Perspectives: Communicating with Yourself Matters

August 28, 2012

By Steve Adubato, Ph.D. for NJTV

The Greek philosopher Epictetus once said; “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” We should keep this quote in mind both in business and in life when we face adversity and challenges.

Truly great leaders understand that it is rarely where you start in any competition, but rather where you finish. It is how you choose to see your situation that often determines your fate.

What does any of this have to do with communication? A lot. Consider how we communicate with ourselves. Communication scholars call it intrapersonal communication. We all need to have a positive inner dialogue that reminds us of what we need to do to stay on track and focused, particularly when times get tough.

Consider the case of Carli Lloyd, the talented New Jersey soccer star who at the recent Olympics scored the only two goals for USA’s gold medal 2-1 win against Japan. Where Carli “finished” was as good as it gets. She was welcomed home as a hero and was the star of the most important game in her career. But it didn’t start out that way. In fact, Carli was shockingly benched before the Olympics. It was something she never saw coming.

In a recent appearance on NJTV’s nightly news program, NJ Today, Carli talked about how she dealt with the tremendous disappointment of losing her starting position on the US Women’s Olympic soccer team right before the trip to London. Said Lloyd on NJ Today: “I thought that my life was over; I was devastated, I was in tears. But I had two choices. I could sit there and say “woe is me. Why is this happening?”  Or, I could choose the other way, which was to work harder, dig deeper and prove to everyone that I belonged on that field. If it was possible, I worked even harder than I normally do.” Carli added, “I didn’t know what the outcome would be. I didn’t know if I was going to play…I didn’t know anything. I just made sure that I was the hardest working player in camp.”

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When the time came, Carli Lloyd came off the bench and led her team to Olympic gold. You never know when and if your opportunity is going to come, whether in sports, business, or any professional arena. While that is beyond your control, what IS in your control is making sure you are ready. Carli was ready and made the most of it.

Great leaders are constantly engaged in intrapersonal communication—a never ending conversation with themselves. But what is that conversation going to sound like when things go wrong?  Are you going to say, “This stinks. Why is this happening to me?  Life is so unfair. I don’t deserve this. It doesn’t make any difference whether I work hard or not. I might as well just go through the motions because things never work out for me anyway.” This kind of intrapersonal communication will guarantee the outcome will not be pretty. Your performance will suffer and you will ensure a negative self-fulfilling prophesy.

Or, you can do what Carli Lloyd did and say something like, “This stinks. Sometimes life is unfair. But I am going to dust myself off and get right back in the game. I am a winner and I just need another opportunity to show it. I am going to work even harder and smarter next time.” Communicate to yourself like this and you are bound to turn things around and will be ready when opportunity knocks.  Just ask Carli Lloyd.