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The Destructive Conversation In Your Head (And What To Do About It)

There’s a conversation going on in your head almost all the time as a leader.

Let me guess. Most of the time it’s not pretty.

You rarely say these things out loud, because if you did, well first, it would be embarrassing. And second, you would never say anything remotely this negative to anyone else.

Except you say it to yourself all the time.

And that’s the problem.

So many leaders look like they have it all together on the outside, but they struggle deeply on the inside.

The challenge is negative self-talk. Way too many leaders carry on an internal dialogue of self-destruction.

There’s a major difference between words that are self-deprecating or self-destructive.

And way too many leaders live an interior life of self-destruction.

Here are 5 destructive things leaders say to themselves. I know, because I’ve said them to myself again and again until I learned how to stop. And some days, I have to learn this all over again.

If you struggle with these, guess what? You don’t need an enemy. You have one. It’s you.

So buckle up and see if you can relate.

1. I’m Just Not Good Enough

There’s a strange paradox to our humanity.

The self-help feel-good-about-yourself people will tell you that you ARE good enough. You’re wonderful. Perfect. Amazing. Gifted. Talented.

But deep down you know something’s wrong.

That’s because something is wrong: it’s your sin.

All of us have memories of Eden, but will live east of there now.

Self-affirmation will only get you so far, and it will often lead to what Tim Elmore describes as high arrogance (I’m amazing!) and low-self esteem (and I’m so horribly flawed…). I talk to Tim about this in depth in Episode 187 of the leadership podcast. It’s a fascinating conversation.

This is where the Gospel rushes in. Paradoxically, we all carry within us the image of God and we are sinfully flawed. Sin isn’t just an action, it’s a condition.

And Jesus comes into our brokenness and not only saves us, but deeply restores us over time. The ancients called this process of being made new sanctification.

It really is quite bad. And it really is more amazing that any of us dreamed.

The key is not to lose sight of either. Most of us lose sight of one or the other truths, and that’s who we get lost.

2. He is so much more________. She is so much more______.

Fill in the blank








So what’s behind that?

Well, it’s likely the feeling that when God was giving out gifts, he short-changed you. Not only did God not give you six-pack abs, he didn’t give you nearly enough intelligence or brains or charm or whatever.

I feel that.

Everyone does.

But underneath that is the lie that God made a mistake. That he didn’t know what he was doing, or got distracted when he made you.

And now you’re jealous of everyone else because God did such a better job on them than he did on you.

Not only is your jealously patently absurd, it’s also deeply unfounded.

The only one who wants you to believe that you don’t have what it takes is the enemy.

Andy Stanley has the best insight I’ve heard for overcoming jealousy.

First, celebrate what God has given others. Praise them. Jealous people stink at this, but do it. Like that Instagram. Give your rival credit. Acknowledge the person you’re jealous of publicly.

And second, leverage what he gave you. As long as you’re in a place where you can only focus on what God has given others, you’ll never develop what God has given you.

3. That’s just like me to get it wrong

Are you going to get it wrong? Absolutely.

As Craig Groeschel says, if you’re going to innovate, it’s not that failure isn’t an option, failure is a necessity.

The destructive part of that self-talk isn’t that you got something wrong, it’s that sinister “it’s just like me to…” part.

I have messed up more times than I can count. So it’s easy to fall into an ‘it’s just like me’ trap.

But live there and soon you’ll lose your courage to correct, to learn, to master a new skill and even to change.

Want a bridge? Try this.

Tell yourself, “I’ve made this mistake before, but I don’t need to live here. What can I do to help me grow?

4. This ALWAYS happens

You always lose good staff.

The numbers always go down at this time of year.

You always end up screwing up relationships like this.

You always end up fixing other people’s work.

Want out of that. Make always a stop-sign. The moment you think always, stop, reflect, even pray and ask yourself WHY.

Maybe it’s true that things always turn out that way for you.

But just because something’s been true in the past doesn’t mean it needs to be true in the future.

Look back at the patterns, declare it a new day and try something different.

You’ll break patterns you thought were unbreakable.

5. I should just quit

I’ll die on this hill if I have to, but here’s what I’m convinced of: too many leaders quit moments before their critical breakthrough.

So many leaders declare it over long before God declares it over. And that’s a huge mistake.

