The Mindset to Master in Your Twenties

The Power of Your Internal Dialogue

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I’d never understood the power of storytelling until I took a look at what was going on in my own life. I remember waking up one morning and being in a bad mood. Something about the morning meant I hated life today.

The drive to work was full of internal dialogue. In fact, it often spilt into external dialogue. I was pondering about what I’d do today, what was going on, where else I’d rather be. But there was an elephant in the room (or the car). The silence broke and I said to myself: “why are you in a bad mood?” After thinking about it, I didn’t have an answer. The morning was a cold one and I’d had to defrost my car which had set me back a few minutes but I’d always leave a way to early for work anyway so that didn’t matter — it wasn’t that.

I was going to the same job I had been for the last seven months, I wasn’t a huge fan of it but it had been that way for a few months now so it wasn’t that. Everything was fine at home. I’d not had breakfast but that was normal. So the truth was, nothing was wrong. Absolutely nothing.

We Tell Ourselves a Story Every Single Day

And then I realised something. I realised that it’s me who is determining whether today is a good day or a bad day. It’s me at the proverbial steering wheel telling myself one story or another. If it’s me writing the story, why wouldn’t I write a good one?

I first thought about this idea when I was reading ‘How to Have a Good Day” by Caroline Webb, ex-Senior Advisor to McKinsey. I remember this one chapter vividly. It was about the most wasted time in all of human history. Meetings. It was about a particular meeting Webb was part of. Essentially she and a colleague had both attended said meeting. She’d come away and recited how terrible the experience was She’d done a bad job. It felt like it was a step back. The clients weren’t happy. All the signs of a truly awful meeting. Her colleague then walks into her office and he’s beaming. He’s recounting how well she came across, how he thought it was a constructive meeting, time well spent going in the right direction.

Webb was struck at the stark difference between the two realities. Here she was, talking herself down. Convincing herself that this meeting was a dog’s dinner. How she should have been more prepared. How she was sure the clients didn’t like her. And there he was talking about how great the whole thing was. How could two experiences of the same situation be so different?

And as Webb uncovers, it’s because what happens in real, is the reality you tell yourself. It’s the reality you experience. Think about it, who is narrating the story of your life. Who is the person concluding what is good and what’s bad? It’s you. It’s always you. It’s you that decides if the job is a dead-end job or not. It’s you that decides whether this period of life is a period of discovery or that you are utterly lost. It’s you that decides whether you on the path to success or you are a directionless 20-something. It’s you.

So if it’s you telling the story, why wouldn’t you do yourself a favour and tell yourself a good one. You could spend all your time talking about how negative things are and how you thought you sounded stupid in that meeting, or how that person wasn’t looking at your when you spoke. Or you could choose to remember the whole thing differently. You can choose to tell the parts of work that are good, the friendly faces, the productive meetings and the clients that say you’ve done good work. From those few memories you can string together a successful, purposeful day or you can string together a day of failure. It’s up to you.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.”― Henry Ford

What I’m saying here is that whatever you say is, will be. Not in a philosophical ‘think good thoughts and you will succeed way’, in a logical, straight forward way. If you think you’re having a bad day, then you are, if you think you’re having the best day of your life you are. Whatever you say is happening in your head, that is your opinion has no other choice than to be true. Think about, who decides if you are having a good day or a bad day. At the end of the day when you sit down and think about your day; when you’re retelling the tails of your day to your loved one or friends, who is telling the story? Who is deciding if it was a good or bad experience, who is evidencing why that is so? It’s you. You, quite literally are telling the story of your life to everyone you meet and most importantly yourself. If you decide you’re having a horrendous day, then you are.

Now granted, of course, there are circumstances that this is harder than normal. In events of tragedy, it’s incredibly hard to say to yourself ‘this is the best day of my life’ your heightened emotions will be telling you otherwise. However, this isn’t advice for the most tragic days, in those you should grieve and wallow until you are fed up with doing that and feel it’s time to pull yourself together. This is advice for the average days, the most common days where you just need a pinch of perspective to pull you into a better frame of mind.

As James Allen wrote “as a man thinketh he is” And what that means is, whatever you tell yourself you are, then you are. If you tell yourself you had a fantastic meeting and you’re moving in the right direction, you will get home and be excited about the prospect of improving and learning. You’ll see it as a challenge to do better and be better. Conversely, you could have told yourself you had a shitshow of a day, you’ve got loads of work to do tonight when all you want to do is go home and watch TV, drink beer and order a takeaway. If you choose to do the latter, and it is a choice, then you’ll probably have a more negative experience. You’ll begrudge doing the work, you’ll get irritated when you can’t find the right programme on the TV, you’re beer will taste flat and your takeaway will be bog-standard. It’s all just perspective, seeing life through dreary eyes will lead to one thing — a life less lived.

