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How to Disrupt the Way You Talk to the Person in the Mirror

Cynthia Kane, author of 'Talk To Yourself Like A Buddhist', believes our most important communication upskilling we need lies with the narrative in our own heads.

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Our internal communications, the stuff we say to ourselves, reinforces what we believe about ourselves and our place in the world. Unfortunately, women are programmed to internalize almost everything, whether a situation is personal or not. As Stephanie Buscemi, CMO at Salesforce shared in Disrupters: Success Strategies From Women Who Break The Mold: it’s time to stop internalizing and start neutralizing. Like so many things, changing a mindset from “everything is my fault and my problem to solve” to one that says “what is the real problem or opportunity and how can it best be addressed”, we have to change our internal narrative.

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Cynthia Kane, author of "Talk to Yourself Like a Buddhist," has identified five ways you can change that dialogue in your head -- what she refers to as "self-talk." While most of our professional training is focused on communicating with others, Kane found resources that help build effective communications strategies with the person in the mirror were few and far between. Her book closes that gap, offering five practices that disrupt self-talk while transform your life for the better.

1. Pay attention to your words

“…the practice of listening carries with it the willingness to learn something new,” writes Kane. By employing the Buddhist act of mindfulness, Kane believes that we can make room to observe the words we say to ourselves instead of falling victim to them. Let’s face it, the strongest unconscious bias muscle we have is holding what we say to ourselves as truth. Women are particularly hard on themselves. The good news is that by orchestrating a new communication approach that includes personal compassion and empathy to make room for objective personal observation of your triggers and the resulting words -- positive, negative or indifferent -- you will transform yourself from victim to director of your internal narrative.

2. Discover your negative self-talk spheres of influence

Humans judge themselves. It’s a fact. Instead of setting yourself up for failure by trying to control your judgement, Kane suggests exploring it instead. “…we see what we believe we see. Consequently, if we don’t explore our beliefs, we will continue to see things the same way, make the same judgements, and give rise to the same negative self-talk,” write Kane. In Buddhism every cause, there is an effect. Rather than judging yourself and our long-standing reaction, aim to understand the origins of your self-talk. A good way to explore is to list ten tipping points where you caused pain or had pain happen to you at someone else’s doing. Explore the list with the aim of understanding how the spheres of influence fuel the negative self-talk.

3. Question your self-talk’s authority 

By objectively examining the overlap between the three spheres of influence that inform your self-talk - societal reinforcements, feelings of insufficiencies, and past experiences – you can turn the exploration conducted in step two into a practice akin to a scientific method. “…the questions we will ask ourselves are designed to help us identify the specific judgments underlying the negative self-talk, pinpoint any story we are telling ourselves because of this judgement, and finally focus on what is true for us instead,” writes Kane. By asking yourself to identify the judgement you are making, the resulting story you tell yourself, and what is truth versus what your narrative has told you, Kane enables you to separate fact from fiction.

4. Let it go 

Just like the song Elsa sings in Frozen, we all have baggage that we carry around when really, we each have the power to do what Kane calls “releasing”. “When I tell clients that they are refusing to put down the very negative self-talk that is causing them suffering, many disagree at first,” writes Kane. We hang onto our bad memories, our shame, and our guilt. Not because we are gluttons for punishment but more likely because we are in the habit of doing so. Orchestrating a new conversation on your head is your decision to make. Making a practice of interrupting your negative internal dialogue by acknowledging that these words are merely habit, you can start down the road of creating a new set of supporting voices that only you can hear. And, for those harmful memories that are harder to let go of, don’t fight the urge to refrain from self-talk. Instead, decide that you are going to forgive yourself. A memory is a story you tell yourself. You can create a new ending to that story, one that acknowledges you are human and that the most important moment you have is right now.

5. Get comfortable with moderation 

Balance is a funny word, one that forces us to consider that not people, including ourselves, and not all experiences are good or bad. It’s what Kane calls the “Middle Path of Self-Communication”. “…the Middle Path invites you to give up your own self-inflicted torture, to stop berating yourself with negative self-talk, and adopt a more balanced form of self-communication instead,” write Kane. Life is a mix of experiences where each one of us decides its value. That is why when you ask ten people to describe an event they were all at, you receive ten answers. The previous four steps culminate into a practice of refusing extremes and instead living a life where things are neither good or bad, they just are.

The world needs more women in positions of power and influence in business and in politics. Women bring a relational approach to decision-making the is needed to balance the more transactional A-to-B construction of meaning that tends to dominate even the most complex of challenges and opportunities. There is certainly no doubt that unconscious bias stands in the way of women advancing toward traditional and non-traditional definitions of success. From how job descriptions are written to who people picture when they think about a tech CEO, the way we are conditioned to think lends itself toward a world that does not paint inclusion although the world is diverse from multiple perspectives, including gender. Yet, the biggest barrier facing women in business is not necessary the long-standing one-size-fits-all policies and programs. The biggest barrier tends to be our own mindsets. Kane’s approach forces a mindset where self-talk transforms from your worst enemy to your best friend.

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