The Mean Voice in Your Head is Not Yours

We all have an internal talk track. What we often fail to recognize is, the words fueling our internal dialogue didn’t originate with us. When you step into a high stakes situation, what’s going on inside your head?

Any of these sound familiar?

Nobody likes a show-off.

Who do you think you are?

Or my personal favorite: Don’t get your hopes up.

There’s not a child alive who would think thoughts like these on their own accord.  Yet, they’re second nature to many adults.

Here’s why: A parent’s talk track becomes the child’s inner voice. If you grew up hearing self-defeating statements like these, they become your default. Unless you consciously replace negative self-talk with something more positive, it will stick with you long past childhood.

A negative internal talk track erodes your confidence, it steals your joy and it will prevent you from showing up as your best self. Imagine going into a crucial interview for your dream job or perhaps you’re about to take the stage for a major performance or you’re meeting your future in-laws for the first time, would any of the above statements help you?

Not likely. Picture two candidates going in for a job interview. One candidate is excited and has their hopes up. The other is doubtful and keeps their hopes down. Which person would you rather hire? I’ll pick the hopes up candidate every time.

The challenge with a negative talk track is that it’s usually unconscious. It’s handed down. Not just from parents, but from authority figures of every kind.

If you’re reading this lamenting the negative messages you got as a child, consider this: As an adult it’s likely you are the authority figure in someone’s life. There are three roles where the weight of your words rings in people’s ears.


If you’re ever heard your mother’s words coming out of your mouth, you know the power of a parent. Nobody wants to raise a spoiled brat, but being overly critical is not helpful. There’s a big difference between telling your child, “Your behavior is bad” versus “You are bad.”


In her South by Southwest talk, Brene Brown shares that teachers rate just below parents in terms of lifetime influence. Sadly, 85% of the people Brown interviewed could remember a shaming incident at school that was so devastating that it forever changed how they thought of themselves as learners. When your teacher tells you, you’re lazy or stupid, or don’t work hard enough, it changes your perception of yourself. I spent decades thinking I was careless and sloppy, turns out I’m ADD and dyslexic. Tough teachers don’t shame kids; they set high standards and help their students reach them.


My business partner Elizabeth Lotardo told me, “I can still remember in high school when my General Manager at Applebee’s said,  ‘Elizabeth could do any job in this restaurant.’ I realized, I could figure out anything if I tried.”  When your boss comments on your intelligence, character or creativity, it’s powerful. If you’re the boss, think long and hard about the words you want to percolate inside the heads of your team.

You don’t make people do better by making them feel worse. This applies to you and everyone else. Negative self-talk does not increase the odds of success; it decreases it.  If your self-talk isn’t serving you replace it. And if you’re fueling negative self-talk in others, please stop.