Ban Negative Self-Talk, Feel Good About Bossy*
Have you tuned in to LeanIn.org’s new campaign, “Ban Bossy”? A key comment on the web-site notes, “Girls are twice as likely as boys to worry that leadership roles will make them seem ‘bossy.’ Yes, I agree that girls will worry more than boys about what people think about them, but is that a reason to ban the word, “bossy”?
No, it isn’t. Girls and women are the ones who have to manage our own worry and anxiety. Alter the inner thoughts that trigger self-doubt, rather than blame others because we stress out. The old childhood response to a taunt on the playground remains useful; “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me.”
I’m concerned that efforts to encourage girls and women to be leaders, high achievers at work, balancers of work/life, conveys the impression that women are victims; that it’s others’ stereotypes and biases that are creating barriers to our success. The trend to overprotect and oversupport women, to place most responsibility on institutions, corporate culture, or other people for the barriers women face often weakens women’s position and confounds their choices. Advice from others for women to “fix” themselves is fast becoming politically incorrect, as is criticism of women’s workplace behavior or parenting principles and style.
Yes, there are difficult people and tough, tricky, situations for women attempting to have it all or even some of it, but the true villain in the drama of women, leadership, and work/life balance is the negative self-talk habit. According to Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, late author of Women Who Think Too Much, the majority of women learns the habit at an early age and continues to practice it until the wisdom of age finally frees them at about 60.
NST is connected to the imposter syndrome, fear of success and fear of failure, the people-pleasing problem, non-assertiveness, and other common self-doubt issues of healthy girls and women. It’s gotta go, if you want to grow — in confidence, productivity, and performance.
The very first step is to notice what you’re saying to yourself. Check in several times a day and just notice. Are you giving yourself good instructions quietly in your brain? “I need to put aside at least 30 minutes to prepare for the meeting this afternoon so I can make my point concisely and persuasively.” Or are you doing the NST thing? “I’m so bad at speaking up at meetings. It’s pathetic. I should’ve joined Toastmasters or hired a coach or found a mentor or something. But of course I procrastinated as usual.” Positive thinking is not the antidote; realistic, instructional thinking is.
If you fall in the negative self-talk habit category, then please don’t criticize yourself more, but instead give yourself a realistic pep talk. “OK. Yup, I’m a negative self-talker for sure. Well, I’ll get some more information about breaking the habit and decide if it’s something I want to take on right now.”
If you decide to go forward, you’ll get specifics on my weekly Project Eve posts to learn how to acquire a realistic thinking habit that will be beneficial to you in many ways. The path is not easy or quick, but you will feel empowered as soon as you choose to get started.
*The synonym for Bossy is domineering. The antonym is submissive. If you’re a leader, an entrepreneur, a manager, a consultant, a parent, a teacher or just about anything else, would you choose bossy over submissive?
Judith C. Tingley Ph.D. is a psychologist, free-lance writer, author of business nonfiction, blogger at on Linked–In and @drtingley on Twitter.
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