Should you ever leave things or quit things? Sure! I’ve left many things in my life.

But it’s always a mistake when you quit because you’re discouraged. When you’re convinced you’re washed up.

Need to leave something?

Quit on a good day. After much prayer and wise counsel.

The problem most leaders have? They quit on a bad day, with little consultation other than fellow miserable people.

Don’t abandon your calling. God hasn’t.

Is This Hitting Close To Home?

Care about issues like the ones I cover in this post?

I do.

My new book, Didn’t See It Coming,  tackles issues like this because I think they’re so critical to many people.

Didn’t See it Coming answers the question, “Why do so many skilled and competent leaders who mean well end up cynical, compromised, disconnected and feeling empty?”

In the book, I show you how to spot cynicism, compromise, disconnectedness, irrelevance, pride, burnout and emptiness long before they capture your soul.

I also outline the keys to breaking free and finding your heart and passion again, so you can be more alive and vibrant at 40 than you were at 30, or more curious and engaged at 70 than you were at 40.

I really do believe this book could change your life. Here are some responses from a few of my friends that have already read the book:

“You have to read this book. Carey Nieuwhof is one uncommonly perceptive and generous guide.”

—Ann Voskamp, author of New York Times bestsellers The Broken Way and One Thousand Gifts

“If you’re looking for gentle, empathetic life coaching from a Christian perspective, this book is sure to help you.”

—Daniel H. Pink, author of New York Times bestsellers When and Drive

“Nieuwhof’s new book…pierces the heart.”

—Nancy Duarte, best-selling author and CEO of Duarte Inc.

“A powerful, personal, and highly readable book.”

—Brian Houston, global senior pastor of Hillsong Church and author of There Is More

“There is something powerful…here.”

—Andy Stanley, author, communicator, and founder of North Point Ministries

“Carey isn’t just a great lawyer; he’s a wise friend. This is a practical book about navigating your life.”

—Bob Goff, author of New York Times bestsellers Love Does and Everybody, Always

“Carey points leaders to some very important areas to observe.”

—Dr. Henry Cloud, leadership consultant and author of The Power of the Other

You can learn more and get your copy of Didn’t See It Coming here.

What Do You Tell Yourself?

What conversations show up in your mind? And what do you do about them?

I’d love to hear from you.  Scroll down and leave a comment!


The Destructive Conversation In Your Head (And What To Do About It)


  1. […] Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church in Toronto, Canada. He’s the author of several best-selling books, including his forthcoming book, Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects But Everyone Experiences (September 2018). This article originally appeared on […]

  2. […] Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church in Toronto, Canada. He’s the author of several best-selling books, including his forthcoming book, Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects But Everyone Experiences (September 2018). This article originally appeared on […]

  3. Brian A Moon on July 10, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    I started telling myself these things out loud daily a couple years ago:

    I am wholly and completely loved by God. I am forgiven and free.
    I love Jesus with all my heart, soul and mind.
    I will live for Him today, He has given me all I need.
    I love my wife, I will lay down my life for her and tell her she is beautiful.
    I will be a better husband and friend today than I was yesterday.
    I love my girls, Sophie and Ella are gifts from God, I will treasure them.
    I will point them to Jesus because of my love, they will see God’s love through me.
    I will lead my family well, we will flourish and be a blessing to everyone we meet.
    I am called by God to preach the Gospel, and gifted to do so, I will use my gift.
    I am a good leader, willing to serve and help people, I have what it takes.
    I will pour what is in my cup into the hands of others, it’s who I am.
    I am creative, talented, funny, engaging and people enjoy being around me.
    I am strong, loyal and disciplined. I can overcome even if my flesh is weak.
    I will not allow small things to turn into big things that could ruin what God has done.
    I will be honest, kind, passionate, generous and quick to forgive.
    I will enjoy today, I am not in a hurry, I will live in each moment.
    I will make a difference in this world, my life matters, but I don’t worry about legacy.
    I have learned the secret of contentment, to suffer for Christ is gain.
    I am an original, one of a kind, really somebody.

  4. D. A. Taylor on July 9, 2018 at 8:43 pm

    Perhaps Christians should pay a little more attention to what Jesus commanded? But then, the words of Jesus Christ don’t seem to carry much weight, when compared to church doctrine and traditions …

    “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ” (Matthew 23:10).

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