My Story For The First Tee - My Negative Voice

Charlottesville, Virginia

May 1, 2020

One of my greatest joys the past three years has been working with the First Tee here in Charlottesville. Coaches Nicole and Bruce who run the show, asked me if I would share a story about my negative voice on a Zoom call with the kids today. Through a combination of my age (I talk more than I used to) and what brings meaning to my life (working with kids so they hopefully won't repeat some of my errors!), I am no longer embarrassed about sharing who I am.

No one who reads my blog needs my advice on their negative voice. But since this blog has come to be a place I document my thoughts, I am sharing what I plan to say to the kids.

Great to see everybody! I really enjoyed the video about Samantha. It was cool to see how she overcame the adversity of getting hurt, battling through doubt, setting a new goal and going on to accomplish it. Did you notice in the video how she mentioned the negative voices in her head? She mentioned them when talking about training, about high school, about her comeback and when she and Kevin were on the balance beam. I’ve always had negative voices in my head. From when I was a kid playing Little League baseball through high school and college - I still have negative voices in my head. And I’m pretty old. I thought it was only me. That voice always made me doubt myself. A couple of years ago I learned something about my negative voice. We have it to protect us - to keep us safe from danger. Our brains are hardwired to have that negative voice. There are actually circuits in our brain that exist just for our negative voice! We can’t get rid of it. It will always talk to us. It tells us to be cautious when we see a mean looking dog. It helps us not walk down dark alleys late at night. But the problem is the negative voice gets to be a bit of a bully in our head and it likes to generate a lot of negative thoughts. I mean A LOT of thoughts. It sometimes even crowds out our positive thoughts. It talks to us even when we don’t need it to, when we don’t want it to. Like when we are putting or before a test or when we look in the mirror. It says things like “I am are not going to make this putt - it’s too long and I don’t putt well.” “I’m no good at math so I’m not going to study hard for my test because I won’t do well anyhow.” “There are so many people who are better looking than I am.” And a lot of time I believed my negative voice. Why? Because it is my thought so it must be right. My story today is about a time recently when I stood up to the bully - my negative voice.

A couple of years I started having this dream of retiring and traveling around the US to visit all 22 Paris’. My negative voice starting talking to me immediately and worked very hard get me to change my mind about going on my trip.

It told me I was stupid for even thinking about going on such a trip.

It me there was no way I could retire from my job and travel around the country camping out every night.

It told me I would miss my friends, I would miss hot meals, I would miss sports on tv.

I’d run out of money.

My old truck would break down.

I’d get sick and wouldn’t know what to do.

I’d get lost.

It told me I would hate camping in the rain and cold, that I would miss Christmas with my kids, that I would be sad, lonely and scared.

And then it really cranked up the negative thoughts. That I would FAIL and everyone would know that. And would be embarrassed. And then what would I do? Embarrassed and a failure.

It was working overtime to convince me that I shouldn’t go on this trip. And it was making me doubt myself. Even my friends wondered if I had lost my mind.

Then, one day I saw a bumper sticker that said “Don’t believe everything you think.” I stood there staring at that bumper sticker for at least a minute. Wait. Is that saying I don’t have to believe my negative voice? I don’t have to believe everything I think. How can that be? It’s my thought -- it must be accurate, right? Wrong.

That was the start of me standing up the bully in my head. About the same time also learned about my mindset and changed the way I think. Instead of thinking all my skills are “fixed” -- basically I am the way I am and I cannot change

I learned about the growth mindset -- that I can get better at whatever I want to. Maybe I can’t be great at everything but that is not because I was born with a fixed set of skills.

For example, I wasn’t born to be a bad putter - if I practice I can get probably better. And since then I have shot under par - first time ever - thanks to my putting.

So I started to challenge my negative thoughts about my trip. I knew if I got lonely I could call my friends, I'd find places to eat, and I could watch sports highlights on my phone. I had enough money if I needed anything while I was gone. I wasn’t being irresponsible. I was actually being really smart and careful in planning my trip!

So after working for 35 years, last September I retired and started traveling around the United States. I’ve been on the road about 150 days camping out almost every night. I have been to West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and of course Virginia. I’ve camped in the rain when it was 15 degrees and had to go to the bathroom at 2 am. I’ve slept at truck stops. I’ve eaten cereal without milk for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’ve gotten so lost I had no clue where I was. I have been lonely.

And you know what -- my negative voice was wrong. I’ve been having an awesome time seeing things I’ve never seen, meeting new people. I haven’t failed - I am learning and growing and becoming a better person. I’ve had fun, I’m happy and joyful. Now in some ways the bully was right. I do miss my friends, and I did miss my kids at Christmas. But in every other way it was wrong. Just like me, just like Samantha, you too can stand up to your negative voice. The more you do it, the less of a bully it will be and the more confident you will be. Morale of my story That negative voice is part of what makes us human. It serves a purpose but that doesn’t mean it is always right.

Our job is to figure out when we should challenge our negative voice and tell it that it is wrong. And that is a lot of the time. Especially when it is telling us that we are not good enough. It doesn’t mean you will make every putt, that you will make a 100 on every test or that you will suddenly have movie star looks.

But it does mean you can grow your confidence. And it does mean that you and I - we are always good enough.

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