Henry Ford’s famous quote, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you are right,” emphasises the role of mindset and self-talk in determining success or failure. And now, with the heightened uncertainty of lockdown and Covid19, is the time that your self-talk (the conversation in your head) will be the single most significant factor in determining and shaping whether you come through this weaker or stronger.

As outlined in our previous blog post – Making the lockdown your masterclass – we are now firmly in the Adaptation Stage of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Even though we didn’t sign up for this experience, it’s happening to every single one of us. We are faced with a choice: we can either grin and bear it, or approach it as an invitation to learn and take advantage of the situation we find ourselves in by making it a masterclass for building stamina and patience.

The Adaptation stage is like the middle part of a movie or the 2nd act in a play. Just like Rocky in the movie franchise of the same name, this is your training period to build stamina and patience – through structure and practice – stay the course and hold steady. Now, more than ever, you need to be mindful of your self-talk as it’s this that will inevitably determine the results you realise. Today’s blog post is going to help you with just that.

Your self-talk

Self-talk includes your Inner Critic and your Inner Coach

Your self-talk is quite simply the running conversation you are having with yourself in your head i.e. the thoughts you are thinking.

Now our thinking is often separated into two types: conscious and unconscious. In a nutshell, our conscious thinking is the thoughts that we are aware of doing, while our unconscious thoughts are the ones that we do so habitually that we hardly notice them at all.

Furthermore, it’s important to understand that your self-talk includes two distinct aspects: your Inner Critic – the voice that’s often critical – and your Inner Coach – the voice that’s often encouraging. 

What your Inner Critic and Inner Coach say can affect your mood, self-confidence and self-esteem, which can be either Helpful and unhelpful.

Cross-cultural psychology research by Geert Hofstede revealed that there is a cultural component to how strong the Inner Critic is and showed that the English have one of the strongest Inner Critics in the world. That means that their Inner Critics are over-developed and their Inner Coaches are under-developed.

By learning how to engage with your Inner Critic more constructively and how to develop and strengthen your Inner Coach, you not only address this imbalance but become stronger, more resourceful and more able to respond to change and uncertainty.

At a time when we are under duress (like now), we need to ensure the Inner Critic isn’t in the driving seat all the time and learn to develop our Inner Coach. This will help us stay the course and hold steady.

Your Inner Critic

The aggressor is one of the guises your Inner Critic can take

The key characteristic of your Inner Critic is that it attempts to draw your attention to everything that could go wrong with a given decision or situation. It’s designed to prioritise risks and help you consider the worst case scenario.

Your Inner Critic will give you reasons why you will fail if you attempt to do something you want to do, or sew a seed of doubt to stop you following something through.

Now the reason it does this is to remind us of the norms, values and beliefs of our tribe or social group. The Inner Critic attempts to ensure we are accepted by them and don’t find ourselves ostracised because of a decision we have made as well as keep us out of harms way and secure our survival.

When we are young, such social training is provided to us by our parents and caregivers. As we get older, this becomes internalised (self-talk).

Now your Inner Critic will normally take one of two guises: the aggressor, who tells you that you can’t do something because you’re not up to it, and the manipulator, who guilt trip you into avoiding a situation or decision.

You need to be aware of risks and issues to be able to address them and so it’s important to explore your Inner Critic and develop a good relationship with it, so the relationship can shift it from being unhelpful and undermining to Helpful and constructive. 

Be conscious and look out for self-talk like this, it’s your Inner Critic speaking:

  • Any phrase involving the words ‘should’, ‘must’ and ‘have to’ (and not)
  • Any phrase involving the words ‘never’, ‘nothing’, ‘always’, ‘everything’
  • Any phrase involving the word ‘just’
  • Any phrase involving the words ‘… not enough’
  • Any phrase involving the word ‘can’t’
  • Any thought or spoken phrase that makes you feel bad about yourself

I’d like to invite you to consider your own Inner Critic. Listen in on the chatter going on inside your head. What does it sound like? What going on? Is it Helpful? Make notes of the types of topics that you find yourself thinking about and words or phrases that show up more frequently.

