How to Better Believe in Yourself

Do you ever talk to yourself? (Right now, you’re probably thinking: Hmm, talk to myself? Do I do that?)

Most people have an ongoing mental conversation with themselves. This is what many psychologists call self-talk. Left unattended, that conversation typically sways negative. 

When I was younger, I used to be pretty hard on myself:

• “I can’t possibly deliver workshops and write a book.”

• “I can’t possibly work for that company, because I don’t know anything about the beer business.”

• “I can’t work out in the afternoon; I’ll be way too tired.”

• “I can’t possibly hold my own with this guy; he’s written 64 books.”

None of it was true.

The problem with these mental conversations is that after a while, neuroscientists theorize that those thoughts go from the neocortex part of your brain to the basal ganglia. This is where your habits are hardwired. And it takes real effort to rip out the negative stuff.

My 3-Step Plan to Crush Self-Limiting Beliefs

1) Catch yourself in a negative thought. This requires cognitive diligence. You must think about what you’re thinking about — and not mindlessly scroll through Instagram or Twitter.

2) Disabuse yourself of this notion. I do this using my 82-year-old father’s increasingly cantankerous and challenging voice: “Yeah? Who says?” Immediately, something in my brain switches, and my next thought is: “Challenge accepted.”

3) Take action. Any action, no matter how small, just to get the ball rolling. There’s a great old turn of phrase that says, “Throw your butt over the bar and your heart will follow.” I really believe that.

Plan into Action 

I love to work out, and one afternoon when I was out for my typical 10-mile hike, I had about two miles left. Then a fleeting thought hit me: Maybe I should run the rest of the way. No, I can’t. I haven’t run in over 13 years.

That’s right: I used to be an avid runner, but once I turned 40, my knees hurt, and I told myself I was too old to run. I caught myself having this thought and — no kidding — I heard my dad say, “Yeah? Who says you can’t run at 53?”

 I took a couple of steps. Then took a couple more. And bam: I ran home.

Far too many of us convince ourselves we can’t do it:

• “I can’t ask this person for a referral; he just bought a motorcycle from me.”

• “I can’t call these people; they’ll think I’m sort of telemarketer.”

• “I can’t sell 18 units in a month.”

•“I can’t sell 300 units in a year.”

Yeah? Who says?

Mark Rodgers’ Ultimate Guide to Self-Persuasion Success — Part 2

In a recent post, I introduced what I like to call the “Ultimate Guide to Self-Persuasion Success.”

At the core of this approach is learning to become more resilient. Just as the body needs air, nutrition and regular exercise, your mind needs a fitness regimen, too. You must regularly stretch, feed, work, coach and rest your mind.

What follows are seven more keys to self-persuasion success. Consider this your all-access, lifetime membership to Mark’s Self-Persuasion World Gym.

1. Dopamine up.

Exercise can fuel dopamine production in your brain, making you feel good, look good and present your ideas with confidence. Plus, if your target doesn’t say “yes,” that response won’t bother you so much!

2. Be present.

Research suggests that the majority of people’s thoughts are almost entirely consumed with past regrets (“What I should have said was …”) or focused on anxiety about the future (“What if this next guy doesn’t buy?”). Such thinking makes us sacrifice the present moment, which is the most precious gift we have. So throw yourself into what you’re doing right now, and if your thoughts start to wander, tell yourself to “get back to work.”

3. Undergo digital detox.

Turn off all your gadgets for, say, 60 minutes a day — and enjoy the quiet. Think about it: No TV. No Spotify. No Twitter or Facebook. Making this a daily regimen will calm your brain and allow you to focus on the present.

4. Be convinced of your own value.

Ask yourself these questions and try to respond positively:

  • Do people compliment your work?
  • Do others ask for your advice?
  • Have you contributed an idea at work?
  • Have you sought additional education?
  • Can you produce testimonials and references?
  • Can you list best practices that make you successful?
  • Have you participated in or contributed to a professional organization?
  • Do clients or customers ask for you by name?

You might not have positive responses to all of these, but you probably have more than you thought. These are the accomplishments that should pass through your mind whenever your pathological critic works his way back into your self-talk.

