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Changing How You Think Can Shape Your Actions

Updated: Mar 3

When I meet someone for the first time and they find out I teach management communication courses, one of the most frequent comments I hear is, “I should take your class because I’m not good at public speaking.”

I wish all the people that have said that to me could take my class because I would help them reshape how they think about themselves as communicators. Here’s how:

  1. I encourage students to focus on their individual progress. Rather than external validation from me, I ask them to consider who they wish to become (e.g., clear and concise writers). When we shift the desired goal from doing just enough to earn a letter grade to an observable outcome, then we need a plan of action.

  2. Next, I share concrete processes anyone can use to improve their communication skills. We build foundational habits around audience analysis, content development, organization, and message delivery.

  3. As students build new communication habits, they begin to see their own progress, and that’s when they begin to update their communication identity. Students shift their thinking from “I’m not very good” to “I’m pretty good” or from “I’m okay” to “I’m very good.”

Changing how we think can shape our actions in all kinds of ways. Here are three examples from my own life:

  • Exercising: I’ve always been active but not as consistent about exercising as I would like. For a long time, when my alarm clock went off in the morning, I would assess whether I felt like exercising that day or getting a bit more sleep. But, over a year ago, I began telling myself, “I am a person who exercises.” In addition, I began keeping track of my workouts on a calendar. As a result, I have only missed four weekday workouts in the last fifteen months.

  • Teaching: I see myself as a coach to future hospitality leaders. In this role I try to model what it means to be hospitable to others. I am far from perfect, but every time I offer hospitality to my students it becomes a bigger part of who I am.

  • Parenting: I recently adopted the following simple statement about how I see myself as a parent: “I am a good father.” Every action I take that supports this statement reinforces that identity. The powerful thing is, I’ve found that I am much less likely to do or say something that doesn’t reinforce this identity.

Notice that I am not telling myself, “I want an excellent relationship with my children.” Instead, I focus on who I want to be. If I show up every day as a good father, then I am optimistic that the relationship will follow. On days where I am not the best father, I reflect on that and because it’s not aligned with my identity, I start the next day trying to be aligned with what I think about myself.

We can all update our identities by focusing on who we want to become. Try it for yourself. Who do you want to become? Finish this sentence: I am a _________. Here are some possibilities to get you started, but please don’t let this list limit your thinking.

  • I am a healthy eater.

  • I am a supportive friend.

  • I am a good partner.

  • I am an activist.

  • I am an authentic person.

  • I am a good listener.

  • I am an effective presenter.

These are all things we have the power to be. Regularly tell yourself who you are and it’s amazing how much doing so can shape your actions.

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