Success Through the Positive Self-Interview

How Talking to Yourself (Really!) Can Help You Do Great Things

One of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to write was the writing sample I had to submit with applications to graduate schools. I had about 2 months to produce 20 pages of high quality academic research and writing — mostly from scratch, and on my own.

If the writing was good enough, it would be the determining factor in whether I got into a good program. The pressure was on.

Thousands of other applicants would be submitting pieces of polished writing backed by years of research and collaboration with renowned experts in the field. I had been out of college for a few years, and didn’t have that same benefit. I would need to quickly work through my ideas — very complex ones — all by my lonesome. It was a tough mission.

When You Have to Really Perform

At the time I was doing this, I also worked a full-time job, which required my attention for 10 or more hours per day. I had to sneak in time to write whenever I could. So I woke up at 4 am every weekday, and went to the local coffee shop to write for a few hours before work.

For a while, I had momentum and passion on my side. But as with anything, once I got deep into it, it got more difficult.

As I trudged along, I hit the inevitable roadblocks that one reaches when writing something with a significant emotional investment. I began getting confused about the focus of the paper. I began second-guessing my thesis. I started to move paragraphs around, cut sentences, and chop everything up.

I got lost. And the more I wrote, the more lost I became. I started getting frustrated. I wasn’t sure how to break through.

Try Something Crazy

One morning on my drive to work after a long writing session and feeling stuck, I did something a little crazy — I talked to myself.

More specifically, I began to talk out loud about what I was writing, as if I had already completed it, and was being interviewed about how successful it was. The interviewer (me) asked about the idea, what made it so revolutionary, and how I came to write something so good. And I would answer, acting as if I had written this paper, and it was so good that it received wide recognition and praise. Pretty crazy, right?

Here’s the even crazier part: it worked!

I found that not only did I start to gain clarity on my writing topic as I talked through it, but I also came up with all sorts of solutions to problems I was having. The simple act of talking about something — especially to yourself — helps you to distill complex ideas down to their essences, and solidifies your understanding of them.

But the most important element that helped me was the aspect of positive imagination that accompanied my self-interview. I wasn’t merely talking through my ideas; I was explaining my writing as if it were finished, and as if it had been successful. I was essentially interviewing myself about having done what I wanted to do.

Why It’s Crazy Enough to Work

I want to be clear that this approach is not just effective for writing. It also helps for any kind of project — personal, professional, material, or spiritual. Talking in imagined positive retrospective has a real power. It’s like tricking yourself into the mindset of someone who’s already done the hard thing you’re trying to do. The longer you talk about it as if you’ve done it already, the more you benefit psychologically.

This is also not anything new, but more of a twist on a well-tested approach to productivity. It’s really just outcome-based thinking put into action. Numerous productivity and development gurus have promoted what Stephen Covey called “beginning with the end in mind”.

Really, this self-interview method is like beginning with the end in heart and in words. You act is if you’ve succeeded already, and begin talking about it. It gets you in an accomplishment mindset, and it also helps you to better understand how you’re going to succeed from where you are now. It embeds that in your mind.

How You Can Do It

We all talk to ourselves, but the problem is that most of it is negative, and it’s only focused on the past or present. It’s also not usually out loud, and if it is, it’s more you scolding ourselves than having a dialogue. So to harness the effectiveness of talking to yourself, it’s important to change your approach.

The next time you’re by yourself — in the shower, driving somewhere, anywhere private — pretend your’e giving an interview about your success. This shouldn’t be difficult; we’ve all seen or listened to interviews. Just mimic that structure. Really commit to the part.

Ask some initial softball questions of yourself that interviewers normally would: what got you interested in the thing you’re doing? what gave you your inspiration? how did you overcome challenges to get where you are? What is your big idea, in layperson’s terms?

Continue down that path, and really spend time as the interviewee answering the questions. Mimic the confidence and sense of accomplishment that you’ve heard in interviews. Talk with confidence and enthusiasm about how you pulled it off, about your inspiration, and so on. You will likely find that this way of talking about things gets your attitude to be more positive pretty quickly.

You’ll probably hit a few stumbling blocks — especially when you try explaining your idea(s). If you’re trying to write a novel, you’ll probably stumble trying to talk about themes, the plot, and characters in simple sentences. If you’re trying to get a startup off the ground, you’ll probably stumble talking about what the simple differentiator and value proposition of your company is. That’s fine. Pause, begin again, and try to talk through it. But keep that confidence. Remember, in this imagined scene, you’ve already succeeded, you’re just trying to find the words to explain it.

Bring It All Together

For many of you, this self-interview will feel weird at first. But as long as you’re by yourself, just allow yourself to feel safe. Really invest in it. If you do, you’ll find that it works. Then you’ll keep doing it, and it will keep working. So here’s a quick summary:

  • To help get over hurdles on tough projects or goals, harness the power of talking to yourself in a positive context.
  • Pretend that you’re in an interview after having succeeded, and you’re being asked about why and how you did it.
  • Really commit to the process, and think through your answers. Don’t be afraid to pause and start over.

Does this seem too crazy to you? Well, it all depends on how much motivation you need. And really, what the hell else are you doing in the shower, or on your drive to work?

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