Surrender, acceptance and being nice to yourself

I recently saw a great post from Kristy Arnett (poker player, writer, commentator, coach):…

Shortly after that, I saw this article from the New York Times, hitting on themes I have read about in many leadership articles and have written about, about being hard on yourself (I use the phrase negative self-talk):

Both of these writings are related in my mind, as they deal with how we treat ourselves and how we react to hardships. Often our reaction to hardships includes some pretty strong self-criticism. Even the situation Kristy describes with the cancelled flight, which is clearly an external condition, I imagine some folks finding a way to place a piece of blame on themselves (“I knew I should have booked the earlier flight”).

Our reaction is always a choice, whether it be to a positive event or a negative event, an internally controlled situation or an external factor. Do we over-celebrate the good, and over-criticize the bad? Or do we see them as part of an overall kaleidoscope of our life? Some good things will happen to all of us, some bad things will happen to all of us. Sometimes we do things well, sometimes we do things poorly. How will we respond? With grace, and gratefulness, or with contempt and jealousy? With bemoaning over our poor performance or with a spirit of learning?

This goes to the concept of a balanced life. If we put too much of our worth onto any one piece of our life, we can set ourselves up for failure, but also too much success. Our roles – parent, employee, leader, friend, profession, fan of our team, etc. – should not define us. If it does, failure in that area will hurt disproportionately. But success may not be all it’s cracked up to be either. It can lead to hubris, to assuming you don’t have anything to learn, and to excess like addictions.

Know yourself, slow your reaction times, and think about yourself as a whole. Work to ensure you react to situations that you can’t control in a way that moves you forward in a productive way. Ensure you don’t beat yourself up for things you can’t control, and even when it’s all “on you” and you fail, pick yourself up and find learnings in the failure.


personal, sports

Back in time

Recently, I played golf at a course I hadn’t played in about 15 years. I used to play it a lot when I actually golfed regularly. It was a fun experience, for a few reasons.

First, I played OK. I think that may be because I was familiar with the course; I had played it so many times in the past that the day before I played I could “see” every hole in proper order in my head. I think that reference came in handy many times on the course, knowing where to go and not go, certain holes where it seems to play longer than the distance, and things like that.

Second, I really enjoyed the gentlemen I played with. They were from different walks of life and all had the right approach about golf, which I was lucky to learn myself a long time ago: it should be a fun time enjoying the outdoors. Nothing more, no expectations of amazing shots or a low round. Just have fun, and be grateful for the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and meet new people.

Finally, I reminisced quite a bit about the time in my life when I played more golf, specifically at that course. It was during my time in public accounting, and a group of us bonded over golf. We played a weekly league at a par-3 course, we played on the weekends, we did golf vacations. I wonder where I got all the time to golf, as I know I worked a lot.

One thing I wish I had I known then is what I mentioned above, that golf should be fun. During those days I was still learning the game and focused too much on trying to get better at it, so I got frustrated a lot. That led to frustration and not enjoying the game as much as I could have. ON the plus side, I take pride in not having thrown a club or yelling in anger at missing a shot since those days. I am able to laugh and smile my way around the golf course now, in large part because I get to do it so infrequently, it is a real treat when I do play.

Maybe you golf, maybe you don’t. But I do know that hobbies are important and necessary for balance in life, but you have to be sure you enjoy them and take pleasure in them and feel grateful that you get to take part in them.


education, family, leadership, personal


Two weeks ago, my niece Elizabeth graduated from college. It was awesome to see someone who I have known my entire life grow from an infant to an amazing young woman. She’s always been a great kid, and we have many memories together, and this graduation I’m sure will be just another step in a meaningful life.

She went to school for six years at Springfield College, earning a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. I am impressed with the dedication it takes these days for students, including my niece, to achieve their objectives. At the graduation, I met many wonderful young men and women who give me confidence in our future.

The commencement speech was given by an alum of Springfield College, Greg Toczydlowski, an insurance executive with The Travelers. He gave a great talk with practical advice for the graduates. Like, “just breath.” I like graduation speeches with practical advice, like when Admiral MCraven told the University of Texas graduating class to make their bed every day.

“Just breath” is advice many of us give and take quite a bit, because it’s so helpful in so many situations. Greg gave the group a breathing exercise to use when calm is needed, one of the breathing techniques that replicates some of the benefits of meditation. It was an inhale for four counts and an exhale for eight counts. These types of exercises are one of the methods I spoke of to combat negative self-talk, and in general can just help you manage your stress levels in the myriad of things that happen in life to throw us off. Those that stay the calmest do the best, so I was glad Greg gave me this tool for my arsenal.