5. Use positive affirmations.

In sports, team captains often rally their teammates by yelling at them: “We got this! We got this!” While it may not be grammatically correct, from a psychological perspective, it’s dead on. When you catch yourself slipping into negative self-talk, replace it with something positive. I realize this sounds goofy, but it works. Find a repeatable phrase and run it through your mind. I like one made famous by the late French psychotherapist Émile Coué:

“Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”

Find one that works for you and keep using it. You got this.

6. Always create high-quality options.

Never allow yourself to have just one option for your persuasion project. Always have Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. Offering high-quality options for everything you do will transform your mental state.

7. Keep a success journal.

Every night before you go bed, write down three things you did well that day. Some people are wired to magnify setbacks in their mind and minimize success. This isn’t healthy — mentally or physically. By forcing yourself to reflect on your day and capture three positive aspects, you can reverse this dynamic. Such an exercise takes incredible discipline, but if you can do this consistently, it can have the same mood-improving impact as anti-depressant drugs

Next time, I’ll share how to create an honest self-assessment.

Mark Rodgers’ Ultimate Guide to Self-Persuasion Success — Part 1

Living with low self-esteem, self-efficacy and self-confidence steals your energy and ability to cope with anxiety, problems, challenges and risks. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that attaining high self-esteem, solid self-efficacy and weapons-grade self-confidence does exactly the opposite. It enables you to solve problems rather than worry about them, find ways to win people over, and work directly and purposefully to address interpersonal issues.

Many of the following ideas could fall under a category of psychology referred to as cognitive therapy. That is, participating in activities, exercises and conversations that improve your “self-talk” or ongoing internal dialogue, and therefore impacting everything from your emotional state to your persuasive performance. For some, this is the purview of incense-burning, beard-wearing types who wouldn’t be caught dead without their yoga mats. If you can break through that bias, though, you’ll discover that it’s powerful stuff.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Vanderbilt University studied 240 depressed patients who were randomly placed in groups. Some received anti-depressant medication, others participated in cognitive therapy, and still others received a placebo. After 16 weeks, both the anti-depressant group and the cognitive therapy group had improved at about the same rate. The real difference was that the cognitive therapy group was found less likely to relapse during the two years following therapy. Why? They had acquired the skills and behaviors to think more positively.

This example illustrates the key to becoming more resilient. Just like the body needs air, nutrition and regular exercise, your mind needs a fitness regimen, too. You must regularly stretch, feed, work, coach and rest your mind, so consider what follows as your all-access, lifetime membership to Mark’s Self-Persuasion World Gym.

1. Be cognitively aware of your internal dialogue.

When you make a mistake and find yourself thinking, “I always mess up!” or “Stupid. Stupid. Stupid,” hit “stop.” Don’t keep running the video clip on a loop in your head. Stop and reframe your negative thoughts.

2. Reframe negative thoughts.

Don’t scold. Fix. You don’t always mess up. It’s not that you’ll never get anything right. You did land the job in the first place. And you’ve done many things well and achieved success. You simply have some aspect of a project or relationship that is giving you a hard time. Break it down and troubleshoot. Maybe it’s not the entire board presentation that’s giving you fits; it’s only the intro or anticipating resistance. Identify and fix. If you don’t currently possess the skills to make a fix, acquire them. If you don’t have the information you need, find the data.

3. Use success ranges.

Don’t turn every situation into an all-or-nothing case. In other words, don’t enter every client meeting thinking you need to come out with new business or else it wasn’t a successful meeting.

4. Understand the physical side of self-persuasion.

Get enough sleep and rest, because “fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Williams Shakespeare said that first, but U.S. Army Gen. George S. Patton and football coach Vince Lombardi also picked up on it. Regardless, it still rings true today. Without enough rest, you won’t be able to form your arguments, look your best and articulate your positions to the best of your abilities. Ask me how I know: I’ve worked myself into a state of almost mental incoherence, and subsequently lost business.

5. Too much caffeine hurts your persuasion attempts.

Caffeine makes you seem nervous and uncertain, even if you don’t have a visible case of the jitters. So much for oozing self-confidence. You might, however, want to hope that your target has downed a few cups of coffee or cans of Mountain Dew. Australian researchers several years ago determined that people who drank two cups of strong coffee were much more easily swayed to change their minds than test subjects who were given a placebo instead.

