Language and Negative Self-Talk

Psychologist Neil Fiore is a performance and productivity expert whose book, The Now Habit, focuses on procrastination: its challenges, roots and solutions. In the chapter titled, How to Talk to Yourself, Fiore looks at the kind of motivational language we often use with ourselves and the problems it creates. Early on, he writes:

While it is common practice to try to motivate ourselves with statements such as “I have to do it” or “I should do it,” such statements loudly communicate to the mind, “I don’t want to do it, but I must force myself to do it for them.” The inherent self-alienation and subconscious message of such self-talk leads to inner conflict and procrastination.

The self-talk of “should” comes in for particular scrutiny for its detrimental effect in setting self-defeating goals while focusing on the negative aspects of immediate situations:

Repeated throughout your day, “should’s” become a counterproductive chant that programs the mind with the negative subliminal message “I’m bad. Where I am is bad. Life is bad. My level of progress is bad. Nothing is the way it should be.”

Another challenge arises with how we tend to perceive tasks we are about to begin. Focusing on the scale and importance of big projects can lead to particularly unwelcome results. As Fiore tells us, “The bigger and more overwhelming the project seems to you, the greater your tendency to procrastinate. Anxiety will replace the natural tendency toward motivation and curiosity as you overwhelm yourself with all the steps involved and the image of all that’s at stake on this one important project.”