unhappy man with sunflowers
When dwelling on the negative, we often overlook beauty and oppportunity.

Owning Your Internal Dialogue – During Election Season & After

I enjoy listening to how people use words. This is a cornerstone of life coaching, as the type of language we use illustrates much about how we think. How we think, in turn, determines much of our reality.

If we consistently fear that the worst is going to happen to us, and operate from a place of fear, we won’t be as proactive. We may miss opportunity and beauty even when it’s looking us right in the face.

For example, I may currently have a job that I feel is relatively secure but completely despise it. Do I stay there, or seek another line of work or perhaps even a new career? My course of action will be driven largely by the possibilities I see in the near future.

If I think the economy is going to crash completely, and that this tragedy will leave me largely powerless, then I’m likely to cling to my job like there’s no tomorrow – taking risks like pursuing a new career may seem scary indeed.

If, on the other hand, I see a brighter future and believe that change will lead to opportunity, I may muster up the courage to begin exploring new options.

This power of language becomes particularly apparent during U.S. election seasons. Some campaign strategists employ a common tactic: painting a gloom and doom landscape so they can highlight how their candidate will save the day.

Being the nerd that I sometimes am, I analyzed word frequencies in the transcript of a recent nationally televised debate. While some of the most common words were positive or neutral, such as change, support, and principles, there were also many iterations of nuclear, against, war, Iraq, taxes, weapons, economy, and dangerous. The word fight came up a number of times near the end. I suspect that analysis of other debates, campaign ads and pundit commentary would yield similar findings in many cases.

While campaigns vary in the degree to which they do this, one of the overall effects remains the same. If we allow ourselves to take in the gloom and doom messages too much, we really can start to become hopeless. Life is no longer joyous, and every day becomes a “fight.”

Additionally, we can come to rely so much upon our leaders that we lose track of ourselves, and our own proactivity begins to dwindle. Elections are extremely important, there are serious problems to address, and civic engagement is a cornerstone of our democracy, but we need to keep ourselves in balance.

Between the excitement of election seasons, we’re again faced with the reality that we as individuals continue to exercise the greatest control over change in our own lives. Our leaders wield great power and influence, but they can’t do everything. Regardless of what images they paint for us, and the balance of hope versus fear that they represent, our fate still remains driven largely by the images we ourselves sketch.

During this election season and in the future, what steps are you taking to ensure that you retain ownership of your internal dialogue?

Alongside any election-related activities, what are two or three positive change steps you plan to take in your own life over the next month?

Will you embed yourself entirely in the mindset of a constant struggle against the world? Or will you also choose to notice and embrace life’s possibilities?

Photo by Flickr user Craig Sunter. Size, brightness, and contrast adjusted. License.

Dave welcomes phone-based life, career, and transition coaching clients from around the world.

5 comments

  1. Pace says:

    Dave,

    This doesn’t have anything to do with elections (honestly, I’m keeping myself sane and happy by largely avoiding news and politics) but yesterday Kyeli and I figured out some very important personal changes that we’ll be putting into practice in the coming month.

    We live together, work together, and are married to each other, and we had gotten caught up in our work. Most of what we do is really fun and exciting, but recently we found ourselves getting stressed out and snippy at each other. We realized that we hadn’t been making time for each other or ourselves. We set aside time for date nights, but we spent that time DOING instead of BEING. We weren’t making any time for communication (yes, the irony is noted), personal reflection, self-work, and spirituality. The whole point of our work was to do what we love, but what we loved was becoming stressful instead of nourishing.

    In the coming month we intend to make that better.

  2. Traci says:

    Dave,

    I recently made a personal commitment to change my focus.

    I caught myself challenging Lily (now five) to focus on the outcome she wants (smiley faces on her daily report from kindergarten) rather than what she’s trying to overcome (flat faces). I gave a simple example…try walking a straight line while looking over your left shoulder…much harder than walking a straight line while looking straight ahead.

    Of course, I wasn’t taking my own good advice.

    So, to combat the increased ‘air time’ being given to all sorts of negative things right now, I’ve decided I’m giving more personal air time to the good stuff. By turning my attention to the positive and looking to acknowledge the good around me, I know it will shift my focus and my direction and in turn I will influence others. (And no, I’m not naming my movement World Peace through Personal Pollyannaism – wink!)

  3. Chugyam Trungpa Rinpoche said: “It is the dream of being a rich man that creates poverty”.
    How true. When we buy into a poverty mentality, that we don’t have, aren’t enough, need to choose fear, we create an “other” world which we aspire to. We create duality.
    When we create duality, we set the stage for never being content with where we are.

  4. Dave W. says:

    Pace, I look forward to hearing about the time you and Kyeli set aside for non-work activities. It is interesting to think about how the amount of time we spend with others who are important in our lives isn’t the only important factor; it’s also *how* we spend that time (as you note, for you it’s been doing vs. being).
    Traci, I’ll know not to look for the world summit of the WPPP anytime soon, but I like your analogy and your recognition that we could all benefit from retaining a kindgarten-like open mindedness to new perspectives.
    Mary, the duality idea also reminds me of some of Eckhart Tolle’s thoughts (which I realize are also drawn from many previous sources). It inspires me to consider the importance of focusing on the lives we wish to create so we’re motivated to work toward that, and acknowledging that a gap may exist between that and our current state, but doing so in a way that flows as much as possible from our own conscious choices (i.e., is a part of us), as opposed to seeming a necessity thrust upon us by the external world. Part of this likely stems from acknowledging the components of our desired reality that we may already have.

  5. jay says:

    well said. i’ve seen so many comments from people today along the lines that they are “sickened” by the results of last nite. Those are the people who can’t view the future and possibilities. Need to spread the glass half full mentality to bring those people on board over the coming months.

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