Once you’ve learnt to identify your Inner Critic and what it’s saying, you can use the ABC for Feelings to work it to make it more Helpful.

Your Inner Coach

Could Yoda be a Helpful Inner Coach to you?

Your Inner Coach contrasts your Inner Critic, providing Helpful, encouraging input throughout your day. Unfortunately, we are often less aware of our Inner Coach (because it’s under-developed), even though it is the self-talk that inspires us, cajoles us, encourages us and motivates us.

In addition to this encouragement, our Inner Coach also helps us to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and nudges us along with clarity, kindness and compassion, knowing we are alright.

While many of us are excellent coaches to our family and friends, we are often unable to access and develop our own Inner Coach. You can recognise when your Inner Coach is speaking by learning to identify it:

  • Most phrases involving the word ‘can’
  • Questions starting with ‘what and ‘how’ are likely to be helpful and curious
  • Any phrase starting with ‘I wonder…’
  • Questions phrased with ‘if …..X ….. were to be possible…. how….?’
  • Any thought or spoken phrase that makes you feel good about yourself

Now it’s important to point out that your Inner Coach isn’t simply there to pile praise on you. That’s often unhelpful. Instead, your Inner Coach inspires you to achieve because it knows you’ve got what it takes and can guide you to what you need to learn or do in order to get to where you want to go.

It helps to give your Inner Coach a persona that you can develop and build to become your own trusted friend. Now this could be someone you know and admire, or a fictional character that you would love to have on your side. It could be a historical figure you perhaps revere, or even a modern day hero of yours. The choice is yours.

Once identified, you need to cultivate and develop the relationship with your Inner Coach. Make time to get a sense of what they would say and consider their responses to different situations. Then, identify things like pictures, movies, songs and items that connect you with that person. You might also consider using phrases associated with that person for your day-to-day passwords, so you’ve got a constant reminder.

One of my own Inner Coaches (it can be Helpful to have several) is William Marshall, 1st Earl of Pembroke. A remarkable knight who served no less than 5 different English kings. His achievements and legacy speak volumes about the kind of man he was, the epitome of valour and integrity, which makes him an excellent Inner Coach for me. When I am faced with a decision that tests my moral compass, I imagine how he would handle that situation and what advice he would give me.

I’d like to invite you to consider who would be a good Inner Coach for you. How about Yoda from the Star Wars movies? Or perhaps an iconic figure like Nelson Mandela? 

Hotline to Nelson Mandela – Helpful?

You are the master of your fate, the captain of your soul

Once you’ve decided who would be a great Inner Coach for you, it’s important to map out ways of reminding yourself about them and develop your version of their voice. This will help keep them in your thoughts and make their role ultimately more Helpful.

For example, let’s say you chose Nelson Mandela as one of your Inner Coaches. He’s a great person to use, especially when you’re faced with challenges simply because his own life story and experiences.

A good way to keep Nelson Mandela in your thoughts as your Inner Coach would be to watch the Invictus movie as often as is Helpful (trailer below). Perhaps you could have a picture of him nearby to refer to when you need to make a testing decision. Or you could even learn the Invictus poem (again, below) and recite it in such situations.

By developing your own version of Nelson Mandela, you will become the master of your fate and captain of your soul whatever comes your way.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

Invictus – By William Ernest Henley

In other words, it is you who determines, not what happens to you but, what your future holds by the way you engage with life and prepare yourself to respond its realities. Put yourself in the driving seat of your life, stay the course and hold steady.


Would you like personal support to navigate your way forward and help you find the meaning you need to come through this? Book a chat with me and let’s explore how I can help you through 1:2:1 consultations.

You’ll discover how to:

  • Help yourself feel better straight away
  • Work with your brain and your body to respond better to challenges
  • Get curious about your feelings and why they show up
  • Have more helpful self-talk
  • Pace to manage stress, pain and fatigue and reduce where possible

Go gently, hold steady, stay the course.

All the best, Thor