You are reading this article because you want something. We all do. Maybe you want to lose 20 kgs, to earn $1,000 a month, to start a business or to be in a great relationship. All these are great and common goals, but they are usually not easy to achieve.
Even if your goal was one on the list or a different one, I’m guessing you have some difficulty achieving it. Maybe you don’t have the courage to start because you are afraid of failure. Or maybe you have done some progress, but you are losing hope and think about giving up. Maybe you have already given up or failed several times. You are worried that maybe you will never get what you want in life. But deep down, you know you truly want this. And your desire keeps your hope alive.
And you’re wondering: is there anything I can do to make sure I will get what I want and work for? Yes, there is. Even though there are many ways to reach any goal and many techniques you can use, I will teach you one that will make a big difference in your life.
Once you read this article and begin applying this technique, you can be certain that you can reach your goals. You will never be paralyzed by fear or crippled with worry again. You will learn how to keep that hope alive, even when things are hard. And any goal you set your mind to will be within reach. Start reading to learn how to get (almost) everything you want in life!
Two types of people
You have probably noticed that some people seem to be born under a lucky star. Whenever they want something, they put in the work and they get it. They go through life like success is a given. And then there are some people who always seem to be out of luck. They try to go after what they want, but they fail or give up when the going gets tough. They think they are cursed and they sell themselves short all their lives.
What is the difference between these people?
Many things could explain this difference including their genes, circumstances or mindsets. But there is one thing that sets them apart that I want us to focus on. There is something that seems to influence me and you as well, even if we are not even aware that this is happening. This is our inner voice. It controls our lives every day and leads us to either failure or success. But the good news is that we have control over this voice and, therefore, over our lives!
Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology talks about this inner voice in his book “Learned Optimism”. He calls it “explanatory style”. According to him, your explanatory style is “how you habitually explain to yourself why events happen”.1
A tale of two voices
Let’s see how this really works. Imagine that your goal is to start working out (or think about your own goal while reading this). You have made the decision to go to the gym 3 times a week. You do this on the first week and you are sure you will continue to work out as planned. But on the second or third week, something happens. You are either too busy to work out or you simply don’t feel like going to the gym. So you don’t go. What happens next depends on the way you talk to yourself.
If you have a positive inner voice (positive explanatory style), you will tell yourself: It’s alright if I missed just one training. I was very busy with work this week. But I can make up for it on Saturday. And when Saturday comes, you go to the gym as you decided.
If you have a negative inner voice (negative explanatory style), you will think something like this: I can’t believe I have missed my training. I can never do what I decide to do. Now even if I go to the gym on Friday, I still missed one workout. You know what? It doesn’t even matter because I quit. If I can’t go to the gym for 2 weeks, how will I ever do this for 2 months or 2 years? I’m not even going to work out anymore.
What do you think will happen in both scenarios? Can you see how your explanatory style influences what you think about what happened and about yourself? And can you see how this affects your behaviour and your chances of success? This is the reason why your inner voice is extremely important.
It is true that many factors play a role in your quest for success, whatever your goal may be. Your genetic predispositions, your past experiences, your circumstances, the government can all influence your odds. But you cannot control any of these factors. You cannot decide to have genes that make you healthier, more energetic and more resilient. You cannot decide how your parents raised you, how much money they earn, how the economy is evolving. The thing that you can control is your inner voice and that may make a bigger difference in your life than all the other factors.
How to talk to yourself
When bad things happen to people that have a pessimistic inner voice, they talk to themselves in a way that takes away their hope. 1 Without knowing it, they are preparing themselves for failure. You may be thinking this way too and this could be the reason why you often fail or give up on your goals.
But you can learn how to talk to yourself in a way that makes you feel more optimistic, more hopeful and more likely to achieve your goals. Let’s look at 3 dimensions of the explanatory style to learn how to talk (or not talk) to ourselves, based on Seligman’s theory.1 Here are 3 things you should keep in mind whenever you make a mistake, fail or something bad happens.
1. Bad things don’t last forever
Imagine that you have a fight with your partner. Maybe you forgot about your anniversary or you said something that offended them. You are both angry and yell at each other or don’t even talk to each other. You both go to separate rooms and stay there for hours. And you begin to worry.
If you are pessimistic, you can see no way out. You imagine that this fight will never end, no matter what you do. Or you imagine that you will always fight about other things. Your future suddenly appears grim and you think to yourself:
Things like these always happen to me. I can never be happy with anyone.
We will never get along and be happy together.
I will never overcome this.
You begin to worry that this bad event will last forever, even though this rarely happens. You exaggerate and start thinking in terms of never or always, as if the bad events last forever and good things never happen to you. 1 You and I both know that this is not true. A few hours later, you both apologize and make up and feel happy again.
But if you are used to thinking that bad things last forever, it will seem true to you. If every time you fell down, missed a deadline, stuttered in front of an audience you believed the negative event or its consequences would last forever, you need to remind yourself that they don’t.