Speaking of calm, my niece has always been a “rock” and a solid presence, and I could see it in her interactions with her peers during the weekend. I am one of countless proud uncles (and aunts, and dads, and moms, etc.) this graduation season, and I hope we all take a minute to reflect on their accomplishments. And we should also all re-listen to some commencement speeches to pick up tips that can help us be even better role models for the next generation.

leadership, personal

Combatting negative self-talk

In my last posts, I wrote about the sources of negative self-talk and the impacts of negative self-talk. In this final post of the series, we will look at some strategies for combatting negative self-talk.

When it comes to addressing or managing negative self-talk, there are offensive moves and defensive moves. Shutting out negative self-talk, or ignoring it are defensive methods, and may work when negative self-talk is only present occasionally. The more negative self-talk you have, the more you need to go on the offensive, with tactics that help push aside the negative self-talk or replace it with positive self-talk.

On the defensive side, distractions are a great tool. You can look internally or externally. For example, meditation and breathing exercises are used for many purposes like relaxation and focus and recharging; but they can also be used to turn your attention away from negative self-talk.

External distractions could include going to the movies and losing yourself in the story, even a binge-watched TV series, anything where the story takes over your inner workings of the brain. I actually love to simply sit quietly and listen to music or read a book. It can depend on your personality and patience level.

Your favorite hobbies should always be on your list of activities to initiate if you are sensing negative self-talk creep in; these hobbies will usually occupy your mind well, things like a game of tennis, or a session of knitting, anything to focus the mind on something other than your negative self-talk.

Other people can be an amazing distraction from negative self-talk; of course, only if they are the right people, especially friends who can provide some positive affirmations during your time together. But even just being around others can provide a distraction, like going to a sports bar to watch your favorite team play.

As we move towards more aggressive and dynamic means of combatting negative self-talk, we arrive at the act of replacing negative self-talk with positive self-talk. As I’ve written about, I use daily affirmations to help focus me on actions, thoughts, behaviors that will help me in my life. Daily affirmations for me are a form of positive self-talk to combat my own negative self-talk. As I have built the daily affirmations into a routine, the habit has grown stronger, and I am more aware of my negative self-talk and quicker to “jump in” when it starts and fight back by reciting my affirmation (don’t worry, I use my inside voice so I don’t freak out anyone around me).

If you want to see examples of my affirmations, you can check them out on twitter (@realrickarpin) or on There are plenty of others who use similar tactics, and a host of articles and posts on the power of positive thinking and positive self-talk that you can find online.

Just being self-aware about the talk going on inside your head can make a big difference. Take time to pay attention to your self-talk and see if you can find the source of any negativity, and develop appropriate strategies to minimize the impact of negative self-talk. I believe this work will help you be a better person, spouse, friend, parent and leader.

leadership, personal

The impact of negative self-talk – Part 2

In my last post, I wrote about the impacts of negative self-talk on your personal life. In this post, I will cover the impacts negative self-talk can have on your professional life.

I promise this will be the last “depressing” post in this series on negative self-talk, in the final post of the series I will demonstrate ways to overcome negative self-talk and that will cheer us all up!

I have found a few key impacts of negative self-talk in the professional world:

We become defensive. If you have internalized phrases like, “I’m no good at this” or “I will never make my boss happy,” then feedback is going to be tough to hear. You might be able to muddle through it from peers or mentors, but hearing it from a more direct source like your boss or the people that work directly for you will be tough. You will usually shut down pretty quickly, and replace the actual words you are hearing with some sort of Peanuts professor voice. Your internal talk will take over and fill in the rest of the sentences.

The ironic thing is positive feedback also becomes tougher to accept. Our confidence is low, so we might do the old, “No, really it’s nothing, I could have done better, it was really Sally and Jim that did all the work” instead of saying proudly, “Thank you!”

The next impact is that we may become protective, of ourselves and our jobs. We want to ensure we “look good” which causes many bad decisions. Sometimes it stops us from making decisions altogether and we hope the status quo just keeps working, when in reality the world of business changes so fast that we are setting ourselves, our teams and our companies up for failure. We may miss good opportunities that require calculated risks. IN extreme cases, it can cause folks to do bad things like hiding mistakes, or deferring problems, hoping no one will notice. None of these are productive, but they can satisfy our internal talk in that moment.

Similar to the personal impacts, relationships can be harmed. For example, you might “hear” tone in emails that isn’t there, start losing the presumption of good intent, and shut down when dealing with the other party. You may be physically separate from your team in a remote situation, and not be willing to interact with them since you have been filling in the blanks for them while separate – your internal voice may say things like, “they screwed up that report on purpose to make me look bad.”

