Cameron Yarbrough is co-founder and CEO of Torcha platform for the development of people.
Imagine standing in front of 500 investors as the CEO of a startup, determined to raise funding to move your business forward. I had prepared for weeks and was well aware that millions of dollars were at stake. I practiced almost every scenario in my head beforehand, but when I got on stage, there was one problem: I stiffened. My microphone stopped working and after the five seconds it took to fix the problem, I lost my train of thought and started to panic. The slides for my presentation started to roll, but no words came out of my mouth.
Fortunately, I was able to recover and stumbled through the presentation. By the end of the event, Torch was fully funded. As a business leader, challenging moments like this will happen. For some people, it means not freezing on a podium for investors. However, despite difficult circumstances, it is inevitable that you will experience moments when your organization needs you to lead.
This is where self-talk as an emotional regulation tool becomes invaluable. In those times when circumstances seem bleak, there will be multiple temptations to give in to your emotions and make decisions that could lead to negative consequences. However, strengthening the ability to calm your emotions and eliminate self-doubt can be invaluable to you and your business.
Why is self-talk and emotional regulation important?
self talk is the inner voice that expresses “conscious thoughts and unconscious beliefs and prejudices, [providing] a way for the brain to interpret and process everyday experiences.” Stanford Professor James Gross defines emotional regulation as the “process by which individuals influence what emotions they have, when they have them, and how they experience and express those emotions.” Self-talk helps to amplify our current feelings or emotions. Positive self-talk has the power to keep us through a difficult situation or even push us further after we have achieved success. However, negative self-talk can amplify thoughts and emotions that make us depressed.
You can recognize negative self-talk by four prisms:
1. Hyperbole: the practice of analyzing a situation and then focusing only on the best and worst results or the most extreme version of reality.
2. Shame and Guilt: When something bad happens, you instinctively put all the blame on yourself.
3. Catastrophizing: This is immediately anticipating the worst after something goes wrong (ie if your day starts wrong, you think the rest of the day will go wrong).
4. Polarizing: This involves viewing events only through a lens of good or bad, especially with people. You might polarize against some and align fiercely with others. There is no middle ground.
Any instance of negative self-talk can make emotional regulation more difficult. Good emotional regulation means the ability to recognize how you feel, yet make wise decisions regardless of that feeling. Poor emotional regulation simply means reacting based on how you are currently feeling or may feel in the near future. Negative self-talk can feed negative emotions, which can drive a person to make bad decisions.
As business leaders, positive self-talk as a catalyst for good emotional regulation can be an invaluable combination when making decisions. The sheer level of responsibilities given to CEOs and other executives will provide many day-to-day experiences that can trigger a range of emotions. An inappropriate response to these experiences, based solely on how someone is feeling, can have huge consequences not only for you, but also for your organization.
How do I use these tools?
Learning the habits associated with positive self-talk and good emotional regulation can start with just a few steps.
First, create an intentional, audible practice of positive self-talk. Take negative thoughts and audibly tell yourself the positive opposite of that thought. For example, if you’ve told yourself, “This will never work,” try instead, “I still have the ability to make this work.” Positive self-talk can be the leverage you need in emotional regulation. If you are angry or disappointed, try to stop to think positively about the situation before acting on your feelings.
Mindfulness can also be a great asset when negative feelings and thoughts arise. Mindfulness allows you to both be present in the moment and ensure that you are not, in fact, your thoughts. It also makes room for awareness of your current situation when pessimistic thoughts first appear.
Finally, many leaders find it helpful to add moderate exercise to their day, which can: help with stress. For example, I have a big hill behind my house that I climb every day. I’ve found that not too many negative thoughts can survive that hill. Try to find your own version of a walk or walk to clear your thoughts and don’t let negative emotions dominate your circumstances.
By embracing these self-talk and emotional regulation practices, you can take your business through the highs and lows of business and teach your teams to do the same.
Working on interpersonal and intrapersonal challenges is an everyday part of being a leader. Even now, and despite my own knowledge of how invaluable positive self-talk and emotional regulation are in making me a better leader, dealing with aspects of self-doubt or indecision is a daily struggle, and I have ample opportunity to practice these skills.
By using these practices diligently, executives can see amazing progress in both their day-to-day leadership skills and profits for their companies. In fact, a month after my investor presentation, I re-presented in the startup pitch competition at a high-profile conference for thousands of tech professionals — winning first prize. Developing better habits and using these psychological tactics has made me stronger, more flexible and contributed to my day-to-day success as a company founder and CEO.
The information provided here is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Consult a qualified healthcare professional for advice on your specific situation.