Look for more self-persuasion tips next time.

Stop Twisting Reality into Negative Knots

“Cognitive distortions” is a fancy way of describing the way we twist reality in our own minds. Below are five examples of cognitive distortions that prove problematic for people seeking to improve their persuasion skills:

1. You take one event or incident and apply it globally to any given situation. For example, you make one mistake in a presentation and now tell yourself that you’re a terrible public speaker.

2. You listen to your pathological critic. That critic might be using absolute terminology such as “always,” “every” and “everybody” and “never,” “none” and “nobody.” It’s easy to fall prey to consistent thoughts containing words like those.

3. Your mind is trained to only see and hear certain things. And those things are typically negative: a critique, a look of displeasure, an injustice.

4. You focus too much on your external critics. Madonna once stated that there was a period in her career when all she could perceive was the negative. She’d perform a killer show, with the crowd on its feet all night, but Madonna’s eyes would always find the handful of people who looked like they weren’t having the time of their lives. And that’s, unfortunately, where her focus would lie.

5. You dwell on complaints. For example, although the majority of respondents to a user survey might appear to have gone out of their way to be complimentary about your company’s products, services and customer relations, the few complaints are the ones you can’t stop thinking about.

Sure, it makes sound business sense to be aware of the negatives and evaluate how you can do better. But concentrating the majority of your energy on them without celebrating your accomplishments can seriously derail the self-esteem train.

So this week, focus on the positive and see if you a notice a shift in your persuasive effectiveness.

How to Feel Good About Yourself

Self-esteem can be defined as one’s opinion of oneself as a person, the pride you have in yourself or your self-respect. The term also has evolved over time.

Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning, in their book Self Esteem (first published in 1987), describe self-esteem as the emotional sine qua non (or a necessity); consultant Alan Weiss, who has done tremendous work in the area of self-esteem, describes the word as a verb — an action that leads to self-confidence; and I consider self-esteem a critical mental condition that allows you to acquire the skills required to persuade. Think of it as your persuasion foundation.

However you describe self-esteem, you’ve got to have heaps of it if you’re going to be successful in the world of persuasion.

“Mental toughness is essential to success,” Vince Lombardi once said. He should know: He led the Green Bay Packers to victories in the first two Super Bowls. And just as you can train your physique to win football championships, you also can train your mind to win persuasion championships.

Beware Your ‘Pathological Critic’

Mental self-flagellation destroys self-esteem, as you chastise yourself for screwing up a report or questioning why you didn’t present the statistics before you shared your opinions in the board meeting. Unfortunately, people with lower levels of self-esteem hear this sort of mental self-flagellation with increasing (and concerning) frequency. Psychologist Eugene Sagan labeled the phenomenon and coined the term for this as “pathological critic.”

Whether your own pathological critic took up residence in your head during your early years or later in your professional life doesn’t matter. Either way, you’ve now got your own mental drill sergeant to deal with on a daily basis. How will you respond?

Banish Polarized Thinking

Another detriment to consistent and positive self-esteem is a mind-set that allows you to view every situation as black or white, with absolutely no in-between. People are either with you or against you. Every action you take, every person you meet, is organized into such a dichotomy. With every piece of positive feedback from others, you’re on top of the world. At the slightest criticism, though, you’re in the doldrums. You’re self-worth is either towering or cowering. I refer to this phenomenon the crazy circles of inconsistent self-worth.

Stop it! Consistent self-worth is important to your long term persuasion success. So don’t get too “up” when you experience success, and don’t get too “down” when you experience setback.

Remember: The psychology of self-esteem — and thus self-persuasion — is all about consistency.

Mark Rodgers’ Big Bang Theory of the Psychology of Self-Persuasion

The fact that everybody has different opinions is what makes the act of persuasion so much fun — and so rewarding. Think of the psychology of self-persuasion as a “big bang theory.” That bang begins with self-esteem, and I believe self-esteem leads to self-efficacy, self-efficacy breeds self-confidence, and self-confidence leads to persuasion success.

If you think of yourself as talented and capable, you’ll work to learn new skills. When you acquire that skillset, you’re more confident in speaking with influential others in project meetings. And when you’re more confident in those meetings, you’ll be more inclined to make an effort to gain support for your persuasion priorities.

