Negative self-talk can really mess you up. So say behavioral scientists, psychologists and researchers.
I recently ran across an article on the CNBC Make It blog by Kathy and Ross Petras, and want to share it because it rings so true for me. And I hope for you as well.
Many times, professionally and personally, we can’t make the problem go away. Our control lies fundamentally in how we approach the problem. And language, for good or ill, frames our thinking. To change your thoughts, change your language.
Take a look at the 11 phrases that follow. How many (if not all) of these do you fairly consistently say, or think? Don’t beat yourself up about it. We all do it. But, do be conscious of what you’re saying and how it may inform your actions in not-so-positive ways.
This is something you can change. It just takes practice.
11 Phrases to Retire
1. “I have to do that.”
What to say instead: “I get to do that.” This changes your attitude, making you look at something as opportunity, not obligation. Even if unpleasant, it can teach you new lessons and open new doors.
Fundraising Application: During this busy (stressful?) fundraising season, remind yourself of all the good you’re doing. Lucky you! You’re in the privileged position to be able to share what you’re sincerely passionate about, and to ask others to join in your mission and vision to make our world a better place.
2. “I can’t do that.”
What to say instead: “I can try to do that.” Don’t admit defeat before you’ve begun! Tell yourself you can try; don’t set up excessively high expectations, which makes it easier to actually succeed.
Fundraising Application: Your goal may be a stretch, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reach it. Just make sure it’s a thoughtful stretch (based on past years’ results and data analysis), not an impossible stab in the dark. If you feel it’s doable, you will try.
3. “I should do that.”
What to say instead: “I will do that.” (Or “won’t do.”). “Should” is a controlling word; it pressures us. Drop the “should;” make yourself the decision-maker. Choose whether or not do something on your own terms.
Fundraising Application: You’re a one-person shop and don’t have time to build a Giving Tuesday strategy? Give yourself a break and decide this is something you “won’t do” this year because you’re focusing on making your year-end campaign more multi-channel, segmented and dynamic to reach your stretch goal. Or decide you “will.” “Shoulds” just keep stuff hanging over our heads.
4. “Why is this happening to me?”
What to say instead: “What am I learning from this?” When you ask yourself what you’re learning, you turn something upsetting you into something that can lead to better things. Find good in a difficult time.
Fundraising Application: Does your boss red ink all your fundraising appeal messaging? Your thank you letter copy? They may be wrong based on everything you know about nonprofit copywriting. But they may be right about something else. What might you learn? It could be the two of you aren’t having enough discussions about what constitutes a compelling fundraising offer. Could you set up weekly meetings? Enroll in a course together? Share a few articles; then set a meeting to discuss? Or, maybe they’ll never be comfortable writing this way, and you can suggest the letter come from a board president, community leader, program director or someone else. Or, maybe they have a point and the changes they’re suggesting actually do make the appeal stronger? Perhaps they aren’t meaning to taunt, but to teach. Could you ask them to elaborate on their reasoning so you begin to create a dialogue? Don’t be a victim, be a protagonist.
5. “I never should have.”
What to say instead: “Because I did that, I now know [X].” Begin to think about good things that happened because you did something you thought you shouldn’t have. Maybe you met someone you wouldn’t have met, or you discovered something wonderful about yourself.
Fundraising Application: Ever tell your boss you couldn’t reach a deadline, only to be met with an explosion of fury, criticism and the like? Surely that’s not fun, and not something you’d like to repeat, however you may have learned a lot about your boss’s perspective and priorities in the process. I often got a lot of “Claire, you don’t know what balls I’m juggling and the bad position I’ll be in if…” It helped me understand the big picture in a way of which I’d been previously unaware.
6. “I failed.”
What to say instead: “This attempt didn’t work.” If you tell yourself that you failed, end of story, you’re being unfair to yourself. Remember that there will be other opportunities.
Fundraising Application: Did you try a monthly giving campaign and it didn’t generate much response? A peer-to-peer fundraiser where you failed to enroll many participants? That’s okay. You didn’t fail. Remember the old adage: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. New strategies can take a while to blossom into full-throated successes.
7. “If only I had done [X].”
What to say instead: Nothing! We’ve all had our “if only” moments. ” This is dead-end thinking. You’re not learning from the past, you’re just lamenting and making excuses.
Fundraising Application: Do you wish you’d tested a different variable in you’re A/B test? Chosen different segments for your last email campaign? Selected a different story for your annual appeal? Stop second guessing yourself. You tried, and you learned. Take your new-found knowledge and build it into what you do next. It’s a process, and a journey. It’s better to be known for always stretching and trying new things, than to be identified with never trying or reaching.
8. “This is too complicated.”
What to say instead: “I don’t understand this right now.” You’re subtly telling yourself that you can’t change or grow, which, of course, is nonsense. We are all works in progress.
Fundraising Application: Technology, planned giving, cryptocurrency… whatever is confounding you right now need not confound you forever. Human beings have an endless capacity for new knowledge and learning. You don’t have to become a whiz overnight. You don’t even have to become an expert! Just pick something you’d like to learn more about, and dedicate yourself to doing so. Just a little. Attend a webinar, read an article, or talk to a friend who knows more than you. Incrementally, you’ll begin to know more.
9. “It’s not fair.”
What to say instead: “I can deal with it anyway!” Don’t repeat that negative mantra and feel beaten down. Face unfairness head on and look for solutions that will get you to where you want to be.
Fundraising Application: The pandemic felt unfair. Now there’s inflation and a pending recession to deal with. Through it all are issues of inequity, power dynamics and politics. When you feel the universe is piling on, find a work-around. For example, during the pandemic many nonprofits discovered the felicitous benefits of virtual meetings and events. They also looked inward, endeavoring to apply their outward-facing values to their internal cultures. Are there solutions you put on the shelf two years ago that it may be time to revisit?
10. “It’s never going to change.”
What to say instead: “I can change the way I approach this.” Go from passive to active. Change your approach to it and thoughts about it!
Fundraising Application: You always have a choice. Consider what yours are. You can wallow in a fatalistic situation that makes you feel imprisoned. You can decide to make a change and exit your current situation. Or you can tweak your approach. Don’t give all your power away. You are not doomed!
11. “Never” (or “always”)
What to say instead: Avoid absolutes altogether! If you find yourself saying something like, “I’ll never get the promotion I want,” or “I always get overlooked,” take a step back to put things into context. Life isn’t black and white. The most successful people are able to look at things objectively.
Fundraising Application: There are always other paths – over, under, around or straight through. Absolute thinking presumes there’s one right way to do everything. This is seldom true. Weigh your options.
So that you find time to practice revising your terminology, I suggest you pick just one or two of these phrases to focus on at a time. Once the change becomes second nature, go back to this list and see what else resonates. [Personally, I’m currently focusing on #1 and #3.]
It is my sincere wish this will be helpful to you as you navigate work and home life. Feel free to share how it goes, or any other thoughts you may have, in the comments below.
Meanwhile… here are some ways to take a fresh approach to year-end fundraising
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Keep doing the wonderful work you do, and making our world a better and more caring place!