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L&D in a crisis: Why we need to work on ‘self-talk’ to improve performance

We’ve collectively lived through a period of major change and upheaval, and this has had untold consequences for our mental health and, in turn our ability to perform at work. Only by supporting employees to understand their changed mindset can we empower them to achieve peak performance during these challenging times.

3rd Sep 2020
Owner, Director,Expert in Solution Focused Training, Executive Coach, Speaker, Lecturer, & Queens Award Winner Solution Focused
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A girl holds two images of herself, both whispering into her ear
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One of the very first books that I was told to read when I joined the L&D sector was What to say when you talk to yourself by Dr Shad Helmstetter. The book discusses the internal dialogue that we generally have on a daily basis, and breaks that dialogue down into five distinct levels, before helping the reader flip hindering self-talk to helpful self-talk.

This was my catalyst for learning more about self-talk. I discovered how a solution-focused mindset helps people to get results, while a problem-focused mindset hinders results.

In the last few months, there have been several major changes to our lives and the way we work. Our psychological and emotional contracts have been broken. 

As we all know, results are the key. We are all expected to get results, and to do that, we need to take action. If we are not getting the right results, it follows that we need to change our actions, but that’s not always simple. People often repeat the same actions hoping for new and improved results. Einstein once said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results”.

As the old adage goes, ‘if you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got’.

The T.EA.R cycle

In order to generate new results, we need to take new actions. This may work in the short term, but to achieve lasting change, we also need to understand what it is driving those actions. The T.E.A.R cycle is about understanding our thinking, emotions, actions and results.

tear cycle

Our thinking and emotions are driven by powerful electro-chemicals in our brain. If we have hindering thoughts, the electro-chemical will simply fuel our brain, meaning we take the wrong actions and thus get the wrong results. To get sustainable results, we have to change our thinking.

It all starts with our own ‘self-talk’. A helpful and positive mindset is key, but what then happens when we add change? This brings a new dimension. As we go through life we generate ‘psychological contracts’ with all that we connect with – our employers, our friends, all the aspects that impact our lives.

When things outside of our control then change, these contracts break and we are thrown into transition. The outside world does not match our internal picture anymore. We then suffer from a lack of ‘gestalt’ (balance). We hurtle into the change curve and within it the phases of transition. Starting with shock, we move to denial, until we reach the lowest point – the point of realisation or exploration, and ultimately the acceptance that we have to change. Our brains are not keen on change, however.

Changing your brain pathways

If I were to ask you to fold your arms, you would do so without thinking. It’s a subconscious action based on neurological pathways in the brain. If, however, I asked you to fold your arms in a different way, this would still be something that you could manage, although it may feel a little unnatural. The customary pathway for folding your arms is fast and strong, as you have used this path many times before. The pathway has been built over time and is strong, which makes the act of folding your arms feel ‘normal’.

In that moment of folding your arms the ‘new’ way, however, you would have had to send your electro-chemicals down a pathway in the brain you have not created or used before. This can feel like hard work, and it’s why we have a negative reaction to change in the brain.

When you add hindering thoughts to the picture, it becomes quite apparent that all of this will affect the results you generate, as well as your own mental health.

In the last few months, there have been several major changes to our lives and the way we work. Our psychological and emotional contracts have been broken. Our self-talk will most likely have changed and for some, this will have had a significant impact on their mental health.

future L&D leaders hub link

How can L&D help?

There are two key areas of change people are now confronted with:

  • Process
  • People

In terms of process, the most important thing organisations can do is ensure employees have all the information they need about the changes that affect them. Doing this ensures that people will feel more empowered and in control of the situation. Another key aspect is involvement. By involving people in any change process it will make them feel more a part of the organisation and offer a sense of control, ultimately helping them achieve gestalt (balance).

When it comes to people – mental health support and education is key. In the last 18 months, large organisations have begun to accept that having a mental first aider in place is a benefit. For too long, this aspect of people management was brushed under the carpet and overlooked. We can now take this one stage further. Everyone should be involved in workshops to help with their self-talk and emotional intelligence. This should be a core part of ‘business as usual’.

L&D, HR and occupational health professionals should be working together to deliver programmes that educate people on how the mind works. Employees need to understand the T.E.A.R cycle and how it impacts on their everyday lives. Only by doing this can we hope to achieve better employee engagement and high performance. Sports teams have long been coached in this way – they understand that your mental agility is key to enhancing physical performance. Businesses now need to be similarly proactive in making people aware of their mental health. Only when armed with this knowledge, skill and technique can your people truly deliver peak performance.

Interested in this topic? Read Reset, refocus and renew: how to lead organisations towards a post-pandemic world.

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