How to Halt Negative Self-Talk: Recall a Simple Yet Powerful Phrase

emotional intelligence May 30, 2024
Think the rain will hurt the ruhbarb?

Ah, spring! I love this season. I'm always so nostalgic in the spring and summer, recalling the ice cream socials my small community held on the church lawn and the strawberry rhubarb pie my grandmother and aunts prepared each spring. We had an abundance of rhubarb in our family garden, and it blended perfectly with the strawberries. This nostalgia inspired me to make a luscious strawberry rhubarb crisp just last week.

Speaking of rhubarb, my grandmother used to say, “Think the rain will hurt the rhubarb?” whenever I was worrying about an issue she felt wasn't very important. Of course, anyone who grew up in rural America knows that rhubarb is a hardy plant that thrives in wet conditions, so rain is beneficial rather than harmful. When my grandmother repeated this phrase, I knew it was a gentle reminder to focus on what's important and not stress over insignificant or inevitable issues.

Beware of Vicious Cycles 

As a small-town teenage girl, I often allowed self-doubt and anxiety to trap me in a vicious cycle. Thankfully, my grandmother’s humorous reminder helped me see my destructive mindset. 

Despite this lesson, I have fallen into these vicious cycle traps throughout my career.

Understanding Vicious Cycles

What is a vicious cycle, you may ask?

A vicious cycle occurs when negative thoughts lead to negative actions, reinforcing the original negative thoughts.

For example, if you believe you aren't as skilled or intelligent as your colleagues, you might avoid challenging tasks, leading to a lack of growth and reinforcing your self-doubt. These cycles damage personal and professional development, making recognizing and addressing them essential.

A  Vicious Cycle Almost Stunted My Career

Years ago, I found myself spiraling into self-destructive thinking. I was anxious about attending a conference at Harvard University. After all, I didn’t attend an Ivy League school and didn’t grow up in a big city like Boston. My hometown, Sweetser, Indiana, boasts only 1,000 citizens.

The more I dwelled on my perceived deficiencies, the more anxious I became. I almost canceled the trip, and had I done so, I would have fallen even deeper into self-doubt. As I wallowed in negative self-talk, my husband helped me break out of this vicious cycle. He gently pushed me to put aside the anxiety and paralyzing thoughts that were holding me back from what turned out to be one of my most exciting professional experiences.

Despite my ongoing, albeit tempered, discomfort, I attended the conference. This trip marked a turning point in my career. Conversing with the conference organizers, I threw myself into the meetings and festivities. The primary convener, an esteemed professor at the Harvard Business School, and his highly respected colleague became my research partners. This collaboration sparked my work on leadership and culture for environmental sustainability.

Over the years, my research partners and I have conducted several studies published articles in respected journals and contributed chapters to books. Eventually, we each authored a book that included various aspects of our work.

Stop Vicious Cycles Before They Take Hold 

To thrive as a leader, stop unproductive, negative self-talk and vicious cycles. Pushing through self-doubts, anxiety, and discomfort is critical for achieving the impact you want. 

I remember my grandmother’s wise words when I start to drift down into a negative and counterproductive mindset.  Likewise, I repeat the phrase to those I coach when they fall into similar traps. Perhaps this phrase, or something similar, can help you stop, if not avoid, those vicious cycles:  “Think the rain will hurt the rhubarb?”

Remember to focus on what is essential and turn away from worries that prevent you from engaging in the world and having a positive impact on it. 



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