the thought of treating children in the same way they treat themselves.
This strategy works in many different situations, not just inner monologue, but for personal relationships, and also professionally!
Some examples: (WIP)
Blame vs Action
Tim finds himself angry at his large belly. He starts seeing negative self-images popping up in his head. “You are fat, you can’t lose weight, you never exercise, you never had a six-pack and never will. You haven’t hit the gym once this past year!”
Imagine a coach saying that to a little-league slugger. You would be shocked, right? What adult would say something this hurtful to a child. At the same time we think it’s appropriate to treat ourselves that same way. We forget that we are the coach of our own inner child, our true-self.
What would the coach say instead? Off the top of my head: “Hey I understand you are frustrated with some extra weight that you rather not carry around. Well that’s fine because you have a lot of opportunities available to you to lose some weight. You can start with 20 minutes a day of some fun cardio in front of the TV, then hit the gym a few times a week, maybe go for a run before taking a shower, you have a lot of options! And if you do this really well, you may even get a six-pack, but that’s really challenging so don’t worry if you don’t reach that level. Most importantly you will feel happier and more energized right away!”
The positive approach could be done in a lot of diff ways. I like starting off with empathy “I understand you want to lose some weight, I’ve done it a few times and would be happy to share some tips if you are up to it!” and then transitioning into empowering choices. Either way you do it, it’s a million times better than the negative form.
Periodic Performance Reviews vs Realtime Relationships
Imagine a little-league coach implementing “performance reviews” and observing her cubs running around the field, striking out, doings all sorts of silliness. She waits 6 months and has a review for every member of the team, during which they are shocked to learn they have been doing something wrong all those 6 months, and will not be getting pizza until they improve. Does this sound like a good coach? Those poor kids just had the rug pulled from under them.
The more encouraging and helpful approach would be to stop the problem early on, and empower the players to reach their goals. So after someone strikes out and starts running counter-clockwise around the diamond, the coach can pull them aside and offer some sage advice: “I like how fast you ran around the field! You know what you could do better next time though? .. Run the opposite way around the field because that’s what earns us points and lets us win the game and eat pizza afterwards!”
This could use a few more examples. But hopefully its visible how quickly you can stop negative-talk and re-frame your feedback in a positive and constructive way by pretending you are talking to an innocent learner who sees you as their coach and mentor!