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When the Negative Voice Hits

Amanda Sollman

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Maybe it's because I'm a perfectionist. Maybe it's because I don't think on my feet all that well (or at least I feel that way!). Maybe it's because I don't see myself as a storyteller. Either way, facilitating workshops that are engaging and valuable for attendees has been a really good learning opportunity for me because it doesn't come naturally – learning how much prep I need to do, learning how to trust myself, learning how to improve along the way.

Some workshops go awesome and I walk out of the room on an absolute high (if you're familiar with the SG2T pyramid, that's the Awakening!). Other workshops just don't seem to "click" and I find myself questioning my abilities, despite the fact that I've done well in the past and know this is just a blip on the radar (and, as always, something to push me to grow).

We all have these experiences, right? 

One sales call has you over the moon and, the next, you're questioning whether you're in the right profession at all. 

You offer up an idea that positively impacts your business and then the next week someone dismisses your suggestions, leaving you thinking like they don't care at all what you have to say. 

You have a wonderful day with your kids and then later that evening they're telling you they hate you (parents of teenagers, anyone?), making you question your abilities as a parent.

I know how to handle the highs – I pat myself on the back, share my excitement with my colleagues and friends, and I look for the next opportunity to get back at it. The lows, though? The voice in my head saying all the negative stuff? That's a harder demon to battle. I literally had this experience the other day where something didn't go as well as planned and I spent HOURS in pity mode – it happens.

But below are the strategies I've been putting to work to get me out of that dark space. They aren't all easy to implement (that negative voice is LOUD and PERSISTENT, y'all), but – with practice – they can be effective.

Personify or Characterize the Negative Voice – And Then Shut It Down

In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown refers to the negative voice in your head as "the gremlins." She pictures it as the creatures from the 1980s movie of the same name who, if you feed them after dark, get evil and, if you get them wet, multiply astronomically. That's how the voice in your head acts, too – it turns evil and multiplies when fed the right ingredients. Whenever that voice starts to talk, she's started going, "Oh, that's not me. That's the gremlins talking."

I've seen other people recommend referring to this inner dialogue as the "shadow" version of you (it's next to you, but not really you) or they suggest straight up personifying it and giving it a name (specifically the name of someone you don't like). That way, when the voice starts to talk, you can talk back to it:

Hey Shadow, I don't need you here right now. Doing just fine, thanks.

Shut up, Sally – take your negativity somewhere else.

When I have a workshop or project or experience that doesn't go as well as I'd hoped, I find that my negative voice starts to turn everything into a catastrophe.

You know they're never going to ask you to speak again, right? You're going to get the worst score on the feedback form and they're going to wonder why they ever spent the money to hire you. You should really just leave this up to the professionals in the future.

My gremlins are MEAN.

But I've been practicing shutting them down by leveraging the personifying/characterizing technique and getting serious right back.

Sure, that didn't go as well as hoped, but your negativity isn't needed here. I'll get more opportunities to improve in the future AND I learned a bunch to make it better next time. Everyone who was ever great fell on their face a few times – this is just one of those times on my way to greatness.

What are your gremlins or the Negative Nancy in your head saying? That voice is a big damn liar who just wants to run roughshod over your thoughts. Do not believe a word they have to say. Shut them down. Talk back. Take control.

Shift to Lessons Learned and Appreciations

No matter how badly something goes, there is ALWAYS something to learn from the experience and ALWAYS something to be thankful for. Here's a list of lessons learned I jotted down after a workshop that could have gone better:

  • Get someone to run a mic in the audience
  • Rehearse stories/examples more so they flow easier
  • Tighten up content for shorter time frame
  • Figure out how to include more movement for after-lunch time slots

I also wrote down things I was thankful for: the opportunity to get another rep (presentation) in, meeting new people, visiting a new place, hearing others' experiences.

And – slowly, but surely – I started to move out of this negative headspace.

Why does this work? One main reason: it shifts you out of your head and into action.

When we are stuck in our heads, that's when those gremlins take over. The trick is to get out of your head and start doing something. Make a list (perhaps start implementing that list). Call on another customer. Tackle some office work. Start that project you've been procrastinating on. Whatever it is, take action and see your perspective start to shift.

Exercise

Confession: I don't love to exercise. It is one thing that I've got to push myself hard to do. But, in the words of the great Elle Woods, "Exercise gives you endorphins and endorphins make you happy!"

So when I'm in a bad mood and my gremlins are taking over my brain, I purposefully create the space and time to exercise. Sometimes that's lifting weights. Sometimes it's going for a run. Other times, I've been in such a bad mood that I just need to hit something – so I find some place to punch a bag or do kickboxing.

It is literally impossible for the bad thoughts to stick around when I ramp up my energy level through a workout.

Maybe it's because of those endorphins and maybe it's because I have to focus on the workout so hard (seriously, keeping track of the right punches in boxing is tough!) that there's no room to think of anything else. Either way, exercising is an effective way to move out of negativity and into action – and it's good for you at the same time!

Positive Content

Do you remember being a teenager and being in a dark headspace (maybe you go dumped or maybe you were just...you know, being a teenager) and so you decided to match that headspace with equally dark content – sad music, depressing movies, gossip with your friends about how terrible everything was? How much good did that do you? Probably not too much.

The reality is, if we're not careful, we'll do the same thing as an adult. Our gremlins will start to tear us down and then we'll look for everything around us that proves it's true. News that proves the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Fights with your spouse that prove you're worthless. A number on the scale that proves how lazy you are. And it's a downward spiral.

Interrupt it with positive content.

That content could be lots of things: uplifting music, personal growth books, leadership podcasts. One of my favorite go-to sources of positivity right now is the YouTube channel, MotivationGrid. They combine motivational speakers, movie quotes, training footage and powerful music into these videos that I just can't help but be inspired by.

We like to say, "Garbage in, garbage out. Good stuff in, good stuff out." Don't be feeding your brain garbage, especially when it's already in the dark place. Feed it light – and that will help drive out the darkness.


Don't let the Dementors close in around you when things get tough (where are my Harry Potter people?!). Fight back against your gremlins. Stand up to the voice in your head. You are stronger than they are. And you deserve to #thrivetoday.

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