Last weekend, I went to the Muhammad Ali exhibition at the O2 in London.
I left the venue buzzing. Not only was I dazzled by Ali’s boxing prowess and career, I was awed by the strength he showed in standing up for what he believed in and touched by his humanity.
But I also left the venue in a deep state of thought. Many of Ali’s quotes were plastered around the walls and most of them referenced his incredible self-belief. He went around telling people he was ‘The Greatest’ and this was even before he won a championship belt.
Read the quote below (taken from the exhibition).
Amazing, isn’t it? He was a kid from Kentucky who believed in himself and went on to conquer the world.
How was he able to do this? What was so unique about Ali?
Of course, his physical attributes and hard work played a massive role but there are plenty of other athletes who share these qualities.
So I want to focus on something else that Ali seemed unique in possessing, or was at least the undisputed king in this field – self-talk!
“I’m the greatest of all-times.”
“I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark.”
“I’m gonna show you how great I am.”
“I am the king of the world.”
These were just some of the affirmations he would tell himself, his opponents and the media. Some were funny, some seemed arrogant but they were all fueled by a divine certainty in himself and his abilities.
I now want to explore the implications of adopting Ali style self-talk and delve deeper into the possibilities of you becoming great through using his method.
I’m from the UK and, in general, we’re a pretty miserable bunch. I’ve grown up in a society where it’s more socially acceptable to put yourself down than to dare say something positive about your abilities.
I’m used to hearing people say,
“I’m rubbish at that.”
“I’m not good enough.”
“I couldn’t do that.”
It’s considered OK to tell people about your perceived weaknesses but a sign of thinking you’re better than others if you vocalize a belief in yourself.
How crazy is that? We’d rather encourage playing small, in the misguided belief that others will feel safe around us, than tell (and show) the world how great we are and give other people permission to let their light shine.
I doubt such an attitude is restricted exclusively to the UK. My country may be an extreme example but how many cultures encourage positive self-talk?
Not many, I would wager, and this is the problem.
You don’t get to be great by telling yourself that you’re rubbish!
Could there be millions of us talking ourselves out of greatness?
I think so!
And as it turns out, I’m not alone in my thinking.
Two giants of the personal development world list identity or self-image (basically how we see ourselves) as the main factor in determining a person’s level of success.
Tony Robbins, with his best-selling books, seminars with an accumulated total of well over a million attendees and celebrity roster of coaching clients, has this to say about identity,
Then there’s Dr Maxwell Matlz, who’s 30 million plus selling book, Psycho-Cybernetics, is based upon the idea that people conform to their self-image.
His is an interesting perspective because he was originally introduced to the importance of self-image through his work as a plastic surgeon. He discovered that while some clients were delighted with the results of their surgery, and, as a result, adopted a more confident and outgoing persona, others would experience no change in their confidence levels despite their operation being a success.
This led him to the conclusions that self-image was more important than actual image. He could remove or correct what the patient viewed as an ugly disfigurement, yet if the patient still saw themselves as ‘ugly’, then their self-esteem wouldn’t change.
Both Robbins and Maltz’s findings concur with my experiences as a hypnotherapist.
The most difficult part in helping a smoker give up their habit was convincing them of their new identity as a non-smoker. Often, changing the behavior wasn’t too difficult as most could go without smoking for a short to medium period of time. However, if that change was to last then they had to believe they were non-smokers. If they still identified as a smoker they might abstain for a couple of months but the pull of their identity would be too great for them to maintain their resistance.
The significance of all these examples is that we build our identity, or create a self-image, partly through self-talk. Constantly tell yourself that you are ‘The Greatest’ and you’ll unleash your limitless potential. However, tell yourself that you’re ‘not good enough’ or ‘rubbish’ or ‘ugly’ and you’ll unwittingly inflict a life time of self-sabotage on your efforts.
So how will you apply what you’ve learned today? It might wear a little thin if you’re constantly telling friends, colleagues and anyone who’ll listen about how amazing you are and accompanying it with a quick ‘Ali shuffle’.
So I suggest that in some (but not all) cases you keep your positive self-talk to yourself.
There are hundreds of small phrases that you can focus on in daily situations to reinforce the message that you have the ability to achieve anything you desire.
Of course, you have to feel them as well.
Think back to how Ali used to talk about himself. He would shout and holler, ‘I’m the Greatest of all-times.’ In some interviews he looked manic but it was this depth of feeling that turned mere words into a powerful identity.
It’s also important to note that there will be times when it’s appropriate to vocalize the belief you have in yourself. If someone at work asks you whether you can handle a particular job, if a prospective client wants to know if you can help them, if an organizer is asking you whether you’re ready to speak at their event, and you believe you are and can, THEN DAMN WELL TELL THEM. Don’t play small and say ‘maybe’ or ‘I’ll do my best.’
Look them in the eye and tell them that you’re the real deal and you can get the job done.
Let’s make a start right now, shall we?
In the comment section below I want you to tell me one thing you’re really good at or have done. And if you have a website promoting this skill then by all means leave a link.
I’ll start it off so no one feels awkward. You then follow my lead and from this day forward, start positively affirming your abilities and NEVER put yourself down!