Shut the Duck Up! How to Manage Negative Self-Talk Holding You Back

“You’re in a fight against an opponent you can’t see, but you can feel him on your heels can’t you, feel him breathing down your neck. You know what that is? That’s you, your fears, your doubts and insecurities all lined up like a firing squad ready to shoot you out of the sky. But don’t lose heart, while they are not easily defeated they are far from invincible.”

That little snippet is a line out of one of my favourite motivational short videos. There was a time when I would watch this clip daily. That line really resonated with me. It was a great reminder that all of that negative self-talk was just me.  A reminder that I control that. I get to choose what that voice says and even how that voice says it. 

Manage Negative Self-Talk

Last night at our Connect’d Men’s group, we talked a little bit about that voice. The stories that we tell ourselves. The stories of unworthiness, the stories of not belonging, the stories of “I am the only one.” Those voices can be debilitating when they are at their worst. The problem gets compounded when we, as men, are loathe to acknowledge the voice because we are supposed to be “strong”. We are supposed to be confident. We are supposed to have it all together for everyone around us. The truth is the more we fight those voices and try to forcefully remove them the louder they get. 

Self-compassion is not typically something most men that I know are very good at. That voice in our head is not often gentle and kind. It is usually pretty brutal and vicious. If we are not careful, it can become crippling. 

This weekend I am running the Diez Vista 50km trail race in BC. I have not been running regularly for the last year and a bit due to a torn ligament in my SI joint. This is the first race I have signed up for in a long time. I had a tussle with that voice in my head yesterday. It started telling me all of the reasons why I shouldn’t have signed up for this race. All the reasons why things were going to go wrong.  

Managing the voice in my head

For many years I did not acknowledge that this voice existed. I was a “man” I would power through. I was a business leader; I was an industry leader; I would outwork the voice, and I would “suck it up.” I suspect you know that inner dialogue. While that may have worked for a time, it was a taxing way of dealing with it. Always a fight, always a battle. It was exhausting. Once I began to recognize and acknowledge that voice in my head, I started to have some power over it. 

With awareness comes choice.

Once we acknowledge the voice and start to recognize when it shows up, then we can be proactive in managing it. 

One of the instructors in my graduate program on Executive Coaching had a simple phrase they used to quiet the voices that I really enjoyed. Last night as those voices rattled around in my head, I was reminded of this phrase. I hopped in the hot tub last night to be greeted by the image above. I’m at Mom and Dad’s place, and this cool little duck bobs and weaves around the hot tub, dispensing the pool chemicals needed to keep the hot tub clean. Instantly I could hear my instructor’s mantra.

“Shut the Duck Up!”

This was the phrase she used to silence that inner critic. Imagining that voice as a little duck quacking in her mind. She even went so far as to have a little rubber ducky sitting on her desk to remind her to tell that voice to “Shut the Duck Up!” when it got too loud. I love simple, actionable mantras to keep me grounded. This is one I use often. 

You’ve Got to Name it to Tame it.

I talk about the “name it to tame it” strategy, a term coined by Dan Seigal when it comes to managing our emotions. This strategy can also work well for managing your inner critic. One of the guys in our peer group last night shared a strategy they use to manage that voice. They let that voice speak. However, they give it a name. They name their voice Elmer Fudd, and when it speaks they hear it in his classic cartoon voice. Obviously, the voice has a lot less weight when such an iconic cartoon character speaks the words.

Another mantra I use to manage that voice comes from Dr. Daniel Amen, author of “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.”

Kill the ANTs

ANT is an acronym for Automatic Negative Thoughts. You know, those voices we have been talking about, the automated response that is often “I can’t…”, “I’m not good enough….” If your brain is a supercomputer, then self-talk is the operating system that runs it.  

Moving Forward

My challenge for you is to start to notice when that self-talk starts to pop into your head.

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

Carl Jung

Once you start to notice the voice, you can start to recognize the triggers that activate it and start to practice proactively managing it. I have given you three example strategies above but the truth is that we are all unique and we all have to find the things that work for us. The trick is to make it a regular practice with intention. 

If you want to dive a little deeper into self-compassion, I highly recommend checking out Kristen Neff’s work at Self-Compassion.org. She has a lot of good information and some great practices you can employ.  

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