See how this works?

Here’s another example: If you think of yourself as a valuable person with lots of ideas to contribute, you’ll work to put yourself in new situations, such as making a presentation at a key shareholders’ meeting. When you have that opportunity, you’ll provide a meaningful and compelling talk. And when you accomplish that, you’ll feel more confident in your abilities — and others will see you as more capable, too.

Avoid Black Holes

The reverse of these events, however, can be catastrophic. If your self-esteem is either partially or wholly dependent on your persuasion success (winning that promotion or prevailing in an argument) be prepared for the psychological equivalent of a black hole. The gravity of your situation will not even allow light to shine through. Imagine the devastating effect that could have on your career.

Here are two examples of how everything can go downhill if you rely on positive feedback to boost self-esteem:

  1. You don’t understand what people are talking about when it comes to finances. You asked a question once, to which several people laughed at your lack of financial acumen. Subsequently, you withdraw whenever financial matters are discussed. You don’t participate, and you feel as if you don’t really belong at a meeting with people of this caliber.
  2. You’re petrified to give a research presentation to the executive team, because you’ve done so before and people criticized your efforts. So you do everything possible to duck the assignment. But when you do, you’re conflicted because you feel like this is an opportunity you must take advantage of in order to further your position in the organization. You have to, but you can’t.

This is a soul-crushing, potentially career-destroying, psychological state. The biggest problem here is that you’ve handed over your mental wellness to feedback and criticism of others.

So the question is: Do you have to do good to be good? Excluding the theological perspective, which exceeds the scope of this website, no — you don’t. You have worth and value despite what happened at yesterday’s staff meeting.

To be honest, though, if you aren’t so good at something, how do you build the self-esteem to make the effort to become good at it? How can you have more big bangs and fewer black holes?

I’ll answer those questions next time.

How Self-Doubt Can Wreak Havoc on Your Persuasion Efforts

Psychologists say the seeds for self-doubt are planted early in life, during that critical personality development period of childhood and adolescence. As a result, self-doubt can take many forms:

  • A single, stinging rebuke from a well-meaning family member: “I can’t believe you did that at the Thanksgiving dinner table.”
  • A constant harping on your inadequacy in some aspect of life: “You’re so disorganized!”
  • A parental reprimand in front of your teenage peers: “Why did you forget to call us when you got to Brice’s house?”

That said, don’t think all of your self-doubting happened when you were a kid. Plenty of other incidents can happen during your older years to imbue you with enough self-doubt to convince yourself you’re no good at persuading.  Maybe company leaders didn’t take your advice, or you were passed over for a big assignment, or you didn’t get that promotion.

All of these manifestations of self-doubt can become problematic for your persuasion efforts. Why?

Because persuasion is about taking risks. Because it requires you to put yourself “out there” by taking a stance and asking for agreement. Because persuasion is mostly about taking action, not sitting back hoping the action will occur on behalf of someone else (or not at all). And because self-doubt can paralyze you.

One way to minimize self-doubt is by understanding the inter-relatedness and importance of self-efficacy, self-confidence and self-esteem. Whenever I start talking self-esteem, I have to prepare myself for a few eye rolls.

The late comedian George Carlin didn’t care much for the so-called “self-esteem movement” that manifested itself in the 1970s. In fact, in his final HBO special, 2008’s Emmy-nominated It’s Bad For Ya, he railed against the idea that “everyone’s a winner” and claimed kids “have been so crippled” by “all of this stupid nonsense.”

You can find the foul-mouthed clip on YouTube, but here’s a transcript containing some of his warm self-esteem sentiments:

I’m happy to say [the self-esteem movement] has been a complete failure, because studies have repeatedly shown that having high self-esteem does not improve grades, does not improve career achievement, it does not even lower the use of alcohol, and most certainly does not reduce the incidence of violence of any sort. Because, as it turns out, extremely aggressive, violent people think very highly of themselves. Imagine that: Sociopaths have high self-esteem! 

Next time, I’ll get serious again and explain my “Big Bang Theory for the Psychology of Self-Persuasion.”

What Does Negative Self-Talk Sound Like?