So the next time you face a challenge and you cannot rise to the occasion, remind yourself that this was just one event that is already in the past. Forgive yourself, laugh at yourself or pick yourself up. Allow yourself to make up for your mistakes or shortcoming. And then try again and again until you learn how to achieve your goal. Failure is inevitable, but it is not permanent.
2. One bad thing will not ruin your life
Imagine that you have to give a big presentation at work. You have prepared very well, but you are also extremely nervous. You give the presentation, but you cannot answer a few questions your boss asked you. Moreover, you stutter when you tell him that you will have to look up the information he requested. After the presentation is over, you begin to worry. You ask yourself:
What if my boss thinks that I am incompetent?
What if he fires me? Then I won’t have any money to pay the bills.
I’ll have to move back with my parents in my hometown and feel like a loser.
Can you see how one bad thing makes you imagine how everything is ruined? I think that it is very unlikely for anyone to get fired just because of a less-than-perfect presentation. And even if you do get fired, this does not mean that everything in your life falls apart.
I know that this scenario may seem exaggerated and unlikely right now, but when you feel ashamed or guilty and worry about something, such scenarios seem likely to happen. Or maybe this scenario seems foolish, but the ones in your head are definitely real. The thing you worry about can surely ruin your life. If that’s what you are thinking, please think again. Do something to take your mind off your problem or setback and then you will look at it with fresh eyes. You will probably laugh at the things you worried about.
But if often doesn’t work that way. Life is not just a set of domino pieces. Yes, sometimes one event leads to another. If there is a cause, that cause also has an effect. However, it rarely happens that a single bad event ruins somebody’s life completely.
So the next time something bad happens or you fail at something, remind yourself that this event will not stop you from getting what you want in life. Don’t let one setback in one area prevent you from going after your dreams.
3. Maybe it’s not your fault
Let’s say that one day you borrow your friend’s car. Your car is broken and you need to go visit your parents. As you are driving, a dog jump in front of your car. You don’t want to run it over, so you do a risky maneuver to avoid it. You managed to save the dog’s life, but you crashed the car into a tree. As you wait for someone to pick up the car and take it to a repair shop, you think about what happened:
How could I do this? Why didn’t I simply stop the car?
This would have never happened to my friend.
If you have a pessimistic inner voice (explanatory style), every bad event will be your fault.1 You will blame yourself even in situations when you had no or little control, such as in the example above. You will think that you are not skilled, talented or smart enough and it is always your fault. As a result, you may have lower self-esteem and doubt your ability to achieve your goals.1
That’s why, when something bad happens, it’s important to ask yourself:
Was this really my fault? Did I cause this?
Could I have controlled this event?
Did someone else cause or contribute to this?
Are there other circumstances that influenced this event more than I have?
I think that in many cases you will realize that you are not 100% responsible for every bad thing that happens in your life. Yes, sometimes it is our fault. If we are reckless and drive a car after we have been drinking, any accident that we cause is our fault. I am not encouraging you to always blame everyone and everything else but yourself. Doing so would make us unrealistic and perhaps even delusional.
Conversely, we should not always assume that we are always to blame. When something bad happens to you, first make sure that it was indeed your fault before you blame yourself. And if it was not your fault, do not let this bad event make you feel bad. Obstacles are part of life. They may show us our limits, force us to reevaluate our skills and encourage us to think of better ways of doing something. So when we are faced with challenges and problems, let’s focus less on who caused them and more on what we can learn from them.
When we are starting on a journey towards a goal
we should remember that challenges and setbacks are inevitable. And when they do arise, it will be best to remind ourselves that they don’t last forever, they don’t ruin everything and they are not always our fault. I think that there is nothing we can do to make sure that our quest for success will be a smooth road in a straight line. But there is something we can do to make sure that we can keep going until we reach our destination – we can learn to talk to ourselves in a way that ensures our success.
Whatever your goal is, I know that you can probably achieve it.
It will take a good plan, hard work and patience, but you can make your dreams come true. However, keep in mind that you will need to work on yourself as much as you work on your goal. So starting with yourself is best.
If you struggle with negativity, self-criticism and doubt, these alone are some of the biggest obstacles you can ever face. That’s why I think that you need to focus on improving the way you talk to yourself. You need more optimism, more self-love and more happiness to freely pursue your goals.
And because I want to help you achieve your goals, I wrote a book to help you start your journey to success the right way. Read more about “Happy by Choice” here to see if it’s the right book for you!
* You have probably noticed that the title of this article was “How to talk to yourself to get ALMOST everything you want in life”. And I’d like to tell you why. I know that learning to use a more positive and kinder explanatory style can make a really big difference in the way you feel and live your life. But if we are honest, no matter how much we believe in ourselves, we cannot achieve everything. We cannot go back in time, see the future, change our pasts or magically change our personalities and behaviors overnight.
Yes, knowledge, awareness and hard work can take us a long way. But they cannot do magic, even though sometimes it may feel like it.
- "Learned Optimism", Martin Seligman