Yesterday was day one of a five day training course my colleague and I are delivering this week to police and firefighters in a Canadian city. We always have a lot of fun teaching this transformative leadership course to first responders. One of the main topics throughout the week is building mental toughness, which of course first responders need to have especially when faced with combat or other threatening situations. We put a lot of focus on skill building and helping first responders build mental toughness during this week long training.
There is a story that my colleague always tells when we do this training, specifically when we are teaching about how our self-talk relates to our mental toughness and our performance. The story is about a sniper he knew for years, from a Canadian municipal police force. This particular sniper was extremely talented, and as a result of his talent and success, was invited to participate in an international sharp shooter competition. This individual performed very well as expected, and made it to the final round with an opportunity to win the competition.
The sniper’s own account of the story is that in the final round he had three shots – three opportunities to hit the bull’s eye. Naturally at the height of the competition he was nervous, and as he got ready for his first shot he said to himself over and over again, “don’t miss.” Indeed, he missed that first shot. He then collected his thoughts and remembered that the brain does not register the word “don’t” in a moment like that, but rather his brain fully recognized and registered the word “miss.” He quickly realized that rather than his self-talk being in the negative, he needed to shift it to the positive, which of course was, “hit the bull’s eye.” The next two shots were dead on.
It’s an important reminder that how we say things is so critical. In my business life I draw a lot on things I learned from years of parenting. Similar to the story above, what a difference when I would tell my children at a young age, “yes, you can have a cookie from the cookie jar, tomorrow after school,” rather than, “no, you cannot have a cookie before bed tonight.” There is so much power in the reframe and how we choose to say things. Sometimes to get better outcomes for ourselves or better responses from those we are trying to support or influence, we just need to shift our language.
Cameron’s Call to Action
- Ask yourself, “how is my self-talk these days?” Is there an opportunity for you to shift your focus and your internal voice into a more positive frame? Remember, we speak to ourselves at a rate of between 300 and 1000 words per minute. Look for ways to improve your self-talk today.
- Consider where there are colleagues, staff, competitors or buyers that you are currently struggling to influence in the way you are hoping to. What kind of language are you using? Perhaps there is an opportunity to shift. Strategize about a way to change your key message or messages, without actually changing what you want the impact to be. Watch to see how different the response can be when you shift the way you say it.