Negative self-talk can be disastrous for your persuasion attempts. Why? I’ll let the author of one of my favorite books explain:

“A man’s mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild. But whether cultivated or neglected, it must and will, bring forth. … Just as a gardener cultivates his plot, keeping free of weeds … so may a man tend to the garden of his mind.”

Those words from philosopher James Allen in his 1902 book, As a Man Thinkethstill ring true more than 115 years later.

It’s easy enough to recognize behaviors that suggest self-doubt in persuasion situations; those thoughts lean heavily toward the negative and dwell on the conviction that your target will say “no.” Here are eight common thoughts that might run through your head:

  1. I will have made a fool of myself in front of everyone.
    In reality: Most people are so self-absorbed that they aren’t really paying any attention to you and your career.
  2. Everyone will know I failed.
    In reality: Some people might think, He sure is mixing things up with this proposal! I like it!
  3. It will be confirmation that I’m not competent.
    In reality: It will be confirmation that — at that moment, on that ask, in that instance — something wasn’t quite right with the way things were.
  4. My colleagues will laugh at me.
    In reality: Your colleagues may outwardly show signs of schadenfreude, but their internal dialogue is likely saying, I wish I would take more chances like her.
  5. I shouldn’t try to “rise above my station.”
    In reality: Why not “rise about your station”? The entire foundation of American society is built on a Horatio Alger rags-to-riches story.
  6. My nemesis will get the satisfaction knowing that I failed.
    In reality: Years from now, do you want to look back at your career and say, I really could have done big things, but I was worried about that unethical weasel in marketing?
  7. This will prove my boss was right when he said I shouldn’t try.
    In reality: Your boss is insecure and probably couldn’t function without you.
  8. Who am I to make this request?
    In reality: You are a magnificently created and sentient human being designed to reach your potential. The Greeks called it arête: living to one’s fullest potential.

Next time, we’ll analyze self-doubt. Until then, think positive thoughts.


New Year’s Resolution: Convince Yourself to Make 2018 Your Best Year Ever

Whether attempting to sell more motorcycles, pursuing a new managerial position or convincing your boss to give you a raise, we all talk to ourselves before we take action. Many psychologists have labeled this ongoing mental dialogue as “self‐talk.”

These internal comments impact thoughts, emotions, actions, and ultimately careers and life itself. The following quote, attributed to everyone from Mahatma Gandhi to Ralph Waldo Emerson to the president of a leading supermarket chain, illustrates this cause and effect:

Watch your thoughts, they become words.
Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

The point is made even more elegantly in one of my favorite books of all time, As a Man Thinkethby philosopher James Allen, published just after the turn of the 20th century and reprinted many times. It may very well be the first “self‐help” book.

“Man is made or unmade by himself; in the armory of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself,” Allen wrote. “He also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace.”

What are you building? And how will your “self-talk” make 2018 your most successful year ever?

Do You Know Where Your Career Is Headed?

We often describe it as being “hot,” “in the zone,” “on target” or “firing on all cylinders.” But what we’re really experiencing at those moments – partially, at least – is what Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced MEE-hye CHEEK-sent- -HYE-ee) calls “the state of flow.”

In his groundbreaking 1990 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihalyi described flow as “the process of total involvement with life.” Years later, in interview with Wired magazine, he defined flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Unwittingly, Csikszentmihalyi also was describing peak performance, which occurs when you perform almost effortlessly at an incredibly high ability in challenging situations: The athlete who easily hits the ball over the centerfield fence in the ninth inning of the big game, the composer who writes the perfect song connecting melody and emotion when the record company demands a hit, the salesperson who performs gracefully and comfortably in challenging and complex selling situations.

In the introduction to Flow, Csikszentmihalyi notes that “twenty-three-hundred years ago, Aristotle concluded that, more than anything else, men and women seek happiness.” Just about everything else we do is done primarily because we expect it to increase our happiness.

I believe happiness begins with heading in the right direction. Even the highest-performing vehicle won’t perform if it’s not on the proper road. Put a Ferrari on a pothole-ridden dirt path in the middle of Indiana, and it won’t perform nearly as well as it does on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Whether your aims are personal or professional, sales-oriented or social, two key questions remain: Where are you headed? And are you on the right road?