10/05/2012 12:43 pm ET Updated Dec 05, 2012

Creating an Inner Coach That Supports Resilience and Self-Confidence

I heard a colleague say, "Choose your words the way you would your clothes... to feel good." Now that it's fall and we're clearing out our summer clothes for what feels good to wear in the new season, let's clear out our negative self-thoughts and only wear words that contribute to our self-esteem.

What I know is that the words we feed ourselves turn into how we feel. Years ago, I had the privilege of studying with Angeles Arrien, a cross-cultural anthropologist who told the following story: She was at a conference of shamans, and one of them was wearing a necklace with two different wolf faces. One face was snarly and biting, and the other was a sweet, cuddly face of a wolf pup. Angeles asked the shaman about the necklace and what meaning it had. This was her answer: "I wear this necklace to remind myself of the two parts of myself and the two different voices within me. One voice is angry and destructive, and the other is gentle and kind." Angeles asked her which voice she heard most often and the shaman responded, "whichever one I feed the most."

The words we say to ourselves are powerful. When our inner critic is our loudest voice, we fall under its negative spell. When we tell ourselves, "I shouldn't speak up because they will think I'm stupid," or "I'm really an imposter and they will find me out at work," we are gripped by anxiety, worry, doubt and self-consciousness. We then hold back, inhibit expression of our ideas and withhold our creative input. That, and we just feel crummy.

But we can change the words we say to ourselves. I am passionate about helping people develop an inner coach that is stronger than their inner critic -- an internal voice that supports resilience and keeps us in the ring. Resilience is about the ability to bounce back from disappointments, be willing to make the next try and to know that moving forward involves lots of back and forth. I love reminding people that the April 2011 Harvard Business Review was entirely devoted to failures and all the next projects that worked out successfully. A strong inner coach helps us maintain the resilience to support ourselves in all our endeavors, and to sustain our self-confidence and self-esteem.

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