Setting the Tone for the Day and Life

“If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right”- Henry Ford

Spending your morning thinking about all the things you haven’t done and how you must get better is starting your day off in a deficit. Telling yourself you did well for waking up this morning because recently you’ve been waking up at all manner of different times, so it’s a miracle you’re awake is a kinder way to wake up.

Piling the pressure on yourself to not being where you want to be and becoming annoyed because you thought you’d be further along by now is a quick way to kick yourself into a bad mood. It’s good to hold yourself to account but life is about having fun and enjoying it, if you’re not doing that then you are failing yourself. That should be the one metric that you are meticulous about.

And I’m not saying that you should binge eat Snickers, overload on carbs every weekday and stay up till 4 am each night in the name of having fun. But you should remember that life is about having fun and striving to achieve your goals. The striving is the bit you should concentrate on, not achieving. The achieving is merely the carrot dangling, it’s the motivation to keep going, it’s the pursuit that’s the fun. The failing and getting it wrong, the lessons of self-development and figuring out what you like and what you don’t like. It’s the understanding that you can have a shit day and that’s fine but that you’ll convince yourself you’re having many more if your internal dialogue is negative.

It’s been so pivotal in the way I look at the world. I don’t quite know when it happened, at what point I started to understand the statement: “If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right” Henry Ford. It has fundamentally changed my perspective on life. This whole thing, this game of life, is enjoyed or hated by thinking either. It’s so black and white, so blatantly obvious but often we miss it so painfully.

The Self-fulfilling Prophecy

That is why it’s so important for you to realise that whatever you tell yourself, is true. If you tell yourself every single day that you are no good and you’ll never amount to anything — you can be sure that will be true. The self-fulfilling prophecy is a thing — I learnt about it in GCSE Sociology once, I promise. In 1928, a clever chap called William Isaac Thomas developed what he called the Thomas Theorem — apparently, he wasn’t very modest. It stated:

“If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.”

Another American Sociologist took this idea further. Robert K. Merton, used the term ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ which described “a belief or expectation, correct or incorrect, could bring about a desired or expected outcome.”

This is critical in the way you look at your life. If you’ve just come out of Uni and you’re about to enter the working world, or maybe you’ve not secured a graduate job yet or a scheme that you wanted to do next — whatever it may be. The way you look at the world will at least for some part, shape the outcome.

How to be Mindful of that

So with all this in mind, it’s important to work out what to do with that information. It leads to the inevitable, if you don’t change anything then you’ll continue you the way we were going. The first thing that worked for me was understanding when I was talking negatively to myself. How? Well quite simple really:

  • For the next week, take the time to look at what stories you tell yourself. In the car, in the bathroom mirror, in the shower. Some people are super lucky and they think about a total of three things, food, sleep and TV. But some aren’t so and they think about all manner of things.

If you don’t think about anything other than the aforementioned, brilliant — close the book you are good. But if you do, and I can imagine you do if you’ve got this far, spend a week observing the stories you communicate to yourself and to others.

  • Ask yourself some questions about the stories: are they mainly positive? Are they negative? Are they overwhelming you with pressure?

Once you start to realise that telling yourself something has power and you notice what sorts of things you tell yourself you’ll be more mindful of being kinder to yourself. And I know this sort of thing gets a name for itself. The notion of being nice to yourself is quite peculiar. But don’t worry what other people think, they’ll only think I’m odd for suggesting it, they won’t know you’re practising it. Being nice to yourself and having a narrative that helps you and allows you to have more good days is absolutely critical to leading a happier life.

Wherever you are right now, I hope you’ve got a huge amount of time ahead of you. This is an important lesson to learn, spend time learning it. This is the bit in the film where they linger on the point because it is pivotal in the story. This is the bit that if you don’t understand the scene in the movie, you’ll miss the whole plot so the director hangs on a bit to make you know it’s key. This is that scene.

Final Words

We are all the same, we have needs, desires, wishes and dreams. Some of us will explore those things. Other won’t. The difference, in part, is the mindset. It’s a huge deal when you think about it. This whole thing, being a success or not, being where you want to be or not is all down to what you think.

It’s pretty mind-boggling that you are in total control of whatever you want to be and whatever you want to believe — tell yourself it. The actual act of telling yourself you had a good day means you decide. It’s like sitting a test and be the same person that decides the marking scheme. And if that wasn’t enough, you get the mark the thing too. Remember:

“If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right”- Henry Ford

Science-led self-help. BSc Biomedical Science, studying MSc Behavioural Science.

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