Until my mid-30s I subjected myself to a constant barrage of negative self-talk. At the time, of course, I wasn’t aware that this kind of nattering voice was a choice—from my perspective it just ‘was.’ How I didn’t drown under the weight of words that denigrated my looks, abilities, character, that insisted I wasn’t pretty enough, smart enough or likeable enough, I can scarcely understand!

All of that changed after reading an article in (of all places) a popular woman’s magazine, the kind that more typically instructs readers on how to decorate their homes for a wonderful celebration than on how to quieten the mind!

That article was an eye-opener, a mind-bender, and a god-send. Once I realized that admonishments of ‘you’re dumb, no one likes you, you can’t do anything right,’ were not obligatory to the human condition, I worked hard to banish these and replace them with ‘you can do it, you’re a good person’ and other self-sustaining brain chatter.

My hard work paid off. Not only did I feel better about me, but my overall disposition changed to what I assume is more true to my nature. I am now a rose-coloured glasses, glass half-full thinker who balances a strong positivity with a practical and down-to-earth mindset. These traits serve me well in my chosen career—that of writing, mainly for career-related documents such as resumes and cover letters. (My clients arrive sometimes in a funk after being downsized, outsized or otherwise let go, and leave my care much more confident and fortified with well-reasoned and well-seasoned advice!)

I know I am a better person for having taken the time to reprogram my thinking from self-defeating to self-loving. Occasionally, even today, one of those nasty thoughts pops in. Now, I cannot speak for men, but women may understand this one: the negative self-talk often accompanies a very bad hair day, and I am quite serious! But I immediately state a firm no, and replace it with instructions to book an appointment for a haircut!

The conversations in our heads can defeat our goals and I witness this phenomenon often in my work. Countless times, when coaching a job hunter on how to interview well, my client asks a question that demonstrates a lack of confidence that points to a self-defeating attitude.

Many clients perceive a deficiency that they believe precludes them from “ever” finding a job again. The lack they feel is related more to one of strategy than an actual career-busting missing credential, but it’s all in the mindset, in thought patterns—not reality.

One person feels they haven’t acquired the right certificates even though their experience far exceeds the knowledge of the certificates, and even though the job posting clearly refers to credentials and/or experience, their busy brains skip that part and focus in on the education they don’t possess.

Some decide they are the wrong gender, too young, too old, not hip enough, too shy, overqualified… the list is endless and stops many in their tracks. The saddest part is that these people may never push forward and push through to attain their dream job; they remain stuck in a job they feel they deserve due to a flaw in perception.

The questions people ask in interview coaching reveal they struggle with self-defeating self-talk. For example, last week a client who had landed an interview for a plum job hired me to coach her in interviewing. I think, though, that my training fell on deaf ears because the client wasn’t hearing my urging to sit at the interview table as an equal partner, as one who has every right to evaluate the company and department as they have to evaluate her candidacy. Questions such as:

‘I read I should wear a black suit, but I don’t have a black suit. What should I do?’

‘Should I shake each person’s hand? I read you should do that and I never have before.’

‘Is it okay to tell them that I love my work? I thought you shouldn’t use the word “love.”’

These questions issue from a place of fear, judgment, and a desire to please, not from a place of equality. They convey not a sense of self-confidence, but a waffling of commitment, a need to please rather than simply ‘be.’

Because I firmly believe that everyone who wants to work deserves meaningful work (and meaningful is defined by each individual), I see this as a serious issue. Besides, having experienced ceaseless and debilitating self-talk chatter, I well appreciate its negative impact on many areas of one’s life—personal and professional!

The old adage ‘Think you can and you’re right and think you can’t and you’re right’ rings with truth. When evaluated with a practical eye (after all, you cannot be a dentist without certain credentials, but you can work your way up to CAO without an MBA), switching up brain-talk is a no-brainer!

Stephanie Clark of Nanaimo recently squashed her negative self-talk by scheduling a haircut, which restored her mind-chatter to positive and uplifting.