The power of positive self-talk and its effects on work performance

By: Marie-Louise Strøyberg | @mindyourbusinesscom

Many people like to go through life thinking that their minds and thoughts do not shape their reality. That’s not true. It’s been proven over and over again that the power of our thoughts deeply relates to our physical reality whether it has to do with our career success or relationships. It’s called the law of attraction and many business leaders are now tapping into this for increasing motivation, reaching goals and improve their overall business success. 


 The Magic of Positive Thinking

Have you ever wondered how some people can perform in front of a big crowd, with such an ease and calm like they have done it hundreds of times before? Or how athletes or extreme sports people can endure so much and still reach outstanding results? It’s not because they are super humans. It’s simply because they have wired their brain in a more optimal way than the rest of us. Because you’ve probably heard the quote: “What you think, you become” or like Henry Ford put it: “What you think you can or cannot - you are right”. And it’s true! Many studies now show that if you keep telling yourself you can’t - you can’t. Negative thoughts and negative self-talk diminishes you success rate drastically. Professional athletes know this, which is why they are tapping into positive self-talk to diminish anxiety and increase self-confidence, optimism and performance. So what if we could all rewire our brain to supercharge our performance and motivation at work? Well, the good news is: We can! Because positive self-talk is not just for athletes, it can literally help everyone. When practiced with the intention of bettering your work and increasing your work performance, positive self-talk have shown to enhance motivation, performance and with that success not just for the individual, but for the entire company. A negative work environment ruled by negative self-talk or a disbelief in one's ability to solve a project decreases not just the individuals motivation, but the motivation across the entire team and can literally make any project one long struggle. Thus a positive work environment with positive employees equals better business results. So, how can we tap into this?

Before we kickstart your inner vision and supercharge your work performance, let’s first take a deep dive into the neurological and physiological systems powered by positive self-talk. 

Positive Thinking Literally Change Your Brain

What you can and cannot do is largely determined by the templates you’ve created in a part of your brain called the hippocampus. These templates are like 'hard wired memory'. However, these templates can be changed. So let’s say that you have a tendency to have a certain negative thought pattern of saying to yourself that you are not good enough. This has created a strong neural pathway or template in your brain as the thought had been repeated many many times. In order to diminish this neural pathway, you have to lay down another neural pathway that is even stronger than your old negative one. So you start to focus your thoughts, words and actions on creating a more positive energy. This is the law of attraction and it suggests that every moment of every day you create energy - whether positive, neutral, or negative. So, everything you think, everything you say, everything you do, and everything you don’t do emit corresponding vibration that gets sent out to the world. Therefore, as you start to build a more positive thinking pattern you will experience being more self-assured and positive about what you can do and this has an impact on the success of your work and life in general. 

Engaging with more positive self-talk will at first seem fake and weird, but as you continue you eventually start to embody it and believe it. It is thus the connection between the words and the belief that is the ultimate goal of this technique. Because once you keep telling yourself you ARE good enough and all your focus goes in that direction you start to turn a limited belief into an empowering belief and NOW you ARE good enough, not just in your mind, but also in your body.

Positive Thinking Makes Your Stronger

So how does this affect your body - your physiology? Let’s take an example. Imagine a person who needs to present a new concept to a client. She’s nervous and starts mumbling out the words, which creates a downward spiral of feeling defocused, anxious and with that she starts to tell herself terrible things like “I’m horrendous at this”, “we will loose this client”, “my boss will fire me” etc. This has an effect on her further performance during the presentation as her negative self-talk leads her to focus on the negative. This self-sabotaging and unproductive downward spiral disrupts her mind-body synergy making her whole being believe her own words. So her overall performance worsen, which was not the goal. The goal was to win the client. 

On a physiological level she starts spitting out stress hormones, which tightens her muscles, creates butterflies in her stomach, increases her breathing and heart rate - all things that takes away from the calmness needed for her to ace the presentation. However, had she instead stopped herself and filled herself up with positive self-talk like “I got this” or “stay up and keep focused” all her focus would have gone to a positive place. To understand this better, it’s important to note that as humans we cannot have two different thoughts at the same time. This means that if we redirect our thoughts to something positive, there is no space for the negative - it is simply impossible for us to think about the last bad situation. AND this makes us stronger, mentally, emotionally and physically.

How to Strengthen Your Positivity & Increase Work Performance: A Step-By-Step Guide

So how can you start practicing in an easily and applicable way that will actually have an effect on your work performance without taking time away from you actually doing your job. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to get started.

1.Find Your Trigger Word or Phrase (Positive Affirmation)

Find a positive word, phrase or statement also called a positive affirmation that rings true to your work situation. To figure out which positive affirmation that rings true to you, first become aware of what, when and how you get into a negative thought pattern at work. Once you are aware and start noticing what you need to change you can form your positive affirmation so it fits your needs. Then write your positive affirmation in places where it is easily seen; on a post-it note, on your computer, your phone, a bracelet or on another piece of work equipment, so that you are constantly reminded. When you on a bad call, get stuck working or in a tough meeting that triggers your habitual self sabotaging thought pattern, you are carefully reminded to step out of it by silently repeating your positive affirmation. The cool thing about this is that it is 100% under your control. 

2. Focus On The Feeling

Changing your thought pattern takes time and patience and it can seem hard and fake to engage in positive self-talk when you don’t really feel that way. The trick here is to embody what you say. A way to practice this is in meditation to focus on the feeling the positive word/phrase leaves in you. By doing this you start to create a positive mind-body synergy that leads to an automatic emotional memory. Every time you hear your trigger word/phrase or statement you immediately connect that with warm, happy feelings, so when shit hits the fan and you tap straight into it.

3.Practice in a Relaxed Setting 

It is important that you start out practicing your positive affirmation in a relaxed setting, so that when you really need to have a positive response you immediately go straight into a relaxed state of being as you associate this word/phrase with being calm and collected. Therefore, start out practicing at a place and time of day where you feel relaxed and calm - e.g. in the morning straight after you waking up or in the evening before bedtime. Sitting in meditation - relaxed on a chair or on the floor focus on the feeling the affirmation leaves in your body and allow yourself to sit with this feeling for a while.

Good Luck!

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