Happiness is an inside job. And it starts with the way you talk to yourself. “Where your thoughts go, your energy flows. Our self-talk is a primer for the state that we show up in when doing anything in our life and it’s how we work to grow each day,” says Darren Virassammy, host of the Leading Strong podcast and co-founder of 34 Strong, a consultancy that supports organizations in becoming amazing places to work. “Anything ever created by humans started as a thought. On an individual level, happiness for us starts in the same place. Self-talk is those thoughts that guide future thoughts and direction.”
The first step to harnessing the power of your thoughts is becoming aware of your inner dialogue. Do you tend to beat yourself up? How do you react to the voice of your inner critic? Virassammy says the happiest professionals are intentional about their self-talk on a daily basis: “They have their ‘I am’ statements and mantras that they say every day no matter what, and no matter how they feel that day. They build the habit of positive self-talk even when (and especially on) the days they don’t believe the self-talk. They are always doing the work that matters.”
Besides focusing on building positive, empowering internal narratives about themselves, the happiest people are also intent on avoiding self-talk traps that just end up dragging them down. Ready to use self-talk for increased happiness? Start by taking note of your thoughts. Then, take a cue from the most joyful people and avoid saying the five things below to yourself.
“Why is this happening to me?”
According to Virassammy, this piece of self-talk is damaging because it automatically puts you in a victim state. The happiest people focus on asking themselves why something is happening for them instead, even when it’s hard to find any positives at the moment. “This question is powerful to ask, even in our most challenging of times. Even though the answer may not be clear at the moment, over time the question focuses our thoughts towards finding the answer. Our greatest messes oftentimes can become our greatest successes,” he says.
“I really need to focus on growing my weaknesses”
Happy professionals don’t spend too much energy worrying about their areas of improvement. They know that building on their strengths will yield much more impactful results — and greater happiness. “They focus on two key areas: growing their strengths and understanding their greatest opportunity for excellence and happiness is in their areas of strengths, not weakness fixation. They own their weaknesses and focus on how they can best manage around them. Happy professionals also allow others’ strengths to pour into their gaps,” says Virassammy.
“I am not___”
If you catch yourself telling yourself you’re not smart enough, good enough or beautiful enough, stop immediately — these statements tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies. Even better, replace these “I am not” thoughts with “I am” and plant the seeds for your future self so you can turn your positive self-talk into an even better reality.
According to Virassammy, using the word “but” a lot in your thoughts — and out loud — can be a subtle but detrimental habit. He recommends replacing it with “and.” Why? “‘But’ often erects a barrier, whereas ‘and’ creates a bridge,” he says. This helps you be less reactive in conversation with others, which supports more constructive conversations and connections and leads to an increased sense of well-being. “When we make this shift and can create bridges, it helps us have happier conversations, even if we need to confront certain issues because the headbutting is removed.”
“If I do ____ then I’ll be happy”
It’s easy to debate the meaning of happiness. But it’s also pretty easy to agree that simply checking boxes will not lead you to the highest form of fulfillment. If you are telling yourself you’ll only be happy once you reach a certain professional milestone, you might want to rethink your approach. “I know this process intimately well, as I personally have lived through checking many of the boxes only to arrive at ‘successful’ but not very happy,” says Virassammy. The happiest professionals focus on finding happiness on the road to achieving their goals and perceive external results as a bonus to their inner sense of contentment in the present moment.