As so often happens, I find myself sitting at an airport waiting for a cross country flight. Since I am flying east to west coast today, I needed to get up in the middle of the night and arrive at the airport before sunrise. Sitting in my hotel room, trying to get motivated, a phrase from a Beckett novel that I had read somewhere went through my mind. “I can’t go on. I must go on. I’ll go on,” and, of course, I did.
The phrase made me think of self-talk—that internal conversation we continually have with ourselves. We often don’t realize we are talking to ourselves, and we rarely recognize the power our own words have on our behavior. Think how you can berate yourself over some small error or failure. With enough repetition (“I’m so stupid.” “That was really dumb.” “My boss will never trust me again.”), you can turn that molehill error into a mountain of self-doubt and self-loathing.
On the other hand, if someone gives you a good compliment, those words can buoy you all day—even longer. You might think about them often and find yourself feeling a bit more self-confident.
You can talk yourself into things and out of things. You can convince yourself that you should have a piece of cake, or that you should skip the gym today. You can rationalize leaving work early, and justify working late. No one is as persuasive as you are because no one knows you better than you know yourself. Others may ask us, “What were you thinking?” The real question should be, “What was I saying.”
There is a power in self-talk, and that power can be positive or negative. Be aware of it and use it wisely. Don’t let a destructive chant take over your thoughts. Don’t let a positive statement lead you down a path that is unrealistic and unproductive. You might question how to know the difference. Don’t some people accomplish great feats and other make great discoveries against the odds? Of course, they do. But those are generally accompanied by great self-awareness, self-sacrifice, and perseverance.
Self-talk is important, but it is only one component of success. Yet, when faced with a major obstacle or poor odds, it might be useful to repeat, over and over again, “I’ll go on.” “I’ll go on.”