I watched as an 8-year-old All-Star slid dramatically into second base. Yet the umpire gave the dreaded signal, “Out!” The crowd yelled, “That’s OK. Way to hustle! Great try!”
Another little fellow swings the bat with all the power he can muster…three times without hitting the ball. Each time, the fans encouraged, “Good swing! Now just pick out a good one and make contact! Watch it over. You can do it!” Then the strike-out. “That’s OK, man. Next time.”
I eavesdroppped as one of the coaches talked to my grandson Joseph’s team, who had just lost their second in the double elimination tournament. “We have nothing to be ashamed of. You guys played hard and you played well. The other team just played a little better this time. You’re gonna keep practicing and next year, you’ll come back and you’ll be great!”
I was impressed as Steven, another coach, modeled for his young protégés the responsibility he was trying to teach. In front of the whole team, he apologized to Adam for his own mistake in signaling the boy to run on to third base in a play that resulted in an out. He didn’t want the young man to blame himself for something that wasn’t his fault.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Of course, we tell them those things. We don’t want them to get discouraged. We want them to keep trying and not give up.”
We instinctively know what we need to do the keep these little guys motivated and encouraged.
(Most of us, that is. Unfortunately, in the last few years of attending these games, I have heard occasionally heard some children being subjected to loud, harsh criticism from insensitive parents. I admit I was savoring the idea of punching them out when I was deterred by picturing the next day’s headlines in the Hattiesburg American!)
HOW DO YOU TALK TO YOURSELF?
You know how to encourage others. But do you do as well with yourself? Do you know how to keep yourself encouraged in the face of failure and setbacks? Take this short quiz.
1. When you make a mistake, do you ever talk to yourself harshly and judgmentally, like this? “You idiot! Can’t you do anything right? You should have known better.”
Think about it. What if you had a spouse or a boss that talked to you this way? How would this affect your performance? Your morale? Your confidence?
Why not use more encouraging words to yourself, like the fans to the Little Leaguers? Talk to yourself about the effort you made, the little ways that your most recent try showed improvement over the last, and the things you learned from the failed attempt.
2. Do you ever generalize from a specific performance failure to seeing yourself as a general failure?
In other words, you didn’t fail that test. You’re a failure as a student. You didn’t lose that contract. You’re a dud as a salesperson.
Change that! Talk to yourself about the specific situation. Don’t overgeneralize.
3. When you don’t accomplish what you had hoped, do you tell yourself, “This is always the way it is for me?”
In other words, do you view the failure as a never-ending pattern?
Challenge that hope-robbing perspective. If you are to keep hope and keep trying, you must see your failures as temporary. Get to work and find out how you can do better next time.
4. Do you make yourself responsible for things over which you have no control?
Recognize your human limits. Others make their own choices about what they do, despite your best efforts. There are very real conditions that impact your success at a task, no matter how skillfully and diligently you try. Take responsibility for doing your best, but be realistic about what you can control and what you can’t.
BE YOUR BEST FRIEND
If you have trouble changing the habit of talking negatively to yourself, here’s another tool you can use. Imagine that your best friend were telling you about the situation you’re in, and that the words being used were self-berating…like yours. What would you say to him or her? How would you encourage him or her to find the best in the situation and keep trying?
See…you do know how to do it. Now, do that for yourself.
If you aren’t your own best friend, who will be?