As a leader, internalizing things is part of our job. We often have to act as a buffer between our management and our teams. We have to show up calm and collected even when things aren’t so good. This is easier of you manage negative self-talk well. You can be prepared and make sure the right balance is struck between transparency and protecting the team. But with negative self-talk swirling uncontrolled, a couple of things can happen; you might miss the balance and worry your team needlessly by over-exposing, or you might not prepare them for bad news by portraying the scenario as too rosy. The worse outcome is a blow-up; i Internalizing stress can lead to “eruptions” of that stress, in many forms (anger, frustration, pettiness, over-emotional displays, etc.).

I think you can see that as a leader, managing negative self-talk is even more important.

Well that was two decently long posts, illustrating that there are certainly many problems and detrimental impacts arising from negative self-talk in your personal and professional lives. But not all is lost, as there are ways to manage negative self-talk. As I mentioned at the start, in the next post I will empower you to beat negative self-talk, with tools and techniques to help you win this fight!


The impact of negative self-talk – Part 1

In my last post, I wrote about the sources of negative self-talk. In this post, I want to discuss the impacts of negative self-talk. These impacts can show up in your personal life and your professional life (and frankly every other part of your life).

In your personal life, one of the key areas of risk are your relationships. When you have excessive negative self-talk, your listening and comprehension abilities go down significantly – you hear what your negative self-talk wants you to hear. You lose positive intent and actually go the other way, assuming negative intent. Can you recall a time when you have said something you meant as a compliment where the other person heard an insult? Like you say to someone who just cooked a three course meal, “ Wow that salad was amazing,” and they reply, “I knew the steaks were overcooked, I am never hosting a party again.” That is negative self-talk at work. That person has probably been worrying about that meal for days, telling himself that he’s no good at cooking and is a fraud, not worthy to host his friends for dinner.

If we hear what we want to and it’s negative, we are also less likely to talk through issues and conflicts. We get more convinced that what we “heard” is absolute and not subject to interpretation or a change of mind. So we stop talking to our friends or spouses or family members, because we think, “what’s the point, they don’t like me and nothing I can say will change that.” We start to interpret every action (or non-action) with a negative lens. I’m sure you have had this happen to you where the other party in a relationship blows up at you and releases a litany of supposed slights, and you literally have no idea what they are talking about. They’ve been building up a database of negativity, fueled by negative self-talk.

Finally on the personal level, extreme negative self-talk can lead to health issues. Consider that negative self-talk will lead to higher levels of stress and worry, which we know are factors in things like heart disease, obesity, and other chronic conditions. Negative self-talk can lead to having higher quantities of bad dreams, leading to lack of sleep which is also not good for your immune system and your health in general.

In my next post, I will cover some of the ramifications of negative self-talk on your professional life.


How do you talk to yourself?

Negative self-talk can be our biggest enemy. It can paralyze our decision making; it can keep us from taking risks; it can stop us from enjoying life; it can cause us to act irrational towards others; it can lead to depression and addiction. I have some thoughts about negative self-talk, and I think this will be the first of a few posts on the topic.

We all have some level of negative self-talk. And we all have different ability levels when it comes to managing negative self-talk. The extent of the former could depend on deep-seated and long-term issues, as far back as childhood, which are difficult to deal with. The latter, however, is more tactical and relies on behaviors and practices we can learn.

Let’s start with the source of negative self-talk, and why some of us suffer from so much of it.

Our negative self-talk can come from many sources. Often it is structural, meaning it has been around us so long that we can’t remember a time without it. For example, if you put pressure on yourself to “live up” to high expectations, it could be that those expectations started with your parents putting pressure on you from a young age. So you assume that is just how the world works – we all live under constant pressure to achieve, and beat ourselves up when we don’t meet our expectations. Or maybe you don’t like your appearance; it is common that these are long-standing feelings, starting at an early age based on your friends, or if you were in activities that related to physical appearance (sports, recitals, etc.).

Some of us suffer with negative self-talk because we are more introverted and have a tendency to “think” a lot, often devolving into worry, one of the worst states to be in. Being in a state of worry means you cannot stay in the moment and enjoy the current time; and it often means you are thinking about things you can’t control, which starts a vicious circle of negative self-talk.

The current culture, with so much media and social media ever-present in our lives, is clearly not helpful. Seeing so many images of unattainable goals, and “perfection” in appearance, or lifestyle, or homes, or jobs, or kids. We can fall into the trap of finding satisfaction only from meeting ever-increasing standards, and simply burning out trying to win the race. So many of us compare ourselves to others, instead of trying to be the best us.

Negative self-talk is certainly not going to go away, and it can cause many problems in our lives; but it can be managed. In subsequent posts I will discuss the impacts of negative self-talk and some of the strategies to manage negative self-talk.