One of my greatest challenges is controlling the way that I talk to myself. Whether we realize it or not, most of the talking we do is to ourselves. We’re experts at getting ourselves worked up over a situation, generating self-righteous indignation toward others, and convincing ourselves that we’re right and others are wrong.
Last week I spent more than six hours on the telephone with a second-tier Microsoft support technician (tech) trying to solve a problem with my computer at work. It was frustrating because the tech was from India and he had a heavy accent that made it hard for me to understand what he was saying.
One of the first things he asked me to do was to go to a Microsoft webpage and download software that would allow him to take control of my computer. After I installed the software, the tech was able to see what I was seeing on my computer monitor and was able to do whatever he wanted on the computer. If at any time I didn’t approve of what he was doing, I had the ability to stop him by closing the sharing program I had installed on my computer.
Because of my curious and suspicious nature, I sat and watched everything the tech did with my computer. I periodically asked him questions about what he was doing, and he patiently answered all of my questions. There were long stretches of time when we both had to wait while certain diagnostic processes took place. It was during those times that my self-talk took over.
Here’s one of the conversations I had with myself while I was waiting:
Negative Side of Brain (Negative SB): If I had known it was going to take this long, I would have put off making the phone call to another day when I would have had more time. Why did this have to happen at this time?
Positive Side of Brain (Positive SB): What are you talking about? When would you have had the time to make the call? You know as well as I do that if you would have waited until you had the time, you would never make the call and you would continue to be frustrated with the way your computer is working.
Negative SB: Yeah you’re right. There’s never a perfect time to do something like this. Better to get it done now rather than later. But I should have delegated this to someone else. Then I would have been able to use my time more productively.
Positive SB: Who would you have delegated it to? This is your own personal computer. You know as well as I do that you wouldn’t want to put anyone else in charge of your computer. It would drive you nuts if something went wrong and you weren’t there to handle the problem. Right?
Negative SB: Yeah, I guess you’re right. But I don’t understand why Microsoft can’t ever get it right in the first place. Their operating system has always been riddled with bugs. I’m too overwhelmed with more pressing things to do. This problem should have been foreseen by Microsoft.
Positive SB: So you’re overwhelmed, what else is new? You know as well as I do that you can only focus on one thing at a time, so stop whining and get this problem solved as soon as possible. You know you’re going to increase your knowledge and skills as a result of this experience, so stop sitting there doing nothing and start taking notes so if this problem ever occurs with any of the other 13 computers in your office, you’ll know how to fix it.
I want to focus on one phrase from each of the three negative thoughts I outlined above: (1) “Why did this have to happen at this time?” (2) “I should have delegated this to someone else.” and (3) “I’m too overwhelmed with more pressing problems.”
Each of these three phrases includes “victim language.” There is certain language that we say to ourselves and to others that automatically turns us into victims. The very act of thinking the thoughts in these phrases turned me into an instant victim. I always try my best to be consciously aware of my self-talk, because any time I turn myself into a victim, I enter into a zone of negativity and self-pity.
One definition of a victim is “one that is injured, destroyed, or sacrificed under any of various conditions” (e.g., a victim of cancer, a victim of the auto crash, a murder victim), or “one that is subjected to oppression, hardship, or mistreatment.” We humans have the unique ability to use our own thoughts and words to either (1) subject ourselves to our own self-imposed oppression, hardship, and mistreatment, or (2) to rise above victimhood and take ownership of our own lives by using our thoughts and words to empower rather than oppress us.
Let’s analyze what went on during the conversation I had with myself.
1. Why did this have to happen at this time? The most common word that is used among victims is the word “why.” They say to themselves or others, “Why did this have to happen to me?” or “Why does this always happen to me?” or “Why is everyone always picking on me?” Instead of using the word “why,” the person who is willing to take ownership of his or her own life says, This happened to me for a good reason. I have faith and confidence that something good will come from this experience. I’ll gain more knowledge, learn more skills, and develop a greater understanding of myself and the people I deal with. I’ll also be able to use the lessons I learn from this experience to help and influence others to take the right course of action.
2. I should have delegated this to someone else. We get ourselves into trouble when we use the words “should.” The word “should” is a victim word. It has the same effect that pulling the plug in a bathtub full of water has. When we use the word “should,” we pull a plug that drains out all of our energy and motivation. The person who takes ownership of his or her life, substitutes the word “should” with the words “want, choose, intend, or will.” An example of this would be, Even though this is going to be difficult for me, I choose to be a grownup and take full responsibility for what happens in my life. I intend to conquer this problem now rather than later. I will get this problem solved as soon as possible.
3. I’m too overwhelmed. A victim is an expert at talking about how overwhelmed, stressed, tired, and busy he or she is. A person who takes ownership of his or her life doesn’t complain about being overwhelmed or too busy. He or she knows that the right way to approach the feeling of being overwhelmed is to make a list of everything that needs to be done, in order of priority, and then focus on solving the most pressing problem. The key word here is “focus.” A victim looks at a list of things to do and either procrastinates or does the lesser important things. The owner chooses the most important task, blocks off the time to take care of it, and then focuses on getting it done.
The language we use on ourselves and in communicating with others has a profound effect on the way we feel and behave. We’re not animals who take action based on instincts. We’re rational human beings who were created with the unique ability to consciously make choices concerning our thoughts, words, and actions. We can either choose to be victims or owners.